You've likely heard the saying before - "People don't leave jobs. They leave managers."
While it is true that there are many reasons why individuals choose to leave their jobs, there is no question that the manager plays a crucial role in employee engagement, employee retention, and overall workplace culture. In fact, research from the Gallup Organization found that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. Additionally, a study of over 7,000 U.S. adults found that about 50% reported having left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.
When our clients ask us what they can do to improve employee engagement and build exceptional workplace culture, we always start with conversations around their managers, because we believe so strongly that the managers in an organization set the tone for the rest of the workplace.
When you're selecting someone for a management position, of course it's important to consider their background, education, and competency level. But in our experience, the following three things are more indicative of someone who has true management ability.
1. Hire and promote managers who are clear about roles, expectations, and deadlines.
Our team members need clear roles and expectations. In fact, knowing what's expected of you is one of the most foundational elements of employee engagement. If you hope to have engaged team members, you must have managers in place who:
make sure everyone on the team understands their specific role.
set clear performance expectations and deadlines.
communicate what success looks like and disclose performance evaluation criteria
help with prioritization of tasks
Sometimes we work with managers who have the mistaken assumption that the items listed above amount to "micromanagement." They'll say things like:
"I want to 'empower' my team instead of micromanaging them."
"I'm a much more hands-off manager and I trust my team to figure things out on their own."
"I prefer to lead from behind."
But the bullet points listed above aren't an indication of micromanagement. They're just indications of good management. Excellent managers are people who don't leave their team members without the direction and resources needed to successfully meet their expectations. Instead, they are clear and concrete about the outcomes they want, but flexible about the methods that employees use to get there.
So before you hire or promote someone to a manager position, do some digging in this area. Take the time to talk to former coworkers, supervisors, or previous direct reports for insight. Does this person have a history of, or will he/she be able to accomplish, the crucial management actions listed above?
2. Hire and promote managers who genuinely care about their team members and know how to individualize.
This one almost never surprises anyone when we share it. It never seems groundbreaking, but we can't tell you how many times we've encountered workplaces where individuals who do not make an effort to communicate care and support to others are promoted to management positions.
Often in these instances, an employee who was exceptional in his/her individual contributor roles does not possess the interpersonal and communication skills necessary to lead and mobilize others to reach performance goals. But, because they were so successful and viewed as high-capacity employees, they were promoted to management roles, but given little to no training or resources to grow in management and communication skill.
Success in an individual role does not predict success in a management role. So when you are looking to hire or promote a manager, consider the ways they care about and communicate to those around them. Are they the kind of people who take an interest in the personal lives of their coworkers? Are they willing to advocate for others, even when it means taking responsibility for mistakes that weren't their own? Are they ultimately working for the good of those around them?
Because the best managers are those who lean into personal connection. They always remain professional and appropriate of course, but they do not hesitate to communicate care and support in the workplace. They are the kind of managers who know their team members well enough to individualize with them. This means they tailor their communication, praise and recognition, criticism and coaching, and task management to the uniqueness of each team member. When this happens, employees feel seen, heard, and understood in the workplace. And this kind of management builds trust and team engagement.
3. Hire and promote managers who are passionate about growth and development, both in themselves and in others.
Our third recommendation is to prioritize hiring and promoting managers who are passionate about learning and development.
You want managers in place who have a desire to grow as leaders, because managers who stay humble and teachable are better positioned to create cohesive and productive teams. If you have a manager in place who expresses no interest in improving their leadership skills, this is a major warning sign.
Ask yourself, "Who are the individuals in our organization who are always asking for more learning, training, and development opportunities?" "Who shows up to training opportunities when it isn't required of them?"
Of course, this passion alone doesn't mean someone is fit to manage others. But, it's a great sign that you have someone who possess a desire to grow and to help others grow, too.
In addition to being passionate about their own learning and development, excellent managers are also people who invest in learning and development for their team members. When a leader sees himself/herself as a coach, instead of just a project manager, he/she is much more likely to build an exceptional team culture.
And this is good for business, too. According to the Gallup Organization, "Opportunities to learn and grow" is one of the top three factors in retaining millennials and the only aspect of retention that separates millennials' needs from those of non-millennials. Exceptional workplaces hire managers who facilitate these kind of opportunities.
So when you're hiring or promoting managers, choose carefully, because most of the engagement level of the team is tied to how they feel about their leader. Choose those who:
are clear about roles, expectations, and deadlines.
genuinely care about their team members and know how to individualize.
are passionate about growth and development, both in themselves and in others.
Your workplace culture depends on it.
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