Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why Make Managers A Strategic Priority?

Guest post from Larry Sternberg and Kim Turnage:

What would your organization be like if every employee had a great manager? What would happen to productivity, quality, morale and customer satisfaction? In every organization, managers are a key leverage point to drive higher performance and better business results. Managers maintain service and quality standards and ensure adherence to company policies and regulatory requirements. They also drive engagement and retention of employees.

Managers influence at least 75 percent of the reasons people give for voluntary job turnover, and they account for 70 percent of variance in employee engagement. The impact managers have on turnover and engagement go straight to the organization’s bottom line. Turnover costs range from 48 to 61 percent of an employee’s annual salary, and disengaged employees cost organizations $3,400 for every $10,000 in salary.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact a great manager can have on organizational performance. However, organizations often under invest in their selection and training. In fact, in many organizations, the best front line employee (e.g. best nurse, best waiter, best carpenter) is promoted as the next manager. Furthermore, in many cases, the new manager receives zero training. One day the person is an hourly employee, and the next day they’re managing their former coworkers. Sound familiar?

Improving the process for identifying and training new managers presents a low-risk, high return, strategic opportunity to improve organizational performance. Here are specific steps you can take to make managers a strategic business priority. 

First, change your selection criteria.
Optimizing the impact of managers starts with changing your selection criteria. Performing with excellence as a manager requires very different talents than performing in an hourly employee role. Therefore, excellent individual performance is not a good basis for promoting someone to a management role. Instead, look for an employee who naturally exhibits these behaviors and attitudes.

1.  Takes Initiative. This particular combination of behavior and attitude is fundamental to everything else and should be a ticket to admission for promotion to manager. Who sees ways to help, to improve things, to add value -- and takes action?

2.  Improves Morale. This should also be required. Who has a strong positive attitude and positively impacts the attitudes of others? Things feel better in the department when this person is working. He or she encourages others to maintain positivity and optimism in the face of adversity.

 3.  Helps Other Employees. Who notices when another team member could use some help and just spontaneously moves in to help them?  This person might reach out proactively to help you as well.

4.  Teaches Other Employees. Who naturally shares knowledge, expertise and new learning to help other people do their jobs better – and really enjoys that kind of teaching?

5.  Generates Ideas For Improvement.  Who always sees ways to make things function more effectively -- and then speaks up? This might be annoying sometimes, but it’s a sign of management talent.

6.  Demonstrates Leadership. Who sees that something needs to be done, asks others to pitch in and gets results? This goes beyond simply taking initiative. The key is in asking others and getting them to pitch in. Again, it’s natural.

While not an exhaustive list, it’s a great start to finding people with the natural talent to be managers. And it’s much better than just choosing the top performer in the current role. In fact, your best management candidate might NOT be the best performer in the department. The person with the highest potential to be a great supervisor or manager might be just average as a waiter or sales associate. If you see these attitudes and behaviors, if you see an employee who does these kinds of things without being asked … that’s the person you should consider for promotion to manager.

Next, provide appropriate training.
The next step in making sure every employee has a great manager is to create a training program. Once you have identified future managers, put them into a training program. You and your colleagues should make a list of the skills and knowledge needed to be a great manager in your organization. Possible items might include:
  • Union contracts
  • Wage and hour law
  • Scheduling work
  • Inventory
  • Company and departmental policies
  • Coaching and counseling
  • Ordering supplies
  • Train the trainer
Whatever is on your list, new managers will operate with a much higher level of confidence when you train them beforehand, rather than just saying, “Congratulations, here’s your desk.” By the way, how much easier would your life be if every employee had a great manager?

Final step: Hold managers accountable.
Most companies are keenly aware of the importance of employee engagement. Many conduct periodic engagement surveys, form teams to address issues identified by those surveys and implement improvement strategies recommended by those teams. That is a costly, time-consuming process. And despite those kinds of efforts, engagement survey scores do not seem to improve materially year over year.

There is a better way to improve your engagement scores. Focus on your managers.

If you analyze data on engagement and voluntary turnover, you are likely see the Pareto Principle in action – 80% of your low engagement or high turnover is attributable to 20% of your managers.

The solution is to remove the poor managers and replace them with great managers. This solution is not easy or pleasant. It might require you to alter performance evaluation criteria to hold managers accountable for engagement scores and voluntary turnover. It might require you to replace some managers with seniority. The alternative is to ignore the reality that certain poor managers are causing most of the disengagement and voluntary turnover. Replacing them with great managers will improve all your metrics, and improve them rapidly.

Focusing on managers presents a low-risk, high return, strategic opportunity to improve organizational performance. You can do this by adopting better selection criteria and by providing better training. Parting company with poor managers and replacing them with highly talented managers will bring rapid improvement in engagement and turnover, translating to better financial results.

Larry Sternberg
is the co-author to Kim Turnage of the new book MANAGING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: How To Engage, Retain & Develop Talent For Maximum Performance. Sternberg is a senior executive at management consulting firm Talent Plus. For more information please visit

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