When Software Goes Bad, Bosses Blame Employees (If They Don’t Like Them)


Some bosses really need perceptual training.

Screenshot by ZDNet

With the proliferation of data comes the danger of certainty.

You (think you) can always figure out why a product is selling. Or not.

You (think you) can also find out which employees are productive and which are not.

This tends to rule out another truth: the dataless subjectivity of humans.

Please forgive this philosophical rumination, but I just dove into researching great minds at the University of Calgary and the University of Pennsylvania.

Researchers were fascinated by abusive managers. The kind who gets angry when something goes wrong.

Previous research has suggested that some managers simply cannot cope with underperforming underlings. These researchers, however, questioned whether accusations of poor performance were instead affected by managers’ biased judgment of people.

They conducted two small experiments. One seemed to show that employees often thought they were more diligent than their bosses.

It was the second, however, that can make many employees and many managers (hopefully) scream in the mirror and sing. Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

This involved providing managers with various scenarios surrounding an employee’s apparent poor performance.

Say the researchers: “We then randomly assigned them to various scenarios indicating what was responsible for the poor outcome, such as the employee, a software malfunction, or both. We asked them how much of the blame they attributed to the software in relation to the employee”. .”

You’ll be amazed at the sounds of coyotes in heat when I tell you the next part.

“We found that when supervisors were told that the employee’s lack of effort and dysfunction were also responsible for the poor outcome, they always blamed the employee the most,” the researchers explain.

And there you were thinking of people. There you thought bosses are bosses for a reason and one of the reasons has to be their ability to manage well. And then you suddenly realized why you won’t get a promotion.

One more for the road, perhaps?

How about: “Our research suggests that it may be misperceptions on the part of managers that deserve more blame.”

Essentially, then, if a manager has decided that an employee is a poor performer, objective proof that an error is not the fault of the employee does not matter.

I have a theory about this.

Too often managers think someone is a bad performer simply because they don’t like them.

Personal bias is built in. It will not be easily moved. How many times is the word “like” replaced by words like “evaluate”, “respect” or even “appreciate”?

“I like the way Martin works” can, too often, simply mean “I like Martin”.

When, then, will some managers have the training to examine their personal biases? When will they be confronted with the realities that this research seems to reveal?

Or could it be that some get away with their prejudices as they rise to the top?

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