Stopping the Epidemic of Poor Managers

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Archos Advisors’ David Graham asked an audience of nearly 200 people, “Have you ever left a job because of a bad manager?” It seemed like a simple enough, non-controversial question, yet the response was shocking. At least 80% of the people raised their hands.

Later in the session, I asked the same group what percentage of their current managers they would consider to be “high performance managers”. One person in the room responded 80%! I got excited – momentarily thinking this crowd might be different. Unfortunately, she was alone in such a positive response. As I continued to poll the room, the majority of the participants reported 50% or below.

Unfortunately, our anecdotal statistics are reinforced by national research that shows similar results. In a study of 2.5 million manager-led teams, Gallup Inc. found that one in two people have left a job because of a poor manager. Gallup also discovered that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement across teams. Additionally, the same research shows that, through their impact, managers who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the U.S. economy $319 billion to $398 billion annually*.

Based on these statistics alone, it is safe to say we have an epidemic of poor management that must be cured in order for us to achieve the greatest potential in our organizations. Not only does poor management have a significant impact on employees, it also has a very real influence on business results.

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The good news is that companies can take concrete steps to shift from having poor managers who cause people to leave to having great managers who are the number one reason people stay. These steps include:

  1. Defining and communicating expectations for. This may seem simple, but too often these expectations are weak. Does your organization expect project or workflow management or development and growth of people? Perhaps both? There are different expectations and outcomes depending on the answer to those questions. Both roles are important and necessary, but they aren’t always owned by the same person.

    Organizations must consider what is most effective for the business and what meets the needs of employees. Clear expectations and ownership of these different areas can create specific roles that can then be appropriately filled.

  2. Selecting for managerial talent. Determining who to put in the role of manager is one of the most critical decisions an organization will make, especially the manager who will “own” the role of people development and growth. Research shows that only one in 10 people have natural managerial talent, and an additional two in that 10 have functional talent that can be developed into effective managers1. When placing individuals in a manager role, companies should screen rigorously for managerial talent to make the most informed decisions.

  3. Educating and training managers on what it means to be “high-performance” and supporting them within that role. Companies need to train their managers on the needs of the current workforce and help them build skills to meet those needs. As managers execute this training in their new role, supporting them with coaching and reinforcement for their own professional growth is critical. For managers to be highly effective in their role, they personally need to be engaged, particularly through ongoing employer support.

          Three fundamental areas that require focus include:

  • How to be strengths-based to leverage talents.

  • How to be engagement-focused to build employee commitment.

  • How to be performance-oriented by setting clear expectations, coaching continuously, and establishing accountability.

How do we know these strategies work? Remember the professional who said 80% of her managers would be considered "high performance managers"? I asked how they were able to accomplish this high percentage.  She shared two specific company actions:

  • The company treats every manager role as an external hire and applies the same rigorous selection process to candidates for the position (i.e., assessments, behavior-based interviewing, etc.).

  • Once a manager is onboarded and clear on expectations, the company enrolls them in a specific, multi-level, mandatory training program that is executed over a significant length of time.

This company gets it.

What percent of your managers would you say are high-performing managers? What is the impact of that current percentage, and what if you improved it by 25%? Do you think that could impact your employee metrics or improve your bottom line? What is the impact long-term if you do nothing?

Be proactive to stop the epidemic that could be occurring within your own organization. Apply a critical eye to the steps described and identify one or two immediate actions that can help you improve your percentage. Remember, great managers make a difference not only in their influence on other employees but also on the bottom line, so it is worth the investment!

* Source: State of the American Manager Report, Gallup, Inc. Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.