Staffing Management

How to improve manager effectiveness

By Andie Burjek

May. 19, 2020

As the link between front-line workers and company leadership, managers have a key role in making a company run smoothly. But due to the nature of their job, they also have the potential to negatively impact business in terms of reputation, employee relations and business results. That’s why leaders must pay attention to how to improve manager effectiveness. 

Some 32 percent of employees do not feel that their immediate manager acts as a coach and mentor, according to a 2019 Mercer study.  Furthermore, 23 percent do not feel inspired by their boss and 29 percent do not think their manager evaluates their performance fairly.

Organizations may struggle with how to improve manager effectiveness, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle. Here are some basic guidelines for managers and company leaders to address this.

Also read: Employee communication how-to’s during a crisis

Advice for management

1. Build trust: Not cultivating team trust is where many teams fall apart, said Sari Wilde,  managing vice president at Gartner, whose areas of expertise include recruiting, current and future leadership, and critical skills and competencies.

Managers can build this trust several ways, she said.  They set out to build personal relationships with their team members. They can run their team in a way that embraces and celebrates individual differences.

Also read: How technology can help your employee engagement strategy

One exercise Wilde’s team uses to build trust and strengthen the relationships between employees and managers is called “Each One Teach One.” Each team member takes turns saying something they want to learn and something they’d be willing to teach someone else. This gives everyone the opportunity to get to know each other more and learn from one another.

2. Ask questions: Good managers don’t make assumptions about their employees’ work, Wilde said. They ask questions.

Ineffective managers may assume they know everything and tell employees how to do their jobs to a microscopic level. But it’s much more effective to ask questions, understand employee needs and realize the context in which they are working.  From there, they can break these assumptions or misconceptions and manage more accurately. 

Advice for leadership

1. Define effectiveness: Create key performance indicators for managers and specific, measurable objectives around those KPIs, said Andres Lares, managing partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute. What do you want you managers to do, and why are those objectives important to the organization?

KPIs vary among supervisors. For sales managers, they include average sales per employee or this month’s sales compared to previous months. For other managers, they include evaluation results from team members and how many of them have earned promotions. 

Wilde also provided some KPIs for effective managers, including: skills preparedness, employee engagement, intent to stay at the organization and discretionary effort (how hard employees work).

2. Be patient: Have realistic expectations of how much time it will take to see results.

“If you want them to build trust with their team, they need the time to develop it and the time, from a daily or weekly standpoint to develop and manage their team,” Lares said. 

To help managers meet these expectations, they need resources and processes in place to help them, he added. Without offering the proper tools and formal processes, leaders are not allowing managers the necessities to actually achieve the organization’s goals. 

For example, at SNI, they implement manager field guides within the organization so that managers can use what they’ve learned in training. “This gives managers a tool to coach their people and establishes a cadence (time) for them,” Lares said. 

3. Rewards and recognition: Like any other employee who wants acknowledgement from their managers when they have done a good job at completing an important assignment, so do managers need that recognition from company leadership, according to Lares.

“Increasing their team’s productivity should be rewarded — for both the team and the manager,” he said, adding that this is much easier if KPIs have been defined and if managers are provided the resources to achieve these goals. 

Leaders continue to coach, train and invest in managers who improve. If managers don’t hit their KPIs, even with ample time, tools and processes available, there’s a possibility that the job isn’t a good fit for them. Leaders can potentially change their roles and see if that fits their skillset better. 

Effective managers will ultimately benefit the organization, Wilde said. “When you have a great manager, they are much more likely to create great managers underneath them,” she said. Managers should be good role models for the people below them at the organization. One way to recognize good managers is by assigning them high potential, highly dedicated team members. The manager will benefit, and the employee can learn under them and go on to become another effective manager  for the organization.  

The risk of not addressing ineffective managers

While how to improve manager effectiveness may seem difficult, it’s important to offset the many potential negative consequences of bad management. The axiom “people leave managers, not companies” exists for a reason. 

Ineffective managers may drive down team performance, limit creativity and risk-taking on the team and make employees want to leave, Wilde said.  As the author of the book “The Connector Manager: Why Some Leaders Build Exceptional Talent — and Others Don’t,” she’s found several reasons people leave managers. 

Some managers have an “always on” approach with the team, she said, meaning that they give ongoing feedback to employees so excessively that employees feel suffocated and stifled. “Always on” managers want to be the person to give advice, answer their questions and tell them what to do — even if they don’t know the answer. They may be trying to help, but being involved in every aspect of an employee’s work can be detrimental.

Managers aren’t helpless if their current management style isn’t working. They can work to improve their shortcomings and offset these potential negative consequences and ultimately  build a stronger team, making their organization strong as well.

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at Workforce.com.

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