Blog: You don’t want to win third prize

By Jack Keough

One of my favorite movies of all time is Glenngarry, Glenn Ross. In that movie there is a scene that I will always remember. If you’ve seen it as well, and, particularly if you’re in sales, I’m sure you recall it.

Alec Baldwin’s character is brought in by a real estate company to “motivate” three salespeople to increase sales. He calls a meeting to unveil a new twist to the monthly sales contest and “encourage” them to drive more business.

“We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest,” he tells them in a darkened room as rain beats against the windows.  “As you know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anybody want to see the second prize?” he asks as he holds up a set of steak knives. “The third prize,” he says glaring around the room and stopping dramatically: “You’re fired.”

That scene has always struck me.

You’ve probably had a bad boss, possibly an abusive one or two over your working career. I know I have. These types of bosses, until they’re found out, cause damage throughout an organization and destroy productivity.

But just how much of an effect does a bad boss have on a company?

Just a few weeks ago, Inc. magazine, documented the numbers.

In an article titled, “Jerk Alert: The Real Cost of Bad Bosses,” the story highlighted a recent report that estimated that bad bosses cost the economy $360 billion every year in lost productivity. Bad bosses can also hurt a company in other ways. In fact, 65% of employees say they’d take a new boss over a pay raise. In addition, bad bosses also create unwanted turnover.

Not surprisingly, research, does indeed, show that people leave a company because of their immediate boss more than any other reason. When the economy improves, you will see more and more good workers leaving a company because of their bosses. The ones left behind are probably the employees you really don’t want to keep,

Harvey Hornstein, an author of several books on management including “Bad Bosses and Their Prey,” points out that 90% of the U.S. work force has been subjected to abusive behavior at one time or another. He bases his conclusion on a survey of nearly 1,000 workers over an eight-year period.

In one of his books, he mentions a 2007 survey of 8,000 adults in which 37% had experienced bullying at work. Of those respondents, 37% said they had suffered abuse from their bosses.

Here are some other findings: Employees with obnoxious bosses were more likely to make intentional mistakes (30% vs. 6%), call in sick when they were healthy (29% vs. 4%), and put minimal effort into their work (33% vs. 9%).

Those are some amazing numbers.

For an employee, there isn’t a lot you can do when you have a bad boss. Usually, a worker might wait them out hoping that the boss will either move on or get removed. Or hopefully you can get a chance to go to HR. But that, unfortunately, isn’t always a good idea.

From the company’s standpoint, you have to be better at evaluating your managers. Find out why employees are leaving and examine in pointed detail why those numbers are up in certain areas. It is up to upper management to make sure their direct reports have adequate training for their positions and their performance is evaluated regularly. And, finally, set goals for managers; if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.

The management style of Baldwin’s character was popular in the 60s. Let’s hope it isn’t around in 2013.

Jack Keough was the editor of Industrial Distribution magazine for more than 26 years. He often speaks at many industry events and seminars. He can be reached at john.keough@comcast.net or keoughbiz@gmail.com

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