Chaos Made By Owner

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a company owner who creates chaos and drives away employees: What are the options for coping with the top guy who changes the rules?

I work as management for a three year old telecommunications company owned by an individual who wears many hats. The company has a couple hundred employees. He is constantly changing the rules for the organization on a moment’s notice. He seems to enjoy the chaos it creates and the fact that everyone is kept off balance. An example: he promotes and demotes supervisors without warning or explanation. The result is the employees are constantly on edge and turnover is high.

What can we do to gain stability within the organization make it a place we all would enjoy working at? My analysis describes him as a last minute boss. He has a pattern so the usual options are: i. Toughen up and live with it ii. Have a candid private confrontation with him iii. Engage our work group in a staff-wide skull session to hammer out does and don’t do rules for project assignments. iv. Go to the boss’ boss (This doesn’t apply because he’s the top man.)

I, as a manager near the top, see only two options. I feel I have are to:

–Meet with the owner and explain the disruption his actions create. This will not be well received because he likes to keep the employees off balance and it’s his nature is to act when a thought pops into his head.

–Manage the team expecting things to change. Yet there is no way to plan and create an environment in which we can all grow and the business can prosper.

Signed, Neck Deep in Chaos

Dear Neck Deep in Chaos:

Learn to live in chaos. The problem is there is no way to manage growth and expectations. There is an aspect of control with no control and this leaves you in the environment yearning for a solution. Ideally the solution is for the Owner to release his control and rely on those he hired to do the job. This would include him being more of a mentor and leader. But that is a hard thing for an owner to do. This will take him time and experience.

I think your option to speak with him about your concerns is what you had best do. If things don’t change, you need to make some important choices as to your future. But before you vote with your feet what have you got to lose if you have a head-to-head confrontation? In such a session you could spell out the disarray of your company and the turnover. That won’t mean much unless you can point out how the numbers are at risk.

You might propose that all important individuals filling out a job clarification chart, including yourself. List the tasks essential to your operation on a vertical axis and on a horizontal axis such functions as who assigns a task, who’s in charge, who needs to be consulted, who should be kept informed, who must sign off. Such a chart establishes roles and norms and what is critical to who does what. Such a one-on-one will tell you if it is worth your time to hang on until you have another job offer or must make other plans for your future.

Dean Graves, Guest Respondent & William Gorden