There Was A Time When ‘GREAT’ Managers Were A Thing

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You don’t have to look far to find articles about employee engagement because they’re everywhere lately. And it’s not surprising that these articles continue to provide reminders that the quality of an employee’s direct manager remains in the Top 3 of the most important factors that affect their level of engagement.

Most employees will tell you there certainly is a direct correlation with their manager’s availability and abilities and the positive, or negative, affect those have on their day-to-day morale and productivity. Employees would even go on to say that their long-term commitment to your company is connected to whether or not they believe their manager can help them grow and develop in their career.

Leaders of today may not know how we got here continuing to struggle with manager quality which is still a leading cause of turnover of talent. After reading this, I hope you feel compelled to shift your perspective about how managers spend their time and make the needed changes for the good of your whole organization. The story goes something like this…executives that came before you created what is now the standard of organizational management that you may be propagating without really knowing why or considering an alternative to.

Within the last two decades, many companies made widespread organizational changes affecting managers that became the management model used today that continues to negatively impact employee engagement and productivity. Since the early 2000’s, executives came to believe there was too much “management redundancy” in their companies. They chose to cut most, if not all, middle management positions in the pursuit of massive savings by reducing payroll and other overhead costs associated with them. Thousands of managers were swiftly terminated and shown the door.

By cutting middle managers, executives effectively removed professionals whose full-time job was to manage people. These managers knew how to hire, they knew the individual talents of each team member, what motivated them and how to coach performance because that’s what they spent 100% of their time focused on doing. They understood human behavior and had their pulse on the collective workforce heartbeat. Their roles were important to employee morale, engagement, operational effectiveness and profitability of businesses. However, because unconscious executives didn’t see the value in the “soft skills” espoused by great managers of yesteryear, they considered them expendable and rationalized their decisions by the resulting cost savings.

As the displaced professional managers started their own companies becoming the management consultants, trainers and business coaches of today, the unlucky individual contributors directly beneath those terminated were ‘promoted’. What companies then did was effectively re-title individual contributors to managers expecting them to perform a full plate of individual contributor job duties – in addition to – expecting them to manage people. Overnight, these newly flattened companies became grossly ineffective as they moved forward with less expensive, but also overwhelmed and in many cases, incompetent managers.

Fast forward to today and we still see the result of the organization flattening, middle management decimating actions that took place. In many sectors and sizes of companies, business performance is down. If you’ve become a leader in the last decade, you likely think it’s normal to have managers with a full plate of individual contributor work who, on the side, are also expected to manage a team of people.

Now retired executives made managing and inspiring employees a “nice to have” instead of realizing it should be a non-negotiable business activity. How do you think a company is going to have engaged employees and higher productivity if its’ managers manage people when they ‘get around to it’?  THIS is the reality of organizational management today. This is why, for decades, generations of managers have continued to struggle to be effective. If you want different results, do something different.

Now retired executives made managing and inspiring employees a “nice to have” instead of realizing it should be a non-negotiable business activity. How do you think a company is going to have engaged employees and higher productivity if its’ managers manage and lead people when they ‘get around to it’?

Cindy Goyette, CC, SPHR, MA

Management used to be an actual job where managing and inspiring employees’ success was a full-time responsibility. It was a career path in and of itself and it was differentiated from that of individual contributors who could choose a non-management career path if they didn’t have the personality, skills, or frankly, the desire to manage people.

And today, while there are employee-focused companies providing sound options of management skills training, degree programs and other great support to their people managers, it’s not solely about building managers’ competence or skills. It’s about leaders supporting their people managers and increasing the time they spend enabling employee success while de-creasing the time they are expected to spend on doing individual contributor type work. This is an area you have complete control over.

Your managers want be successful and some of them even want to become great leaders in your company. Your employees need their manager to be competent in management responsibilities AND have the availability, authority and resources to enable their success. Availability being the operative word here. Both want their managers to have permission from you to take the time needed to manage and lead people. This includes translating strategic direction into expected actions and deliverables, providing immediate performance feedback, useful coaching, appropriate recognition and job skills training as needed.  How much, or how little time, managers spend developing their people is of paramount importance to the engagement and productivity of your workforce. Companies spend significant time and effort attracting and hiring talent but continue to leave their managers overwhelmed with project work and little time to focus on managing and inspiring their people.

Employees feel valued when you take the time to develop quality managers that enable their success. It is in your control as a leader to make sure they know what to do as a manager, have time to do it, are measured on how well they do it (i.e. provided 360 feedback) and that they are held accountable to their performance if they don’t. Your support of these efforts by being at the forefront of your company modeling the management and leadership skills you expect of managers will positively affect employee engagement and your company’s performance. It’s important. People Matter in Business.

Cindy Goyette, SPHR – Maximizing Human Capital, Inc. 2017

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