Reporting Relationships: A Delicate Balance

By Dr. Lee Meadows (Guest Contributor)

It is no secret that a great deal of corporate success hinges on the nature of the relationship between managers and employees. Managers serve a primary role of coordinating the flow of work and directing employee activities toward measurable outcomes. In that capacity, they are authorized through their organizational position to achieve goals using the best resources at their disposal, but there is an even greater responsibility for the appropriate use of that authority.

Last week, I spent some time listening to a colleague as she worked through the shock of being on the receiving end of the well known and often practiced ‘it is four o’clock on Friday and do you know who we’re letting go?’ Between the anger, tears and vile threats, what was particularly interesting was the context in which it occurred. She had spent exactly eighty-eight days working in a company recognized as one of the best to work for in Michigan, having brought excellent credentials and a good work history to what should have been a match made in heaven. There were a number of questions I asked as a way of helping her deeply probe what went wrong, but it also triggered a series of observations I’d made in recent months that had to do with a reporting relationship gone awry and the mishaps brought on by a slanted understanding of authority.

Yelling at and berating an employee in front of others violates the most basic of human dignity and a common form of abuse. It is increasingly difficult to find closed space given our cubed work environments, but a competent manager strives to keep the ups and downs of a work relationship by seeking places where privacy can be maintained. The issue is between you and your employee and not the rest of the cubicle. The line that separates a demanding manager from an abusive one is as clear as the voice being heard down the hall.

Unstated expectations are a catalyst for confusion and wasted time on activities that may provide comfort to the employee, but bring little value to the organization. Managers are expected to be clear about what they want and how it ties into what the organization is trying to accomplish. Many an employee has been left to wander the organizational corridors with little direction as to what is important. The result is typically high turnover within the 30 – 90 day timeframe.

Insecurity brought on by a comparison of skills, knowledge, credentials and work habits is often the fuel that ignites an unhealthy working relationship. Managers are expected to draw out and build upon the talents that individuals bring to their positions. We go to work with the hope of using our skills and with the belief that we can help and be helped by an insightful manager. Professional advancement has more to do with who you lift up as opposed to who you push down.

Personal agendas aren’t all bad as long as they don’t move you to treat employees in ways that you would personally find demeaning. Constant criticism does little to facilitate a good working relationship, especially if the attacks are petty. Feedback is supposed to eliminate incompetence and build competence.

We rarely have an opportunity to actually choose the person to whom we’d like to report. Given the amount of restructuring and the overflow plates of responsibility, the likelihood of choosing your boss decreases to something just short of impossible. We can only hope that the person in that key position understands the basics of ‘development’, ‘coaching’ and ‘stretch targets’ enough to help you build the foundation for an active career.