Optimize Your Management Team

  • 7 mins read

Extensive research reveals startling conditions in typical organizational settings. Gallup’s State of the American Manager Report, last updated in 2017, confirms a strong correlation between company prosperity and middle management abilities.

Through the Manager Report and numerous surveys, Gallup has exposed lingering trends in employee disengagement, distrust and dissatisfaction, which directly hit the bottom line. Managers are 70% responsible for employees’ attitudes about their jobs, affecting their attendance, quality of work, willingness, loyalty and customer feedback. Gallup’s No Recovery Report found that the American GDP per capita has slowed its growth from 3% to 0.5% in the last 50 years. The growth in personal productivity has essentially stopped, even with the advent of improving technology.

This puts the onus on top leadership to make sure their management structure is as effective as possible, a condition that statistics say is rare. Surveys indicate only 10% of people have a high talent to manage effectively. Unfortunately, they also show that about 82% of the management segment is chosen from outside this small window.

When top leaders prioritize the quality of their management team, their organizations thrive. When they don’t, they struggle, sometimes marginally, sometimes catastrophically. Leaders enjoy the highest levels of success when they put the right people in the right roles, and train them to develop and engage their employees. Each of these steps require a thoughtful approach with diligent upkeep.

Find the Best Management Candidates

Leadership mindsets have changed over the last few decades. In the 2018 article, Want to Improve Productivity? Hire Better Managers, Gallup managing partner Vipula Gandhi describes the traditional leadership philosophy of control and privilege. Experience shows that this has always been detrimental to organizational life. However, employees no longer accept controlling environments or stern practices. Leaders with controlling methods suffer from high employee disengagement, inefficiencies and turnover. This is not a recipe for success.

Another frequent practice is placing people into leadership roles based on their seniority or past accomplishments, with a high emphasis on their technical skills. Unfortunately, effective leading is much more dependent on people skills. Employees respond much more favorably to managers who know how to relate with them than those who have technical savvy. Technical skills can be honed to lead technically, but people desire managers who can lead personally. People skills are heavily influenced by personality, which is much harder to adapt. Many technically capable managers have poor people skills, and thus have poor followings with the associated fallout. 

In order for leaders to run the most effective organizations they need the most effective management team, which calls for putting the right people in management roles. The right candidates have the strongest people skills, so it is important to stress this attribute in the recruiting and placement process. Technical skills are necessary, but weighing them too heavily is a critical mistake.

Unlike technical skills, people skills are more difficult to assess on paper. This is why getting to know candidates personally is critical. Interviews are valuable to grasp a candidate’s soft skillset. Here are some areas to explore with a candidate, whether they are internal or from outside the organization:

  • What is their philosophy of leadership?
  • How does their character convey positivity and motivation?
  • How do they exhibit pride, humility, respect, accountability?
  • What kind of wisdom, discernment and insight do they have?
  • Are they personally interested in people, and enjoy engaging, supporting and encouraging them?
  • How do they value their staff?
  • Do they care about employees as people or just physical resources?
  • What kind of collaborative spirit do they have?
  • Do they seem interested in benefitting themselves or others?
  • What is their definition of fairness?
  • Will they fit into the culture?

Many of these answers can be sensed through conversations or what-if scenarios by asking candidates to role play specific situations. Make sure their people skills are strong enough before offering them a management position.

Training Your Managers

You want your employees to enjoy their jobs and that means enjoying their managers. To enhance your organization, you need your people to be engaged and willing to follow their supervisors. Only the managers with high people skills can ensure this, and only the managers who continuously develop these attributes become highly skilled.

Even good people-oriented managers have room to grow and improve. The most successful leaders make sure their managers are on a path of growth by providing opportunities to train and learn. Most organizations offer technical training, and this is important. However, too many leaders underappreciate the need for their managers to train in people skills. Leaders who emphasis a people-first culture raise managers who excel in these areas.

You may find resources within your staff that have the right experience to conduct training for your managers. If not, find external resources to conduct training in your facility or one nearby. Many executive coaches or teachers have the ability to offer training in soft skills. Here are some areas where training is beneficial:

  • Listening and feedback
  • Delegating
  • Negotiating
  • Empathy
  • Collaboration and multi-discipline interaction
  • Transparency
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork
  • Interviewing for job openings or promotions
  • Approachability and conversation
  • Firmness with fairness
  • Conflict management
  • Stress management
  • Running a meeting
  • Accountability
  • Coaching and mentoring

A trained manager is able to pass on that training to their people. This is why coaching and mentoring skills are so vital for a manager to enhance the effectiveness of their staff. The most successful organizations engage managers capable of raising future managers.

In addition to people skills, being trained in company policies and procedures plays a vital role for managers to relate well with their people. Here are some areas of specific training that allow managers to assist their people on a personal level:

  • HR policies / internal staff-related policies
  • Employee development and promotion policies
  • Employee career planning and training policies
  • Performance review and assessment procedures
  • Corporate vision and mission philosophies

Well-rounded managers are best able to address the needs of their people and maintain their engagement, motivation and effectiveness. Some types of training may need to be offered as a regular refresher. A priority on training creates a culture of excellence.

Keep Your Managers Engaged

Another important aspect of optimizing your management team is to keep them highly engaged. Gandhi sites a significant Gallup finding in that 85% of employees are not engaged at their jobs. This translates into dire disabilities for leaders. If, as indicated earlier, 70% of employee attitudes are impacted by their managers, then it’s clear that manager engagement is critical.

Few leaders recognize this. Of those who do, many struggle with thinking of ways to engage their managers. If you understand what kinds of things engage employees, the same applies for managers. Each want to be a part of something great. They want purpose, enjoyable relationships, the ability to succeed and recognition for their achievements. The degree may be different for managers and their employees, but similar nonetheless.

Your managers desire opportunity for growth, both personally and corporately. Provide a path to achieve it: Lay out plans to groom managers for advancement. This includes challenging projects that call for higher levels of responsibility, technical skills and people skills. Experience overcoming challenges empowers and qualifies managers for more. Cross-training is another way to enhance the skills of managers, and many experience a greater appreciation for their company.

Managers raise their engagement by being informed and included in leadership matters. Let them in on corporate plans and visions, and invite participation in activities that are normally above their level. This helps managers feel valued and appreciated. They can bring additional perspectives to leadership discussions, with insight from the working end of the operation. Opportunities to create and deliver presentations to higher-level leadership and other departments also increases motivation and gives managers a sense that they have much at stake in their careers.

Make manager engagement a priority by including it in performance evaluations. Most effective are 360 evaluations that incorporate anonymous feedback from all levels including supervisors, colleagues, employees and customers. See how people really view the manager’s engagement.

Leaders who optimize their management team find sustainable success and satisfaction in ways that outshine all other strategies. The employees with the best managers have the best experiences and the best futures.

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