Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary define the ripple effect as a “situation in which one event causes a series of other events to happen”. As a manager of people, you need to consider the potential, down-stream results of your management style, any action you take, any policies that you implement, any major interaction (or lack thereof) that you have with your staff.

I was discussing this with a colleague recently who had been denied his request for company Amex cards. He wanted them so that his senior managers could entertain clients and motivate their staff without him having to be present to pay the bill. The request was denied by the finance department, who fear loss of financial controls and mismanagement of company funds. The finance department was looking at the world through a very limited lens: they did not consider the potential impact of their actions.  The result this decision had on the morale and behaviours of key people in the business was staggering: they saw this as an indication that the business did not trust them to act professionally and in the interests of the company. They could not understand how they could be given the reigns to manage a division of a multi-million-rand business, making decisions daily with financial implications far greater than any costs that might be incurred during an evening at a local restaurant. Yet, they could not be trusted with Amex cards in their own names. It made them angry and then demoralised.  It made them reluctant to engage with clients in any way that might incur costs. It made them reluctant to take any initiative. It made them reluctant to do their best work. Seeking to control people, especially your leadership team, can be debilitating to your business.

Another management style with negative ripple effects is that of the seagull manager. Author Ken Blanchard describes seagull managers as people who “fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyoseagull-flying-wingsne and then fly out.” This style of management is increasingly prevalent in companies with flat management structures, consisting of inexperienced managers. Studies show that seagull management makes people miserable and less productive.  Some studies have found that employees whose manager often uses seagull-type behaviours are 30% more likely to develop coronary heart disease than employees of a manager who rarely uses these behaviours! So the ripple effects of this style of management go beyond employee morale and productivity, reaching into the realm of occupational health and safety. Managers beware!

These ripples go beyond the workplace too. A growing body of research confirms that the stress employees experience at work crosses over to and impairs the functioning and well-being of family members, even impacting children’s performance in school. This chain may unfold as follows: a manager who believes that the best way to manage employees is to “keep them on their toes” habitually makes unreasonable demands, confronts employees publicly, provides little positive feedback, and withholds information. These behaviours cause stress in the employees who are subject to them. When they come home from work at night, the employees are more likely to display anger and impatience. Their spouses’ stress levels rise and marital quality declines. Their children learn to leave the parent alone in the evening rather than risk getting yelled at, and their psychological adjustment suffers. And so on, into schools and communities.

In order to be more attuned to the potential ripple effects of how you manage your staff, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I trying to achieve here? And what am I risking in order to achieve it by doing things this way?
  • Will my behaviour/ policy/ decision motivate employees to perform, feel satisfied, and love their jobs?
  • How are people likely to react? Have I sought feedback from key people in my business before taking action?

Do not underestimate the ripple effects of your management behaviours.

The ripple: are you a seagull manager?
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