Some of the biggest complaints by employees in today’s businesses are that they do not have any autonomy, managers don’t listen, and ‘nobody ever does anything about the problems’. Is all of this a result of managers failing to manage? Or more accurately, failing to lead. When an outstanding individual contributor takes charge of a team – they need to be equipped with the tools to lead people, not just the tools that made them successful at managing their previous tasks.
Change the Business Model
Some advocate for flatter organizations to allow employees more freedom to do their job. Managers are less of commanders and enforcers and more collaborators in flat organizations. This may change some of the symptoms of micromanagement and enforcing processes which are seen in more traditional business models, but it doesn’t solve the problem of the lack of leadership development. When managers aren’t taught to be good managers, they are left to revert to what they already know or what they think is the best route – that of being more of a parent or football coach, blustering their way through management of employees. When managers dictate as opposed to include, employees will be defensive and find creative ways of working against/around the manager.
Symptoms of an Enforcement Attitude
A manager received a complaint about issues in an adjoining department. An employee complained that there was no leadership; no response to complaints and that employees had given up. The employees had become proficient at ‘looking busy’ and were getting nothing productive done. This same scenario is happening in more companies than anyone wants to admit. Their manager didn’t guide them towards improved performance or ask questions that could impact process decisions. Their manager built a culture of expected behaviors (looking busy without “rocking the boat”). Employees in these situations don’t need a manager-less department. Instead, they need to have direction, oversight, career development, and support. Someone (i.e. the manager) needs to make sure that all of the cogs are moving in the right direction for the sake of productivity and profitability. When the workforce gives up on becoming better there is usually a manager above them that has already indicated that doing things his or her way is what’s best, and there’s no need for employees to contribute an improvement to the process.
Making Inclusion Work
In an example of too much inclusion, an office manager at a different business asked everyone’s opinion on every decision. Trying to manage by consensus and including all the employees sounds like a good idea, but it empowered first line employees to skip over the managers and feel that they could have input (and complain) with regard to every little decision, creating an office environment that was chaotic and unruly.
There are several companies that are very successful at including employee input to improve processes, products and customer perception. Employees at every level can and should contribute their thoughts to these improvements. Companies that make this inclusive decision making process successful have implemented communication processes in top down and bottom up directions that help everyone understand what goals they are working toward and which changes are in flight. Managers have a great responsibility for engaging their teams in two-way conversation about these changes so that everyone owns the organizational goals and understands their own contributions.
Give Managers More Tools than Just Their New Title
In todays’ world we can no longer ‘boss’ people around; HR professionals should be empathetic, respectful, polite, and professional at all times. That being said, someone still needs to be the boss and keep the ship sailing in the proper direction. The problem lies in what is known as the ‘Poof promotion program’. Someone gets promoted or leaves, and a company needs a manager so they look around at the employees in the department. The best worker, or the one who is consistent and comes to work all the time is the one promoted with a parting volley of “Good luck, call me if you have any questions!”. This is not management training. Managers need to be trained on how to delegate, manage their time, have courageous and hard conversations, as well as the normal hiring, firing, performance evaluations and day to day time management. Of course, we recommend our Principles of Leadership series for new managers or even managers that could use a hand in the evolution from enforcing to encouraging; but there is a wide variety of Leadership Development training opportunities to help you equip your managers and supervisors for the real challenges of leadership.
We have to be more flexible in today’s world but that doesn’t absolve us from doing our job as managers. Train your leaders, so they can develop your people! Your employees will be happier, they will stay, and they will recommend your company to their colleagues and everyone they meet. Organizations that build up their managers so they can build up your employees, find that they’ve built up productivity and thus increased profitability. Isn’t that the name of the game in business anyway?