How to Turn Stale Managers Into Stars

A new report from Gallup, based on extensive polling, finds only 10% of managers have what it takes to be “a great manager.”

Deep breathe before you fire the lot or cry foul.

First, Gallup didn’t just make up these numbers. They measured the engagement levels of 27 million employees in 195 countries. In the US, only 30% of U.S. workers are fully engaged, and Gallup thinks managers are largely to blame (it says 70% of the engagement variance is down to them). It says there’s “a clear link between poor managing and a nation of ‘checked out’ employees.” Gallup insists that only 1 out of 10 managers has the innate talent to do just that: manage.

Second, there are clear-cut reasons. From my vantage point, managing others requires a rare blend of these talents:

* Superb communication skills that keep people informed and motivated about the future.
* Consistently aligning actions with values and holdings themselves and others accountable for results with the right amount of assertiveness to get the results.
* Decision-making that is for the good of the team and the company-not just politically expedient.
* Demonstrated concern for the growth and well-being of employees.
* Personally engaged and excited about the role they play.
* Determined to invest in ongoing learning for themselves and others.

Third, too many managers are given this position because they were good in a previous role. This does NOT mean they have the skill or the desire to manage. My son is a great example. With a PhD in Computer Engineering, he held a position at the Super Computer Center in UCSD, working on visualizations. Then he was promoted into management. He hated it. He did NOT like managing others. Eventually, he would leave to find work that allowed him to use his skill in a way that best suited him.

Finally, the common practice of rewarding only those with a higher pay grade negates the fact that pay should be reflective of performance and not title. This practice urges employees who want to earn more to seek advancement which-like happened with my son-could actually be detrimental.

First, carefully re-examine all processes related to promotion, pay, succession planning and talent development as explained above.

Second: ask all current managers what interests them most about their role and-if they could wave a wand and reverse their career progression (without concern for money), what would they want to do. If a manager isn’t engaged and enthusiastic about her role, think how that impacts a department.

Third: conduct small focus groups representing various roles and levels in the organization. Ask: How do you know a great manager  from a poor one? What behavior and actions do you see, hear, experience? Ask: can you name a great manager right now?

Fourth: Bring all the identified “great” managers together and ask them to help determine hiring and promotion practices. Ask them to determine what ARE the question that should be asked? Because these talents won’t show up on a resume or an employee folder, how might these potentially “great” managers be identified?

Lastly. Breathe. This is not something that can be done overnight. The larger the organization, the more layered the organization, the more bureaucratic the organization, movement will be slow. So start small. Begin with “the converted”. This is a department or a team that really wants to tackle the development of management and the creation of a high performing, engaged group. Build upon that momentum, and watch the magic happen.

This article has been previously published and is reprinted with permission.

© 2015, Eileen McDargh. All rights reserved.