When it comes to employee performance, HR pros often lose sight of a critical variable—the employee-manager relationship.
When these relationships are running smoothly, and everyone is meeting their business goals, it’s all good. But, when managers aren’t great at the people management of their job, it’s the employee performance that suffers, as well as your bottom line.
Some studies suggest that managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores, and disengaged employees cost companies as much as $500 billion annually. And, as the data-backed saying goes, people leave managers, not companies.
It’s time we take a look at why poor managers get the position in the first place, what actually makes a great manager, and how we can hold managers accountable for their team’s performance.
Why Poor Leaders Climb the Ranks
Not everyone is meant to be a leader, yet there appears to be an abundance of bad managers. There is a responsibility on both the manager and their reports to build a positive relationship, but the way that companies are choosing managers is a large part of why so many employees are dissatisfied.
Here are a few reasons why:
- Management is the sole path for upward mobility at many companies. Companies that do not offer alternate routes for employees to grow are forcing team members to either become management (regardless of actual readiness) or to find work elsewhere.
- Companies misguidedly focus on individual results. Strong individual contributors are often considered for management, without exploration into their people management skills. While individual success should be a factor of management readiness, it should not be the only consideration.
- Toxic cultures stack “yes men” into management. In some cases, top management makes the conscious decision to promote individuals that will not push back and instead keep their heads down to reach results.
6 Qualities of a Great Manager
Think about an experience you had with a poor manager. What qualities did they portray? The list probably comes to mind fast.
Great managers should evoke a similar reaction, for the opposite reasons. Great managers motivate their teams to succeed and instill a sense of trust, respect, and accountability in their projects and relationships.
The six core qualities and behaviors of a great manager include:
- Transparency: Trust is the core element of any relationship, and without transparent, honest communication you cannot have trust. One study found that just half of the employees feel their managers are transparent with them, a perception that destroys relationships by building an “us” and “them” mentality.
- Ongoing Coaching: A great manager takes the time to give their team 1:1 attention and coaches them on how to build on their unique strengths and improve upon their areas for improvement. Poor managers will only approach team members when results slip or berate team members for their shortcomings without celebrating their successes.
- Trusts their Team: Employees hate to be micromanaged, and strong leaders know the importance of letting their team have autonomy in their work. By over-analyzing every minute detail of a project, a manager is showing that they do not trust their team (and is also wasting time that could be spent on other, more strategic, work).
- Emotionally Consistent: Great managers do not have to be emotionless robots, but terrible managers are those that let their mood impact the entire team, or begin to aggressively demand results once they receive pressure from their higher-ups.
- Results-Focused: The purpose of managers is to help their teams succeed. They should keep their teams motivated and find ways to inspire them to achieve and surpass goals. If teams become complacent with their results, team creativity flounders and innovation halts.
- Good Listener: Leaders who talk more than they listen are likely not as strong of leaders as they think they are. When team members bring up issues they are facing, a good manager will listen to what they say, how they feel and what they’ve tried so far and guide the conversation to encourage them to find a solution, compared to telling them what to do which doesn’t give the team member a chance to develop critical problem-solving skills.
Hold Managers Accountable for Team Performance
Once companies look at who and why they promote to management, they need to assess how success is defined and rewarded. Many companies incentivize managers for the wrong things—we need to ensure managers have goals that hold them accountable for being a great manager.
First, there are foundational elements that the company needs for all employees to thrive and to provide a true north for employee conduct. A shared language of respect will enable employees and managers to engage in healthy debates on disagreements without tempers flaring. Also, a company’s workplace values must have power in your organization, so that managers can live them every day. Having well-established core values in a company can be an important guidepost for communication as well.
With those in place, it’s the company’s responsibility to provide managers and their team members the resources needed to thrive:
- Set people management metrics that matter. Look beyond business goals and focus on how your managers are benefitting their teams. Set goals for the number of 1:1 meetings held, track and monitor team member turnover, and measure overall satisfaction from the team and any clients or customers.
- Invest in training to develop the people manager skill sets of your leaders. Trainings can range from preventing workplace harassment, how to be an effective coach and mentor, how to motivate team members and more. Ask your managers about what trainings they’d like to see, and always be on the lookout for new resources you can share with your managers.
- Provide avenues for team members to leave feedback on their managers. Invite feedback in bi-annual surveys and encourage an open dialogue between all team members and HR.
Invest in Your Management Strategy for Sustained Success
By evaluating your management strategy, and the managers on your team, you’re taking the first step needed to transform your culture, increase productivity, and protect the wellbeing of your team.
Have an open dialogue with any managers who may no longer meet the criteria of what you need to see from people managers, and determine how you can help them get there. In some cases, it may even mean finding alternate areas where they can succeed outside of a management role.
Launching a talent management overhaul is no easy feat on your own. If you want to take a deep dive into your people management strategy and find ways to promote success across your entire company, reach out to us. We’re ready to help.