The story is very common.  A really great employee was working at their job producing solid work and impressing everyone around them when someone taps them on the shoulder and makes them a manager.  Poof!   In a second, the new manager’s job, and even their paradigm of success, have suddenly shifted from doing a “thing” to leading and motivating a team of people.  For many organizations, this “poof moment” is the extent of their management systems leaving the new supervisor out there to figure it all out on their own. 

How do we know that this problem is so prevalent?  Let’s look at some Gallup data.  Gallup tells us that 2 out of 3 employees are disengaged or toxic in the US.  Their data also tells us that 70% of disengagement is caused by mostly well-meaning managers who don’t know how to effectively lead, motivate, and hold employees accountable.   People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers. 

Management is hard.  It’s not enough for organizations to try to avoid “bad management”.  Great organizations implement systems that create great managers. 

Management Training

Most organizations do a lot of training for employees and very limited training for managers.  When they do training, it often comes in the form of disjointed workshops or leadership book reviews that can help people gain insights, but fail to establish a clear and common foundation for managers.  Effective managers need to learn how to balance leadership (influence) and management (authority).  They need to understand that their primary job is to lead and support people and their secondary job is to support the processes.  They need to know how to communicate effectively.  They need to be armed with how to assess employees and deal with different situations.  They need to learn how to give effective feedback (positive and negative) and how to hold people accountable.  They need to learn how to fire people if necessary.   Great organizations give their managers a “management 101” foundation supported by high level concepts to continuously support them and provide them with insights into their own leadership.

Check In Process

Let’s do a reality check.  You expect your managers to have regular conversations with their employees about their performance, yet many don’t.  Many employees report that they receive little to no feedback on their performance from their supervisor, even over long periods of time.  At the same time, 69% of supervisors report that they struggle talking with their employees about, get this, ANYTHING!  It is very common for us to work with a manager who is struggling with an employee where we learn that the employee is clueless about the struggles because the manager hasn’t addressed it with the employee directly.

If you want your managers to give your employees regular feedback, a best practice is to create a deliberate place for it to happen.  The annual performance appraisal that is tied to a pay raise simply doesn’t cut it because it doesn’t happen frequently enough and because it doesn’t encourage an open conversation (because its tied to money).  Instead, we encourage organizations to employee a simple quarterly Check-In process. 

The Check-In process is a scheduled quarterly conversation with between an employee and their supervisor.  It isn’t really a performance evaluation because evaluations and feedback should really be ongoing.  Instead, the Check-In should be designed to track progress of an employee through an Individual Development Plan (IDP).   The IDP should be a living document that tracks where the employee wants to do, what strengths they have to get there, and what barriers stand in their way.  We recommend that a new IDP be created once a year. 

Manager Forums

It’s time for another reality check.  Being a manager can be a difficult job.  Where do managers go to share their frustrations and get insights into how to better handle situations?  Ideally, managers go to their manager to gather this insight.  However, most managers are unwilling to go to their boss and essentially say “hey, I’m struggling to do the fundamental job you gave to me”.    This is why we recommend creating manager forums. 

A manager forum is a group of managers who are all on the same level who meet monthly to discuss and solve management challenges together.  This is not a complaint session, but rather an opportunity for peers to coach each other through specific and actionable management challenges.   The Forum creates a safe place where managers can bounce things off each other.  It also provides a natural place to bring in high levels of management training and insights, however, the primary agenda for his Forum should be “open mic” where people have time to share and discuss challenges. 

Organizational Design

While we consider organizational design to be a People System, there is a common mistake that is made that sets up managers and supervisors for failure.  You should be working to create an environment where every employee gets regular and specific feedback on their performance.  This simply isn’t possible when a supervisor has too many employees.  We’ve seen supervisors oversee as many as 100 or more employees directly.  Let’s be real.  The supervisor who oversees 100 employees isn’t really overseeing anybody. 

We recommend that each supervisor should ideally have no more than 6-8 direct reports.  There are exceptions to this rule (both high and low), but the focus should be around a simple question.  Is the supervisor able to give specific and regular (ideally daily) feedback to each of their employees?  Working supervisors who play a lot of other roles should have fewer direct reports and supervisors who are dedicated to employee oversight can often handle more employees.  Putting your supervisors into a position where they can’t supervise is a losing proposition that will cost the organization in many ways.

Next Steps

For a better idea of how these systems work together, check out our High Performance Culture page or download our eBook on the impact of a High Performance Culture. In the coming weeks, we will be addressing Management, Process, and Strategy in more detail.

As part of a series of articles, I am creating an overview of the five sets of systems within our Cultural Framework. This Framework helps you keep a high-level perspective on how systems can work together to help you drive a culture that both empowers and aligns your team. The five sets of systems in our Framework include People, Communication, Management, Process, and Strategy.  Your Communication Systems get your people the information they need.