Is it possible to keep a check on behavioural issues of line managers?


Line managers are in key positions with a hold on both business and people. That said, how managers behave, particularly with their teams, can have a huge impact on team morale and overall performance. At times, managers may impose their own insecurities, incompetencies or for that matter, their obsession with how work should be done, on others. In doing so, they may behave in ways that could hurt others and consequently affect organisational effectiveness. Is there a way organisations can keep a check on such subjective yet day-to-day issues?

Emmanuel David, director, Tata Management Training Centre (TMTC), Tata Group HR

Emmanuel David

Behavioural issues at the line manager level are rather common. However, there is no single best way to deal with it. If a manager is really competent and contributes significantly to organisational performance in terms of revenue or otherwise, a matter related to behavioural issue may be dismissed or would not be immediately paid heed to. Whereas, if a manager is not so efficient, people will not hesitate to come out in the open and even take action against the manager, if required.

For instance, a woman who was the secretary to a regional head in a certain company was suffering at the hands of this toxic boss, who had an affair with another woman. Since he knew that people are aware of his affair, under his own insecurities, he would act rude with people. He would rebuke them for no particular reason, and this woman, his secretary, had to bear the brunt. While she complained to the HR team, nothing really changed. She then drafted a neutral yet factual note and shared it with the senior leadership team, which later caught the attention of one of the senior leaders. Though the regional head was finally transferred to another location, it took this woman an entire year to get the issue resolved.

Sadly, the role of HR in such cases is almost negligible, while the one in trouble is left searching for ways to deal with it. At times, organisations don’t take timely tough calls just to avoid messing up with a professional who may be important to business. Hence, the best way to avoid behavioural mismatches is to ensure a culture that does not allow wrong or unethical behaviours.

Chaitali Mukherjee, partner, people and organisation, PwC India

Chaitali Mukherjee

This is something that can’t be controlled directly as there is a limit to the level of policing one can do in an organisation. That is why, we have so many procedures around cultural orientation, employee development, behavioural trainings and so on.

Line managers play an important role as they are responsible for tasks that may involve high-level decision making. That said, behavioural issues could impact the way in which they are getting things done, which is why organisations invest so much on training managers around the right behaviours to exhibit in the workplace.

While you cannot keep a check on the behaviour of the line managers directly, there are ways to solicit feedback and understand what may or may not be going on well for people in the team. From the basic 360 degree feedback to skip-level conversations, organisations lay down guidelines for ethics and dos and don’ts as well, to ascertain appropriate behaviours.

More than all this, it is important to understand that what cannot be controlled can at least be prevented, and for that, it is important for organisations to hire right. If organisations focus on the behavioural aspects while hiring and perform stringent and discreet background checks, such managers or professionals can be avoided altogether. Organisations can spend a lifetime to ‘make the wrong people do the right things’ but it won’t work—it is better to hire the right people.

This is also a function of the kind of culture an organisation has. What a certain organisation may consider as ‘policing’, may be something normal for others. Similarly, for some organisations, skip-level meetings could work as a solution, while in some organisations it may just not be possible. All said and done, the best way to prevent behavioural issues at managerial levels is to hire right.


Lalit Kar, vice president & head-HR, Mumbai International Airport

Lalit Kar

Behavioural issues are often noticed in managers who are high contributors or high performers. The harsh reality is that high contribution covers up for high-handedness in most organisations. Moreover, aggression is now a celebrated behaviour in organisations even if it often means being abusive to get faster results.

The idea of being strictly task oriented and the performance pressures at times tend to make people believe that it is alright to nudge people. However, it may get to the extent of rebuking someone and still be justified on grounds of ensuring impeccable performance. However, this may not be the best behaviour for a manager or a boss to exhibit, as it may let down the morale of the team, further impacting the very same performance, for which the manager behaves aggressively.

Such behavioural issues can be kept under control if an organisation ascertains an efficient office design and the right kind of culture. In addition, it is important to understand that it flows from the top and hence the top leaders’ behaviour, stated values, beliefs of the organisation and right behaviour modelling can play a significant role in reducing such behaviour.

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