Using perceptions to manage: Three unintended consequences, or, how a manager can create a gossip culture in one easy step
Today I continue my series on managers managing perceptions, and how attempting this creates difficult situations and doesn’t resolve problems. When I say, “Managing perceptions”, I’m thinking of when a manager attempts to use perceptions as the basis for what is being managed, rather than using observed behaviors to manage the team.
Imagine a manager who attempts to give feedback by saying, “There’s a perception that you are easily excitable” or “There’s a perception that you easily get confused.” That’s using perceptions to manage.
In previous articles, I discuss how this deflects from actual performance and creates confusion as to what is real and not real. In today’s article, I discuss some more unintended consequences of a manager relying on perceptions to manage the team – how it creates an instant culture of gossip.
7. Citing perceptions confirms that gossip, innuendo, and back-biting is acceptable and encouraged, if not the default
When a manager says, “There’s a perception that. . .” it confirms that gossip, innuendo, and back-biting is an acceptable and encouraged behavior, both by employees and the manager. By definition, invoking the perception concept is gossip, since it does not rely on any sort of fact or evidence. The only fact that is confirmed is that there is gossip, innuendo and, most likely, back-biting that is occurring. On top of this, gossip and innuendo is now the default mechanism for understanding what is going on with the team.
8. There is no mechanism for putting the perception to rest or confirming the reverse perception
An employee can do a lot to reverse perceptions, including changing the behavior that potentially introduced the perception, and, more likely, employing the counter-insurgent techniques of gossip, back-biting, etc. Having done this, when does the “perception” change? Who is the responsible party or governing body for saying, “There is a NEW perception!” There is none. It is highly likely that even if behaviors change, and even if perceptions change, and even if the people change, the “perception” will still linger as a trace, somewhere in the organization, and it will never be put to rest.
9. Citing perceptions creates seething, underlying and never-ending anger
Given that the negative perception tag has been created, and given that it never will go away, and it is, by definition, not tied to actual performance, you should expect the employee to have an ongoing, never-ending anger or resentment about this perception, whatever it is. This is commonly known as a “chip on your shoulder.” If you are a manager who wants to create these shoulder-chips, then the “There’s a perception” is the fast-track to this. It will surely create a negative work environment, reduce performance and eventually haunt you as a manager, since it encourages new rumors and perceptions about you.
In the next article in the series, I explore the likelihood of positive perceptions being cited when managing to perceptions.