And What To Do About It

Most of us have experienced a bad boss. What’s not so obvious is how bad bosses can undermine the best quality program in the world. Whether they are a bully or a wimp or a know-it-all or a control freak or an absentee, every bad boss undermines quality. Here’s how.

Bad Boss Type Quality Result
Bully Employees are afraid to report out-of-range values because they know they will be blamed. Measurements are either omitted or fudged.
Wimp The boss won’t deal with systems that aren’t working or employees making mistakes. Nothing changes. Bad practice becomes “normal,” and, to quote the songwriter Bruce Cockburn, “the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”
Know-It-All This boss doesn’t listen. The observations of staff and their wonderings are ignored. It takes longer to find the source of quality issues, if they’re found at all. The ingenuity of staff is ignored, so only the boss’s ideas tried.
Control Freak These bosses won’t let anything happen without their say-so. This slows everything down, and tends to make staff complacent. “We’ll wait for the boss.”
Absentee This boss is fundamentally afraid of making a mistake or offending anyone. This boss drives nothing and doesn’t correct anything either. Things only happen if there are orders from higher up, or if someone takes on informal leadership.

For quality management staff, the challenge is that these effects arise, regardless of where the bad boss is in the organization. Just as orders and products move through departments in the organization, the quality effects of one area with a bad boss swirl across the other departments.

How then can someone with responsibilities for quality cope?

Here are two strategies that may help.

Get involved in the training

If the training of staff is inadequate or sloppy, the quality results will flow from that. But if you are able to help managers document and train faster, they’ll probably take you up on it. That gives you a possible avenue in.

Fortunately, there is a proven way to get those results, and along the way, they it has the spin-off effect of lower error rates and better retention of learning. The method is the Training Within Industry model of Job Instruction. This royalty-free method is in the public domain and is freely available. A coach is recommended to start, but you can do it without if you need. Even better, if you reach into the community of people using it, you can probably get some willing help for free.

The TWI Job Instruction works because it addresses both sides of the training equation:

  • It provides a fast and efficient way to document work methods, and
  • It provides a proven instructional approach that ensures understanding and mastery.

Using the TWI Job Instruction approach can help you at the starting point, getting employees to do tasks consistently AND correctly. This is the first strategy that can help you address quality issues, in spite of a bad boss.


If the boss won’t listen, you can. When you listen for understanding you can discover the circumstances in which things go awry. Once you have that worked out, it can become easier to nudge practice on the floor.

You may not be able to directly influence practice, but if you can hint and nudge in a thoughtful way, it can provide a route to influence outcomes.

Both these approaches rely on the premise that you change outcomes by changing the process. That’s a proven approach. And while working to improve quality when there is a bad boss around isn’t easy, these two strategies can help.