Flipping the Bozo Bit Back


A new-to-a-company manager explained this situation to me recently. She'd overheard something like this recently from one of her team members.

So you're working in a place where it seems as if all the managers are Bozos. But you like the work and you like the people, and you know nothing lasts forever. After a couple years of insanity, all the managers change. And I do mean all, from the CEO down to the first level. Some of the people who were working to reverse the insanity were promoted, and a bunch of people are new, including your manager. But you're no idiot; you know this manager's as bad as the others.

This new-to-the-company manager asked how to get people to give her and her ideas a chance.

She's talking about flipping the Bozo bit back to a neutral position. (In Behind Closed Doors, Esther and I talk about one variety of flipping the Bozo bit. There are as many varieties of Bozo bits as there are people 🙂

I know of only one way to flip the Bozo bit back to neutral: to have your team trust you. There are lots of ways to help your team learn to trust you:

  • Make all decisions transparent. You're still the manager; you're in charge. But explain your rationale to your team about the decision.
  • Consider using consensus or limited consensus to make more participative decisions so people have a say in the future of the team.
  • Institute weekly one-on-ones with each person each week. If you spend 20 minutes a week privately with each person, you will get to know each person as a human being. During the one-on-ones, don't be afraid to take action items and resolve them during the following week.
  • Take action on the difficult people problems. Maybe you have a person who's not pulling his or her weight on the team. Maybe someone else is impossible to work with. Deal with those problems now.
  • Develop and maintain a project portfolio for the team, so everyone can see who's working on what.

Flipping the Bozo Bit back to neutral is not impossible, but it will take a while. As people begin to become more comfortable with you and trust you, they will see you as a reasonable manager, not a Bozo.

3 Replies to “Flipping the Bozo Bit Back”

  1. It seems to me that the hardest bit would be recognizing when the bozo bit has been flipped. After all, no-one likes to think of themselves as a bozo. So how do you know?

  2. How do you define “not pulling weight on the team” or “impossible to work with”? Maybe they are that way because of the bad mgt they had to deal with previously.

  3. Having been the new guy in organizations that had been poorly managed, I would say that two things are very important.
    First, don’t act too quickly to make changes, don’t be a hip shooter. Every environment and culture is different. To build trust and confidence, your first moves have to be right. Get the lay of the land, and, if possible, get concurrence of your manager (unless he or she is obviously part of problem, in which case you have to ask yourself what you’re doing there in the first place).
    Second, delegate. In most poorly managed organizations managers horde power, they don’t allow their subordinates to make decisions. Trust, as Johanna points out, is essential. It is always a two way street. Your subordinates usually know more about the details of a problem than you do. Guide them toward the right decisions, but don’t always be the one to make all the decisions. Empowerment is liberating, can show your employees that you trust them, and they will build trust in you.

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