How Do We Build Great Managers?

Let’s start by investing more in people skills as opposed to technology.

The Gallup organization regularly monitors the work habits of Americans.  One of their studies entitled, “Why Great Managers Are So Rare,” describes how companies consistently fail to choose the right person to serve as manager a whopping 82% of the time.  Their criteria was primarily based on the manager’s ability to properly motivate, inspire and direct the workers.  Such ineffective managers provides the rationale as to why only 13% of the work force is truly engaged in their work.  In the same study, 30% of American employees were found to be truly engaged, which is a little higher but certainly not inspiring.

The Gallup study points out only one in ten people possess the necessary talent to manage, and herein is the Achilles’ Heal for business, providing suitable training to manage people. Managers are either hired from outside of the company or promoted from within. I have a friend who was a master machinist. He was so good, his boss promoted him to to supervise six other people. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the right people skills and he developed ulcers as a result of worrying about his responsibilities. After only a month, he begged his boss to return him to being a machinist. To his credit, he recognized his limitations. Unfortunately, too many people do not. Unfortunately, this scenario is commonplace in the business world.

In the area of Information Technology (I.T.), too often I have seen the following career path: Junior Programmer -> Senior Programmer -> Analyst -> Supervisor -> Manager -> Director. Because the person came from a technical background, he only thinks in terms of “zeros and ones,” not in terms of people and business. The point is, companies tend to pay more to develop technical skills as opposed to management skills. This inevitably produces the dismal results as reported by Gallup.

Outsiders applying for management jobs present a bigger challenge, such as substantiating their skills and experiences. Whereas internal people are easier to observe and quantify their effectiveness, it is more difficult to substantiate the outsider’s claims. Most companies refuse to discuss the performance of their employees either while employed or afterwards. This is done to prevent lawsuits. Consequently, it makes it almost impossible to confirm or refute an applicant’s claims of success. When interviewing management candidates, it should be more important to determine the person’s performance and style of management as opposed to how he/she will adapt to the corporate culture.

Instead of being measured by how they get along with everybody, managers should be measured by results, or as Gallup suggests profitability, productivity, and quality defects. According to the Gallup report, the great managers have the following talents:

“- They motivate every single employee to take action and engage employees 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 based on productivity, not politics.”

This suggests managers have to be more in tune with people skills as opposed to technology. It also means managers should possess knowledge of the various aspects of the work product involved, be intimate with oral and written communications, competent in team building, and should be versed in such things as negotiation, interviewing, conducting meetings, and familiar with such management concepts as leadership, accountability, corporate culture, and the various styles of management, e.g., Theories X, Y, and Z. Had my machinist friend been properly trained, he wouldn’t have developed ulcers, and I suspect we would have more effective managers in companies who can “truly engage” workers.

Gallup’s study reinforces the Bryce’s Law, “We accomplish projects through people.” To do so, executives must see the wisdom in investing in their managers, not just their workers.

This is why we have always described our work as, “Software for the finest computer – the Mind.” In the end, it is the human being that is of paramount importance, not technology.

Keep the Faith!