management

Flexing the Middle Management Muscle

BY BRENT R. TILSON

Over three million employees have left their jobs voluntarily every month since June 2017, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Keeping good employees is becoming harder and harder for employers, and retention is at an all-time low.

There are many reasons why employees quit their companies to go elsewhere. In fact, when the economy is expanding employees quit their jobs at a faster pace than when it is contracting. Our economy is on pace to have the longest expansion period since World War II. As a result, each year since 2009 more employees have voluntarily quit their job than the year before. In 2018 over 40 million employees quit their job. 

Job openings are also at an all-time high, putting pressure on businesses to fill these positions but the challenge is: where will they get the high-performing employees they need? While new employees are entering the workforce, the vast majority of new hires are quitting their current jobs and moving to the new opportunity.

It’s common business knowledge that it’s much more expensive to hire new employees than retain them. Yet, as illustrated above, your employees are constantly being sought after, emailed with job offers, marketed to for the “it’s greener on the other side” job. And why is it that so many of them give in? 

The cold, hard truth is that those employees are not quitting their jobs; they are quitting their managers.  

In survey after survey, poor management rises to the top of the list as the reason employees quit. Nearly half of employees said they’ve quit a job because of a bad manager, 56% think managers are promoted prematurely, and 60% think managers need managerial training, research from Udemy shows. 

Reasons why someone would quit their manager include: 

  1. Lack of management training 
  2. Underdeveloped interpersonal skills 
  3. Poor organizational alignment 

Lack of Management Training 

High-performing employees are often promoted from individual contributor to manager without any support to develop the new skills they will need in their new role. This is a classic example of the management theory known as the Peter Principle, which describes individuals being promoted beyond their highest level of competence. As the new manager who is unprepared assumes their new role, their team quickly becomes disengaged and the likelihood of turnover increases.   

For most businesses, wages are the largest expense on their financial statements besides cost of goods sold. Yet, they don’t put the resources toward developing their managers who lead this critical resource. Also, the estimated cost of employee turnover is a whopping 33% of the departing employee’s salary. If this isn’t a reason to create management training and development programs – what is? If it is so important then why don’t companies do it?   

Often, it is just assumed that managers will intuitively know how to be a manager. Sometimes a company gets lucky, but more often than not, the managers flounder around trying their own style and borrowing from how they liked to be managed. If they like to work independently with little oversite, then most likely this is how they will manage their team. This, by definition, is not management. Managers need to be developed to learn the basic management skills necessary to direct and motivate employees to meet and exceed their expected roles and duties.  

Underdeveloped Interpersonal Skills 

The ability to manage a team takes more than knowing the technical aspects of what needs to get done but the knowledge to know how to work with a vast variety of personalities.

Developing strong emotional intelligence is a key skill managers need to develop. Without it, managers may get the results they need, but in the process, not develop the relationships they need to get long term results. The ability to lead requires a strong understanding of yourself, those you interact with, and the overall understanding of your surroundings.   

Having a strong understanding of your own emotions, and possessing self-awareness, are foundational to becoming a good manager. There are many personality assessment tools that help people understand their personalities and give them insight into their tendencies, blind spots, and personal style. Having this knowledge is critical for managers as they will have a better sense of how they need to control their behavior to become a better manager. Yet surprisingly, less than 15% of employers use personality assessments, according to a recent study by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Thus, it isn’t surprising that managers are getting blamed for high turnover when there are tools going unused that could help them achieve a better understanding of themselves and their team.

The ability to develop strong relationships is critical in management. Good managers focus energy on their team members and gain an understanding of how they think, how they feel, what drives and motivates them, how they work with others and how they work on their own. This allows the manager to help direct these individuals – not just to get the job done – but to help them grow and excel in their roles. Conducting one-on-one meetings is one of the best ways for managers to improve employee engagement and satisfaction, thus reducing turnover. According to a recent Gallup poll, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement and is directly correlated with employee turnover. 

By developing a strong understanding of their broader surroundings, managers are better prepared to lead their teams as they understand how they interact with other departments, employees, customers, and vendors. This is where the magic is, as managers are able to see opportunities to grow their teams and the business.

Poor Organizational Alignment 

What does good look like around here? All too often, businesses write the obligatory job description but otherwise don’t provide their managers and employees with more clearly-defined goals and objectives for their positions in the company. It’s human nature that assumptions are made when there is ambiguity. Thus, if an employee isn’t clear about their role, they will make assumptions about what they are supposed to do and what good looks like. Yet, before managers provide goals and objectives, they must first understand the overall organization’s values, goals, and objectives, and then align them both. Unfortunately, not all businesses take the time to create these, creating additional ambiguity for both the managers and teams.   

An organizational best practice is to create annual and quarterly goals for the entire company and cascade them down throughout the company to ensure proper organizational alignment. Managers can then use their one-on-one meetings to increase employee engagement and alignment with the company.   

The bottom line is that better managers = more engaged employees = decreased turnover and better overall business success.

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