If you've ever felt that your boss sets you up to fail, research suggests you may not be paranoid - but right.
Jean-Francois Manzoni, an assistant professor at a leading European business school, INSEAD in Fountainebleau, France, says his studies show that when an employee doesn't excel on the job, the manager does not hold himself responsible, even when it can be linked to the boss's own behavior.
"They say it is the employee - the person cannot work on their own, are not responsible, or are not creative," Manzoni says in an article co-authored with Jean-Louis Barsoux in the Harvard Business Review (Reprint 98209). "But it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
What that means is that once a boss has decided a worker cannot succeed, then it becomes very difficult - if not downright impossible - to break that opinion.
Specifically, the manager makes it more difficult for the employee's suggestions to see the light of day, or argues with every idea the employee makes, so that it is less likely others will pick up on the idea.
"And when it becomes really bad, you become transparent," says Manzoni. "It may become so difficult that the subordinate has to leave in order to achieve anything."
The fallout is not only damaging to individual careers, but in the new work dynamic calling on team efforts, group innovations, and shared information, such actions can damage other workers and, ultimately, the company.
"The beauty of the research is that we found the bosses won't deny that they behaved this way. They say that they are generally aware that they behaved in more controlling ways with the lower group of performers," Manzoni says. "The bosses do what they want and they get what they expect."
As a result, even though an employee may be capable of great things, once targeted as a low performer they may begin to act that way. The person begins to doubt his or her own judgment, withdrawing and offering fewer ideas for consideration.
Still others may swing the other way and begin taking on huge workloads in order to prove their worth - but quality suffers, and that only emphasizes the negative label.
In research with more than 800 business executives, Manzoni found that there is an "intervention" for bosses who are willing to admit to such destructive behavior and want to fix it. Manzoni emphasizes it must come from the top - an employee has little recourse once such action starts.
They advise an intervention should:
SOURCE: Adapted from Anita Bruzzese, Take This Job and Thrive (Manassas Park, VA, 2000), pp. 93-95. All rights reserved.