There’s a lot of content out there on empowering employees and getting the most out of teams — but where is the guidance on empowering managers?
Some 60 percent of new managers fail or underperform in their first two years, while leadership training is typically invested in employees who are more than ten years into their management careers. Executives and boards need to take responsibility for creating an environment that enables managers to do their best work.
So what does that look like? Generally speaking, we want our managers to feel accountable for the progression, success, and wellness of team members. They also need to take ownership of the team’s overall performance and its impact on the company.
Here’s how companies can create managers who can inspire their people while still driving meaningful business results.
Grant managers autonomy
Just like individual contributors, managers need to have a crystal clear vision for their team or department. They need to know what their goals are and how they’re going to measure success. This can be achieved through mutual agreement and discussion with their manager or director.
Autonomy is essential for letting managers reach these goals. When an executive prescribes goals, that’s fine — when they also lay out every step and action needed to get there, we have a problem.
To grow and improve as managers, they need to be given the freedom to follow their nose and implement their own ideas. For a start, their ideas might be better than the executive’s. They also understand the strengths, weaknesses, and ambitions of the team better than anyone. By agreeing on objectives but standing back from the execution, you give managers the best chance for success — especially over the long term.
Offer guidance on best practices
There are a lot of scenarios that established managers and leaders take for granted. For example, employee conversations. How to structure and approach one-to-ones about salary or performance as a manager is a complete minefield for most managers. Another example is providing effective feedback.
It can also be useful to advise managers on prioritization: What are the key responsibilities and what are the “nice to haves”?
There are also some things that more experienced managers usually have to learn by trial and error:
- How to put together a good business case and pitch ideas to senior management so things actually get done.
- How to fight for raises and promotions for team members.
- How to transition to projects which focus on the long-term success of the team, once the manager has made an initial impact.
Guidance on any of these subtle aspects of management would go a long way.
Provide incentives that aren’t all results-based
In an era where the spotlight on diversity, inclusion, and company culture is brighter than ever, companies should consider rewarding managers on non-traditional metrics like fulfillment, job satisfaction, and purpose.
The country is currently weathering a so-called “Great Resignation.” Swathes of employees across the country are abandoning their posts for greener pastures — but not necessarily for higher salaries. The biggest drivers (especially among the millennials making up the highest percentage of resignees) include purpose and culture.
The data tells us the same thing. Teams with a greater sense of purpose and culture face lower churn, higher satisfaction, and higher productivity. Therefore we have to lessen the burden on “results” and incentivize managers based on team dynamics, communication, job satisfaction, and so on. This gives managers the chance to invest time and resources into improving the team — something that hasn’t been prioritized historically.
Let them manage new hires and control incentives
Like we’ve said, culture and personality fit are more crucial to company success than almost anything — including skills. It’s imperative that managers oversee the recruitment process and have the final say on new hires. This is just an extension of that autonomy we already mentioned.
Senior management or executive leadership are more likely to focus on hard facts: skills, achievements, previous roles. Direct managers can go further and assess compatibility with the existing team:
- Will a potential hire bring new perspectives?
- Do their personality and motivations fit our culture?
- Are their soft skills compatible with the team?
Managers should also have the authority to recognize and reward achievements within the team. Whether that’s on an individual level (like awarding discretionary time off or fighting for raises) or across the team (like bonuses, treats, etc.) managers should be able to provide rewards without a protracted HR process or senior management approval.
Simple acts like this make managers feel accountable and trusted to bring out the best in employees.
Invest in managerial training
Great managers aren’t born—they’re trained. While “learning on the job” is part and parcel of management, there is so much that companies can do to facilitate a faster transition to effective management. It’s likely that whatever the cost, it will be repaid with interest by more productive, focused, and happy teams.
This doesn’t have to mean intensive full-weekend camps or evening classes. Light, interactive workshops on specific themes are likely to be just as effective. These can even be built into modules that managers complete on their own during the working day.
Topics worth covering in greater detail might include:
- Career conversations
- Coaching and mentorship
- Emotional intelligence
- Giving valuable feedback
- Goal-setting and strategy
A crucial part of the training process should be encouraging managers to look backward now and again. After all, we can only truly evaluate our improvement and success as managers by looking into the past.
Your new managers bring a lot of energy and fresh ideas to the company. It’s wise to take advantage of that enthusiasm, and to also nurture it through support and training. The worst thing that can happen is for your newly minted manager to become frustrated and take their skills and excitement to another company. Invest in your new managers, and you’ll reap rewards for years to come.