Promoting managers: a critical role that most companies get wrong

By Mike Cook
For The Bellingham Business Journal

Do you manage, ever thought about being a manager — I mean as a choice of profession, not as an accident?

All too often I fear that managers “wound up” or “ended up” in that position without a great deal of forethought, simply because where they worked had an opening for a manager, they happened to be there at the time, had impressed someone with their sense of responsibility or technical acumen and then also they saw an opportunity to make a little more money.

Gallup has found that one of the most important decisions companies make is simply whom they name manager. Yet, Gallup’s analysis suggests that organizations usually get it wrong. In fact, Gallup finds that companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82 percent of the time.

Maybe people with management potential really are that hard to find?

The importance of the numbers cited here becomes even more obvious when you consider that the local unemployment rate stands at around 4.7 percent. Every business owner I speak to agrees that “good people” are getting harder and harder to find and Gallup reports that 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement across an organization is accounted for by the quality of management alone.

The No. 1 reason why employees leave their jobs for new ones is the quality of the working relationship with a manager. And, organizations consistently fail to see or are unwilling to invest in the development of managers when “naturals” are like hen’s teeth.

By Gallup’s estimate one in 10 people possess naturally the qualities that make up a good manager:

  • They motivate every single employee to take action and engage them with a compelling mission and vision.
  • They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
  • They create a culture of clear accountability.
  • They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  • They make decisions that are based on productivity, not politics.
  • Yes, these people are that hard to find.

According to Gallup a full 82 percent of the time businesses select the wrong people to become managers.

I think we could call that getting off to a bad start.

And then we get the thoughtlessness and meanness that are generally a sign of incompetence and we are back to development again. We work, work, work to find the right people and then turn them over to the wrong people to be managed.

Beyond this, as I have already mentioned, businesses, especially smaller businesses, do not invest in professional development for the people they promote into management.

Maybe the new manager gets sent to a safety training or two, a sexual harassment seminar might be thrown in for good measure. In larger companies, we might find a corporate “university”, that conducts three-day or week-long sessions that are kind of like running your manager through a car wash to clean off the grit and grime, maybe a fresh coat of wax to boot. These are often taught by people who have never managed.

Here’s the ugly truth: There was an old commercial on television about automobile maintenance that finished with the line, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later, but you will pay me.”

This is a pretty stark reality. This means that despite solid compensation, good benefits, nice working conditions etc., a manager that doesn’t know what he or she is doing, who has little or no emotional intelligence, and isn’t getting decent ongoing coaching can undermine an organization’s best attempts to create a positive and productive working environment.

I have spent 30 years, working on this issue and there is still a long way to go.

That’s one of the main reasons I wrote my new book, “Thriving in the Middle: Why Managers Need to Be Coaching Each Other.” Work can be hard and challenging, there is no need for there to be suffering as well.

Managing is a sacred profession as I see it. People take on the responsibility for not only the work getting done but the employees getting developed.

The least you can do as an employer or chooser of managers is do them the honor of respecting the charge they have accepted and seeing to it that they have a reliable practice to draw on when they are in need of support.

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