The manager dilemma: why we need to rethink our approach to management… and how.

For decades we’ve promoted functional experts into management positions… and that’s a problem.

What the heck do we mean? Well, read this month’s postcard (it will just take 3 minutes!) to find out!

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For those of you that prefer to read about it old-school, read on!

We have a problem, folks.For decades now we’ve “promoted” our functional experts into management positions. Because what else do we do with them? They can’t stay there forever, right?

But, folks. Technical expertise does not a good people manager make. We’ve ended up with too many poorly equipped managers. And this has real impact…

  • Too many managers leads to a complex corporate structure, not agility.
  • Many of your managers aren’t really that happy.
  • One word: micromanagement.
  • You’ve taken your best people away from doing what they’re good at.
  • Your managers aren’t prepared for the complexity of today’s world.
  • HR is left taking up the people-managing slack..
  • The employee experience isn’t great, and might even suck.

So, how do we fix this?

  1. Build the right models. So, you promote too many managers and pretty soon you’ve not only got lots of managers, you’ve got lots of layers of managers. The result is a chain of command that is nowhere near agility or responsiveness. Instead, consider flattening your structure and widening your spans of control. Not only will you reap the benefits of making it easier to get work done, you’ll also give greater autonomy to your people (that’s what we call the win-win).More importantly, build in the ability to promote functional experts into meaningful paths: advancement without people oversight. Tip: Many people associate status with having direct reports. If you develop non-management functional leader roles to promote and keep your best, you’ll also need to build a culture that celebrates the importance and prestige of those non-management positions.
  2. Get real with the role. Here’s a crazy idea: what if we redefined the role of manager as someone who manages people? What if it meant focusing on developing one’s direct reports, and didn’t mean spending 95% of one’s time doing one’s own work? Imagine a world where your managers don’t feel the stress of trying to get their own work load done while squeezing in the management “stuff” in their spare time. Start by deciding what the role of manager will really mean in your organization. What are the expectations? What will “great” look like? How much time are they expected to be face-to-face with their team? If you’ve successfully flattened your organization, you should be able to give those managers the necessary bandwidth to act as mentor, coach, guide, and career navigator. Tip: Fewer managers means you can afford more people doing the “production work”… so those people who are managers won’t need to do as much of it to meet demand.
  3. Pick the right people. You shouldn’t be surprised that we suggest that you think carefully about who you make a manager. Not everyone has the basic skillset – or, frankly, the desire – to work with, lead, and coach their people. Heck, some people (and they could be your best functional experts) don’t want to deal with people at all. We’ve all seen those movies with the genius scientist who has zero people skills, right? Instead, look for people with the expertise, capabilities, and interest in working with and inspiring people. Remember, they may not be the best at their function: their strength may be in areas related to leadership and development. Tip: We’re not saying you should only promote people to management positions who already have great people management skills. But do look for people who have the passion to manage, and the desire to learn those skills.
  4. Ready those you’ve selected. This is important: even those people rock-stars will need development. One of the biggest failings of our current system is that we’ve historically spent very little time, money, or thought on how to make our managers actually great at managing our people. The thing is, today’s business managers need to be skilled at handling the challenges of our fast-moving modern economy. It’s the critical issue of our era.  Build a comprehensive leadership capability program for your organization.  Make it a priority, apply it consistently, and give your people the time to take advantage of what you offer. Provide your managers with the knowledge, skills, attributes, and habits they’ll need to be effective.Tip: Wondering what sort of skills we’re talking about? Things like coaching employees for top performance, rewarding equitably, communicating for impact, retaining key employees, and leading diverse organizations.

Got it? Let’s review.

  • Our system tends to promote too many people for the wrong reasons.
  • This means we have too many managers
  • … and managers that aren’t up to the people-management task
  • This is bad. To fix it, think about: flattening your structure; redefining the manager role to mean real people managers, not functional experts; picking people who have those natural talents already – or want to have them; readying ‘em up good.

Your people will thank you.

Missed our other postcards?

PeopleFirm is a management and HR consulting firm dedicated to helping you achieve that ultimate win-win: inspired people driving inspiring performance. We focus on effective tools, measurable outcomes, real results, and getting your people out of their seats and engaged in your company’s growth.

We use people strategy, talent management, organizational performance, and change management, to help you partner with your people to build an organization that excels in today’s new world of work. People are your last competitive frontier. Make them count.

Your people = your success.