The story is as old as time.
You’ve always dreamed of starting a business. You and a friend decide to strike out on your own. You form a partnership and, boom, you’re on your way to making your dreams come true. The partnership starts out (like most do) crazy fun. During the early days there’s a heady excitement that makes long hours, no money, and little to show for all the work you’re putting in, a “We’re-gonna-look-back-on-this-one-day-and-laugh,” experience. The stress level is high, your partner’s and your patience is worn thin, but you both suck it up and keep plowing forward. Moodiness, elation, depression – it’s par for the course, right?
Fast forward a decade and all the start-up giddiness is gone. The frenetic day-to-day roller coaster craziness? It’s been replaced with steady, business-as-usual work days. And, your business partner’s mood swings, negative attitude, and manipulative survival-of-the-fittest mentality exhibited during the start-up days? They’re all still there.
Your business is established now! Your partner’s still acting like he’s too stressed, too exhausted, too overworked? I thought times were good? You both enjoy a flexible, relaxed schedule and (finally) cushy paychecks are de rigueur. So, why is your partner still miserable? Why is he still acting like the sky is falling? Is something going on that you don’t know about? Concerned, you start digging into your company financials; who knows – maybe your partner is feeling the year-end pinch? That’s when you realize the impact your partner’s decade old eat-or-be-eaten mentality has had on the organization as a whole and now, not only are you wondering what kind of weirdo you’re shacked up with, you’re actually beginning to question the survivability of your partnership.
But wait – slow down here – everyone has a bad day, right? I mean, it’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to have a series of bad days, right? Starting a company is tough! And, for Pete’s sake, we’ve all snapped at a colleague at one time or another, or sulked behind our monitor for a day (or two), ignoring our office mates, mumbling about how much we hate our fucking job. Is that a reason to suddenly want to part ways? In most cases, probably not, but according to studies, If the bad days your partner is having have turned into years? Then it may be time to determine if the negative behaviors that you and your staff have brushed off as, “You better stay away from him,” “He’s in a bad mood today,” Ugh. His team lost last night,” are actually negative behaviors at all, or if your partner’s bad days are merely his dysfunctional management style in disguise.
Dictionary.com defines dysfunction as not performing normally, having a malfunctioning part or element, and behaving or acting outside social norms, and defines management as the person or persons controlling and directing the affairs of a business. So, then, it would probably be safe to say that the definition of dysfunctional management could be the malfunctioning person or persons controlling and directing the affairs of a business while not performing normally and/or behaving or acting outside social norms. I’m pretty sure we’ve all reported to a dysfunctional manager at some point in our careers – the sales manager who always got a bit too tipsy at happy hour sales meetings and then spent hours spilling the beans to her subordinates about her affair with the company’s VP and how it ended badly – or, the department manager who blatantly favored the guys on his team over the women and would take them to strip clubs and golf outings for meetings while leaving female subordinates at the office with a casual, “We’ll download tomorrow,” as he left the office. Dysfunctional managers are everywhere but (surprisingly) some people wouldn’t recognize one if that dysfunctional manager was their business partner. Huh? I sit right next to the guy, you may be saying. Ever hear the expression, “Can’t see the forest through the trees?” It’s based on the ancient expression, “Can’t see the psycho partner through the door.” Now you know why.
So, to determine if you have a dysfunctional business partner, take a minute to read the bullet points I gathered from Med Yones’ amazing article, and then answer the questions I added to each of the bullet points. The comprehensive article, written for the International Institute of Management’s Executive Journal, outlines with laser accuracy the characteristics of a dysfunctional workplace (which, by default, highlights the characteristics of a dysfunctional manager).
• Dictatorial Leadership: Management that does not allow disagreements out of insecurity or arrogance [How does your partner lead?]
• No 360 Degrees Feedback: There is limited or no leadership performance feedback [Does your partner allow subordinates to give him or her feedback?]
• Personal Agendas: Recruitment, selections and promotions are based on internal political agenda [Who is your partner promoting, and why?]
• Political Compensation: [raises], bonuses and perks are not fairly linked to performance [What criteria is your partner using to determine raises?]
