Managers Matter

Good managers are critical to any organization’s success, and it’s important to learn how to develop them in-house.

It’s said that when employees quit jobs, they more often leave because of bad managers rather than the company itself. And if that’s the case, developing great managers should be of prime importance to organizations, given their ability to minimize employee turnover and improve employee engagement.

That may seem obvious, but developing good managers still appears to be a mystery to many organizations, judging from the high level of disengagement among American workers reported in Gallup Polls and other studies.

Things could be much different if companies took a more thoughtful approach to promoting and training managers, says Kim Dawson, director of employee experience at YouEarnedIt, a company that helps organizations improve retention and engagement through peer-to-peer recognition platforms. Moreover, the blueprint for developing good managers isn’t all that complicated either, notes Dawson, who has more than 15 years’w experience in human resources.

“Managers are no different than any other employee,” she says. “They need leadership and guidance to be successful.”

It’s difficult to understate the importance of good managers. They’re the first and primary connection points for employees, so how much managers help them be successful on a daily basis truly makes or breaks their experience with the company, she explains.

“A good manager will remove impediments to employees’ success, set goals and follow up on progress toward those goals,” Dawson says. “Employees need to know what success looks like in their roles and how that affects the company overall. When employees can find purpose in their everyday work, they’re not only more engaged, they’re more fulfilled at work.”

Shatter management myths

So how do organizations go about developing good managers? They can start by avoiding some of the management myths that pervade the business world. A good example is the penchant for promoting high-performing employees to managerial positions, she suggests.

“Research from Gallup shows that’s a bad strategy that can hurt engagement and business results,” she says. “Not all employees are cut out to be business managers. One of the biggest problems is that organizations don’t necessarily dig into what employees really want to do. They assume that because an employee is a high-performer, they automatically want to become a manager. In reality, lots of high performers want to stay on a professional track and not even manage people.”

To avoid this, organizations need to create clear career paths, including some that offer promotions or rewards for people who don’t want to become managers. In the absence of such transparency, many employees who aren’t interested in being a manager may still say yes to promotions because they feel like it’s the only way they can be rewarded for their good work, Dawson says.

“Generally speaking, they think it (accepting an unwanted managerial promotion) is the only way to get a leg up — earn more money and be more successful,” she says. “But instead, it does a disservice to both them and the company.”

Skills can be taught

Another myth posits that leadership qualities can’t be learned; either people have them or they don’t. But while it’s true that some people inherently possess qualities that make them good managers, those qualities also can be taught and learned, Dawson says.

As such, organizations should first decide exactly what qualities define a successful manager, then develop a job description that incorporates those expectations. After that, organizations must assess how managers stack up against that criteria. “Then companies can identify what they need to work on and provide training to fill the gaps,” she notes. “When you promote without giving people the tools to be successful, it negatively impacts their direct reports — and the business.

“Sadly, there’s no magic bullet for developing good managers,” she continues. “It takes time and planning. You have to determine what sets of soft and hard skills managers need to be successful.”

Regular one-on-one meetings with employees definitely should be part of those job expectations. Training is available so that new managers can learn how to conduct an effective one-on-one meeting, Dawson says.

“One-on-one meetings help managers build relationships with employees,” she says. “It shouldn’t be a difficult ask for managers to get this kind of training so they can connect better with employees.”

Meetings and readings

Dawson also strongly advocates holding managers’ meetings, without senior management present. That way, managers can get better by speaking candidly and leveraging each other’s experience and managerial strengths.

“At YouEarnedIt, we meet once a month for an hour and discuss a different topic each time, such as empathetic and active listening,” she says. “We also make time to talk about issues and challenges we’re facing. I’ve seen this work effectively at every place I’ve worked.”

Book clubs offer another effective strategy. Reading books about what it takes to be a good manager, then discussing the material with others is a great way to cultivate more effective managerial techniques, she says. (As an example, Dawson cites a book called Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, written by Kim Scott.)

“It’s an easy, low-cost form of training,” Dawson points out. “You don’t have to make a big investment in time and money.”

In addition, many organizations would be well-served by taking a close look at where employee turnover is the lowest and highest. High attrition in a department or division could very well stem from a bad manager in need of training. Low turnover, on the other hand, could likely be the result of an effective manager.

“Organizations then should figure out what he or she is doing that’s so effective, then get training in those areas for other managers,” Dawson says.

Value outside perspectives

Mentorship can also play a key role. If a good manager leaves a company, Dawson encourages his or her direct reports to stay in touch.

“Mentorship cannot be overvalued,” she says. “Also, if you have a manager who’s not as successful as you’d like, find a mentor for them outside the company. That offers a ton of value because many times people become boxed in where they work and see only their own perspectives. Outside perspectives broaden their horizons.”

The bottom line: With dramatically low unemployment creating a shrinking labor pool, having good managers is more important than ever to attracting and retaining employees in a highly competitive environment.

“So if you’re getting bad Glassdoor reviews or have high attrition, you need to take a close look at your managers and train them so you can keep attracting new talent,” Dawson concludes. “You can’t overdramatize the importance of this.”


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