The VPs of HR at a global consumer goods company sat around the conference table with their heads hung low. They were in utter disbelief about the annual employee satisfaction scores. For the third year in a row, employees had indicated that they were “dissatisfied” with managerial effectiveness. The company had thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars at conferences, guest speakers, and training modules in the hope of increasing manager ratings. The VPs seemed to be at a loss.
Dissatisfaction with managers is ubiquitous. This should be no surprise as the transition from an individual contributor to a manager is likely one of the most difficult transitions one will make in their career journey, and few first-time managers are equipped with the necessary skills or resources to function effectively. While an individual contributor, the abilities developed and rewarded may have little applicability to the primary responsibilities of a manager, and the entrenched working habits developed as an individual contributor can easily impede effective management. For example, instead of focusing on achieving their own goals and objectives, a new manager now serves a critical role in fostering the success of others. Individual effectiveness and the ability to make others effective require completely different skill sets. If a new manager is unable to quickly adapt to the role of developing others and continues to work as an individual contributor, failure will likely be quick.
What is it about great managers that makes them great? One essential characteristic is their ability to leverage the uniqueness of each person on their team.
Here are three things great managers do well: 1) Observing and asking questions: observing their people in action and seeking their input to understand what is needed to make their people most effective 2) Driving performance: understanding what motivates people and using it to drive performance 3) Continuously reconfiguring: redesigning roles and environments to keep their people appropriately challenged and growing
Great managers leverage individuality; they don’t force people into a mold. They want to understand what makes people tick: their strengths, triggers, and individual learning styles.
Great managers also understand their people’s weaknesses and how those weaknesses may impact performance, and they address them in a few different ways: 1) Training: offering targeted training to help grow skills and capabilities 2) Partnering: partnering people with complementary strengths to compensate for weaknesses 3) Making weakness irrelevant: rearranging work or teams to prevent the weakness from surfacing
Managers who capitalize on strengths increase the effectiveness of their team by allowing their people to contribute their best work. Accountability improves when people understand the unique way their strengths and weaknesses impact the team. Teams become stronger when members know that they are contributing from their strengths and that they can rely on the strengths of their team members. A great manager is able to create an environment that brings out the best in their people.
So what did the consumer goods company do about their managerial effectiveness problem? On further investigation, the VPs realized that nearly all “extremely dissatisfied” ratings came from teams working under first-time managers. Teams reporting to managers with three or more years of experience generally indicated that they were “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with their managers. The HR team shifted its focus to better support new managers with customized training, mentoring programs, and social events to help them leverage the unique strengths of their employees.