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Organizational success lags behind in a lot of companies due to a common misconception that great managers are difficult to find. While that might be partially true, the actual issue is that there are not enough processes in place to coach and nurture employees into becoming great managers.
The secret to organizational success is a complicated recipe in which one of the most important key ingredients is managerial performance. What that means is that in order to have a company that reaches its ambitious objectives, you need managers that know what they’re doing. They need to know how to get a team to contribute to these objectives while maintaining engagement and collaboration.
It’s a common misconception that it’s enough for managers to just provide results. They actually need to be a full-rounded persona that knows how to develop strong relationships, run high-performance teams, and enable them to grow during the process. In order for them to succeed, they need to first learn how to do all of that themselves.
Some people are naturally great leaders and managers. Yet, most often than not, that’s not the case and that’s okay. Research shows that very few are born leaders and outstanding leadership can be taught. It can be coached.
Especially first-time managers that feel like they’re in the dark because their job is now about much more than just execution need not fear change. The necessary skill set to become a great manager can be learned and HR can facilitate this process within every organization.
How can an ‘okay’ manager become a great manager
The role of a manager is quite complex. In order to define a great manager, we first need to get clear on what an ‘okay’ manager is.
What is an 'okay' manager?
An ‘okay’ manager is someone who still might be reaching targets but at the cost of the team’s satisfaction or is probably always a bit behind on objectives and lacks structure in the team.
There are different perspectives on the definition of an 'okay' manager so the easiest way to make a quick differentiation is to take a look at the image below. The more traditional approach is outdated in that it doesn’t inspire employee growth. "Okay" managers tend to base their managing style on it.
What makes a great manager?
So what does it take to be a great manager? In 2008, Google introduced Project Oxygen internally. Google’s People Innovation Lab started Project Oxygen trying to prove that manager quality does not have an impact on performance.
However, the statisticians working on the project proved that good management actually makes a difference. To better define what makes a good manager they came up with a list of ten qualities based on the received data:
A great manager needs:
- To be a good coach
- To empower the team and does not micromanage
- To express an interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being
- To be productive and results-oriented
- To be a good communicator—listens and shares information
- To help with career development
- To have a clear vision and strategy for the team
- To have key technical skills that help him or her advise the team
- To collaborate actively
- To be a strong decision-maker
The underlying problem is that we assume managers, when promoted to the manager title, magically gain that skill set that will enable them to effectively manage other people. We expect that it comes with the territory. And when somewhere down the road these managers don’t perform as expected, it is considered a failure.
That creates a counter-productive loop where the managers are the ones being failed from an organizational standpoint. Performance management processes are in place but the managers are not equipped to execute as expected?
That spells trouble. The reality is that even if there are processes in place, managers still need to be trained and need to acquire a certain skill set to put these processes into action.
How can HR create great managers from 'okay' managers?
It is essential to create strong coaching programs (like with BetterUp) and urge managers to participate because creating great managers is key to employee retention and achieving organizational success. Oftentimes, those things are not in line and this is where coaching comes in and can make all the difference.
Aleshia Felder-McMath, vice president, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, at the Compass Group North America, talks about how coaching helped transform her leadership journey.
There’s a gap between the technical capabilities they already possess and the managerial people's capabilities they need to acquire in order to go from an ‘okay’ manager to a great manager. It’s also not just about being good with people or being easy to work with.
When an employee becomes a manager, they take on responsibility for a whole team and suddenly it becomes about much more than just output. In order to train others, managers need to be trained first.
HR leaders can create and facilitate processes that specifically coach managers on becoming great leaders themselves by focusing on their experience so far, the strengths and blindspots of their character, their goals as a manager, and most importantly, their people skills.
Once that system is implemented, performance management processes begin to actually benefit everyone involved — every employee from the top, all the way to the bottom. This is how organizational growth and success take place.
And in any case, HR leaders need to always work together with Managers to create and support high-performing teams.
What skills do managers need in order to increase the impact of the performance management process?
After pinpointing that there is a mismatch between expectations and the actual process of evolving into a managerial position, it becomes clear that the goal is to help managers bridge that gap and become better at managing.
However, It’s not enough to acknowledge the problem and just try to make managers better at their “people skills”. There needs to be a more in-depth look into where managers can actually have the highest impact when it comes to performance management.
That way the coaching program can focus on the areas that will, later on, elevate direct reports and will continue to feed the whole process. Some of the most high-impact areas that need professional training include:
- Performance reviews
- Real-time feedback
- Effective one-on-ones
- Employee recognition
- Praise or positive feedback
- Employee engagement
When people hear “giving feedback”, most think it is a simple process - you state what you think about someone’s work or behavior. In actuality, that’s only a small part of it. This is a misconception that can often backfire.
There’s a more effective way of giving feedback that involves first recognizing people’s strengths and complimenting someone on what they’re already doing well as well as including practical suggestions for improvements. That’s why managers need coaching — so they can later translate their learnings to their own direct reports. The same goes for performance reviews, engagement, and so on.
And focusing on these aspects of the performance management process is only the beginning. What managers should actually get trained on is not only how to appropriately adapt and execute within the realm of performance management when it comes to different aspects of it. It’s the underlying qualities that make a manager great so then they can provide value to others within that performance management process.
These skills include:
- Learning how to create alignment
- Communicating and managing expectations
- Setting the right objectives
- Providing constructive feedback and teaching others how to do the same
- Structuring conversations in an effective and productive manner
- Building and establishing real trust
- Recognizing potential within direct reports
- Being strategic about the employee’s development and growth
Creating great managers from 'okay' managers is not only possible - it should be the norm. It's a common misconception that great managers are difficult to find. Most managers can become great by receiving the right coaching.
The performance processes might be in place and the managers might be appointed for various positions, yet more often than not, they fall victim to a skill gap where they can find themselves unprepared to actually lead.
In order to do that, HR professionals can orient themselves towards coaching programs that aim to train employees on how to be results-oriented as a manager as well as become a great communicator that facilitates growth for direct reports. With BetterUp, you can unlock the full potential of your workforce.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.