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Good Management Skills: Nature or Nurture?

Deidre Paknad  ::  Strategy & Execution

Earlier this year, Gallup issued a fascinating study that looked at why great managers are so rare. It concluded that while one of the most important decisions a company can make is whom they select to manage, companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82 percent of the time. It turns out managers drive 70% of employees’ engagement and experience of work , which makes their role crucial in retaining talent as well as achieving organization goals.

The Gallup report goes on to state that about one in ten people possess the talent to manage. Though many people are endowed with some of the necessary traits, few have the unique combination of talent needed to help a team achieve excellence in a way that significantly improves a company's performance. These 10%, when put in manager roles, naturally engage team members and customers, retain top performers, and sustain a culture of high productivity.

While it is an interesting theory, I’m convinced that while raw talent plays a part in great management, the secret to a pipeline of better managers is better preparation. Managing is a distinct job but according to McKinsey, new managers get the least training and tools for the job to succeed. The ones who thrive with responsibility and pressure but without these basics are the naturally gifted 10% (counter-intuitively, they’re often chosen to get the limited leadership coaching companies do provide).

Few jobs can be done well without tools fit for purpose and training to develop skills. Everyone knows half of the old Vince Lombardi quote that starts, “Leaders aren't born they are made.” While that can also be said of managers, the rest of his quote is even more telling: “And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”

Management skill and leadership pipeline are the top talent concern of CEOs yet 5% believe their pipeline is sufficient, so it is time to invest in the hard work of growing great managers.

These four steps can help your organization cultivate, grow and instill management skills:

1. Recognize “managing” as real work: Like the domain processes for things like sales, development, and customer service, managing is also a distinct function that follows a consistent, teachable framework. To be effective, managers must communicate goals, triage execution priorities, drive actions and accountability, report progress and give feedback to their teams. This universal framework for managing is not obvious to new managers and middle managers’ domain workloads may not allow them sufficient time to do these well. Managers can easily sink into a recursive cycle of triage and reporting with little time to communicate goals and feedback – which leads to more triage and worse results. Establishing and reinforcing the simple management framework can help them break the cycle.

2. Start at the beginning: At first promotion to manager, make sure people receive training on what management means and they understand the framework for managing. Their domain skills may qualify them for managing a function, but rarely prepare them to do so. Course material should cover the management framework, the importance and impact of engaging their teams, bridging skill and perspective differences, and accountability techniques. At each subsequent promotion, deepen the training on the framework, self-awareness and strategic thinking to deepen their skills.

3. Foster desire to be a skillful manager: Create and reinforce natural desire, curiosity and self-interest in improving management skills by messaging and modeling its distinct importance. Line of business executives can incorporate it as a regular topic in their 1on1 discussions with managers to validate its relevance and importance. Identify coaches within business units that can help managers enhance their people management and leadership skills individually or in informal meet ups (much as you would domain mentorships). If managing well is a visible company value, more people will manage well.

4. Give managers tools to manage with: Most performance tools were designed to help HR centrally track goal setting and review completion rather than to help line managers. To create management capacity and competency, provide performance and management tools that directly help managers manage at their best. Workboard, for example, is a Web and mobile app that automates the management framework for managers (and provides HR and executives with greater transparency and confidence). It’s a performance and productivity app designed for line managers to continuously communicate goals, manage shifting priorities, assign and track actions, automate status reporting, maximize 1on1s and give more regular feedback.

There’s never been a more important time to build management skills: CEO’s value it, competitive advantage in a recovering economy depends on it, complex businesses need it at all levels, employee engagement and talent retention hinges on it yet very few people are born with these skills. Management skill and capacity building is strategic to HR’s partnership with the business and any performance, talent and employee engagement initiative.



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