• Unequal Workload Distribution: You’ll find some departments are underutilized while other departments are overloaded [Does your partner favor one department over another? Why?]
• Fragmented Organization Efforts: Interdepartmental competition and turf wars between rival [departments] lead to the emergence of silos, which results in communication gaps. [Does your partner create or allow turf wars? Do you find departments unwilling to work with one another?]
• Too Much Talk: Plans are heavy on talk but light on action. In a political corporate culture, image management becomes far more important than actions [Or, A.T.N.A. Does your partner talk out his or her ass but never delivers?]
• Ineffective Meetings: Argumentative and heated cross-divisions meetings with discussion and language focusing on point scoring and buck-passing rather than sharing responsibility and collaborating to solve the problem [Observe your partner in meetings – body language, posture, eye contact, tone of voice. Observe if staff members object or disagree with the partner or do they yes him or her to death for fear of backlash?]
• Lack of Collaboration: Every person for himself/herself. Low sense of unity or camaraderie on the team. The key criterion for decision-making is What is in it for me? [Does your partner encourage a W.I.F.M. culture? How has it negatively impacted your business?]
• Low Productivity: Management wastes more time and energy on internal attack and defense strategies instead of executing the work, innovating and overcoming challenges. Critical projects fall behind on deadlines, budgets and performance targets (e.g. sales, market share, quality and other operational targets) [What controls do you have in place to ensure your partner’s dysfunctional management style isn’t, or hasn’t, negatively impacted your business? Would you know if they were?]
• Constant Crisis Mode: Management team spends most of their time on fire fighting instead of proactive planning for next-generation products and services [Dysfunctional managers love to “put out fires.” In fact, you may even hear your partner using that expression all the time as in, “I’ve ben putting out fires all day.” Sound familiar?]
• Morale Deterioration: Muted level of commitment and enthusiasm by other teams. Even successful results cannot be shared and celebrated due to animosity and internal negative competition [You may have noticed the decline in morale and could have, possibly, shared your concern with your partner whose reply may have been, “Fuck ‘em,” followed by laughter to put you at ease.]
• Backstabbing: Backbiting among the [staff] becomes common and public [Perhaps your partner engages in the same behavior WITH the staff.]
• Highly Stressful Workplace: There is a high rate of absenteeism and a high employee turnover rate [Or, even worse, your employees quit but don’t leave, their work a clear indicator of their mental “I-already-quit” status.]
Still not sure if your partner is dysfunctional? Consider the greater impact your dysfunctional business partner may be having on your business. In an article written for MIT Sloan Management Review, authors Cialdini, Petrova, and Goldstein, revealed some of the additional, not so obvious, side effects of dysfunctional management that contribute to “ruinous fiscal outcomes.” They included reputation degradation [people don’t want to buy from a company that sucks], lower job satisfaction [people don’t want to work for a company that sucks], and fewer candidates in the employment pool [because people don’t want to work for a company that sucks]. Yikes. Starting to see why determining whether or not the years long depression your business partner has been in is, in fact, just depression and not dysfunctional management is critically important to the overall health of your business and, possibly, the survivability of your business? Yones’ research revealed that employees in an environment where they feel disrespected, taken advantage of, or abused, will oftentimes resort to passive aggressive behaviors like intentional sabotage, excessive absenteeism, or purposely produced substandard results in their work. “But I give them pep talks all the time,” you may be saying. I hate to disappoint you (your partner probably does that to you enough) but your positive attitude can’t make up for your partner’s shitty attitude. Yones’ study also revealed that employees view positive company initiatives with skepticism [and, oftentimes, intentionally undermine them] because buy-in no longer exists for them. Add to that the studies that have revealed that in environments where dysfunctional management is the norm, employee theft and shrinkage are exceedingly high.
The long and short of it? Having a dysfunctional business partner can not only be an aggravating energy suck (hello), it can cost your company a lot of money and, quite possibly, annihilate the dream you started the partnership with. So, is there hope for people with a dysfunctional business partner? Can dysfunctional partners be fixed? Next time, we’ll explore partnerships what happens when a dysfunctional partner is confronted and why you shouldn’t expect a healthy, normal response from an unhealthy, abnormal person.
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