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Wednesday, Oct 05, 2005

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Management by impressions

IT IS but natural that most managers — like anybody else — have their strengths and weaknesses. One such weakness of quite a large number of managers in Indian organisations is with respect to their management of subordinates. More often than not, the "halo-effect" is at play. The "halo-effect" refers to the impression the manager has about his subordinate. It usually is unconscious and is in favour of the subordinate. The manager may not even be able to back that impression with solid data. At times, the "he-is-similar-to-me" feeling influences the boss's impression. This refers to situations where the manager sees a lot of his own personality in his subordinate and so conveniently glosses over the latter's weaknesses.

When confronted — this happens very rarely though — the manager justifies his stand by highlighting the strengths of the subordinate. Another weakness pertains to the first impression of the employer of the employee during the interview. Since most candidates highlight only their strengths, the impression created in the interview cannot be relied upon to evaluate the employee's potential. Yet, many bosses stick to this impression and even go on to reward subordinates based on that. Managing negative impressions is no rocket science; nor does it require the services of a psychologist. All it requires is common sense.

If only the CEO would spend a little time quizzing people on what is going on, he would understand the damage that is caused by management by impressions. Only one yardstick is sufficient: the actual work done by the subordinate. If the subordinate passes that test, he would then be in a position to clarify whether his impression was right.

Another danger that the management would do well to guard against is the deliberate exaggeration, by a close friend, of good impression. Whatever the ramifications of management by impressions, it is for the HR manager to take the initiative to ensure merit comes first.

A. B. Sivakumar

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