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Employee Engagement – Wrong Person in the Manager Role. Again.
By Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective
Posted August 14, 2015

Image of man in tie looking downBeing hired or promoted into a manager role is supposed to be exciting, fulfilling, and provide a situation where the employee can make an even greater positive impact on the organization. Too often this isn't how it works..

In many cases the individual hired or promoted into a manager role doesn't have the skills and talent to be a good much less a great manager. This isn't necessarily the fault of the person selected for the role. More often, those responsible are leaders who selected the wrong individual for the role.

Substantial talent in your area of expertise provides considerable contributions to your employer making you a very valuable employee. However, the fact you're highly talented in one area does NOT make you a good managerial candidate. Skills that make a great manager are completely different. Unfortunately, too few American company leaders grasp this reality. They often promote someone doing a great job in a role that utilizes their skills and expertise erroneously assuming the skills so valuable in their previous position will transfer to the role of manager. Wrong.

Frankly, only a small percentage of people have the skills and talents needed to be a great manager. Gallup's "State of the American Manager Analytics and Advice for Leaders"*, (released in spring 2015) found only 10% of working people possess the talent to be a great manager.

Gallup defines a "manager" as someone responsible for leading a team toward common objectives. Managers take direction from organization leadership and make it actionable for their direct reports. Gallup estimates 82% of current managers do not possess the level of talent needed for their management role. YIKES!

What causes us to be so far off base? One reason is the outdated practice of promotion to manager as a reward for long tenure. And there are those who believe an individual's strong performance in their area of expertise somehow makes them a great manager candidate. And, occasionally, politics play a role in manager selection.

Great Managers Possess These Talents*

1. Motivate their employees
2. Are able to overcome obstacles
3. Create a culture of accountability
4. Build trusting relationships
5. Make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and the organization

Finding people who possess all five of these key talents is obviously difficult. Fortunately, another 20% possess some of these five talents. With the right coaching and development they can become successful managers.

Impact of the Wrong Person in the Manager Role
In situations where the wrong person is in the manager role no one wins. Instead, there are multiple losers often including the manager. The manager may feel overwhelmed, ineffective and frustrated and become disengaged. Their direct reports clearly aren't receiving the benefits of a good manager. Given a lack of direction, the entire team may be unable to meet performance objectives. And, in a culture of accountability, leaders who made the hiring/promotion decision will likely suffer the consequences of an underperforming manager of an underperforming team. Company performance objectives aren't met sometimes impacting other teams' ability to excel as well.

Employees who report to a manager not qualified for the role often become frustrated and less engaged. Over time these frustrations if not addressed lead to employees who pursue moving to a different role that reports to a strong manager. Sometimes very valuable employees simply leave the company. Per the Gallup study noted above the impact of a manager's engagement on their direct reports is significant.

Gallup Chart - Engaged Managers have Engaged EmployeesGallup Logo

In the big picture, the impact of placing the wrong people in management roles costs the U.S. economy in excess of $300 billion annually*. As company leaders assess what must happen to produce results to meet objectives, it's clear improving the process of hiring/promoting managers and helping those who are well-qualified succeed in their roles is crucial.

Being slower to hire/promote and quicker to fire/move someone from a position they aren't going to be successful in will make this process much easier. When the employee is valued, has made positive contributions previously and will flourish in the right role, move them. Making that move will retain their talent without anyone suffering the adverse effects of an ill-placed manager. In any case, dragging on a bad situation doesn't do anyone any favors.

People don't leave companies, they leave people.

People don't leave companies, they leave people. Unfortunately, this often repeated saying is frequently accurate. The company must initially place and continue coaching and working with managers to develop necessary leadership skills. Per Gallup's study, managers make up at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units. Furthermore, the study revealed that at some point in their career half of Americans had left a job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life. This reality underlines the fact that a bad boss at work has an impact on a person's life beyond work. It is difficult to set that situation aside when ending each day's work.

It's clear not everyone is cut out to be a manager; nor is everyone interested in being a manager. That doesn't mean they aren't deserving of recognition of their contributions to the organization. Alternative career paths that recognize, motivate, advance and compensate high-performing employees are critical. In some cases, a top performer with a special skill set will make more than the manager they report to. That can be a very appropriate situation.

Company leaders must ensure they are using a valid, objective process for identifying, coaching and mentoring individuals with at least most of the talents needed to be a great leader. Although no method is perfect, greatly increasing the odds of placing the right person in the manager role will make a substantial companywide positive impact. Coaching, mentoring and other assistance helping individuals grow into the manager role will benefit not only the current team, but will create a structure for identifying and building future company leadership.

Action Items:

  1. Evaluate your internal process for hiring/promoting people to manager positions at all levels. Ensure the process is objective, focused on talents possessed by great managers, and inclusive of several leaders' perspectives.
  2. Use internal assessments to identify managers performing poorly in the role, or who are new to their positions. Determine what needs to be done to remedy the situation a) coaching, mentoring, training, b) movement to a non-managerial role that utilizes their skills and expertise, c) termination, d) other viable options that take into account the needs of the team, the individual and the company.
  3. Ensure your company's leadership development process begins with identifying potential front-line managers and uses a valid, objective methodology to assess, develop and prepare future leaders to assume additional responsibilities. Include components such as cross-training in other functional areas as part of leadership development (and budgeted and managed as such).
  4. Use a company-wide forum to address the reasons for the changes in leadership development, and emphasize the importance of each team reporting a strong manager. Provide an anonymous method for employees with manager issues to confidentially bring those issues forward. However complicated it may be, ensure employees who come forward do not receive any form of backlash.

Gallup Logo   *"Gallup: State of the American Manager Analytics and Advice for Leaders", released Spring 2015, click here.

Fresh Perspective
Fresh Perspective helps business leaders make key strategic decisions. We adeptly research, analyze and synthesize results to deliver only ‘need to know’ insight to leaders so they make the right decision the first time. Lisa Hays, founder and CEO, gained considerable experience from widely varied roles in large corporations. She combines her 30+ years’ experience, expertise and objective viewpoint to directly help business leaders.

Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective, Inc.
Twitter: @Periwinkle4Lisa

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