RSS icon

Top Stories

Do Your Managers Have the Right Stuff

August 1, 1999
Related Topics: Motivating Employees, Featured Article
There’s a sea of change affecting management today. During the course of this century, the focus of many managers’ jobs has shifted, from one of command and control to one of lead and get out of the way. Instead of taskmasters and evaluators, managers today are most effective as coaches, motivators, symphony conductors and employee developers.

In the Information Age, most organizations employ educated knowledge workers rather than physical laborers. We hire and train people with knowledge and skills in an area of expertise, and expect them to keep their skills up to date. With information and technology changing at warp speed, even the brightest and most dedicated manager can’t know everything and have all the skills of his or her direct reports. Therefore the old managerial behavior of controlling the information, holding on to the power, and directing and overseeing the work of employees is counterproductive today.

HR professionals have the opportunity to lead efforts to change organizational culture. If managers need to change their approach to managing, and organizational systems need to change to support the new desirable behaviors, we indeed will need to change the way we do things. Cultures don’t typically change without idea leaders, sponsors, and concerted effort by stakeholders. HR leaders can be the catalysts to develop effective managers.

There's an urgency to promote a development culture in your organization, and managers are the most significant factor influencing employees' success on the job.

In addition to the changed environment, consider also the motivations and work style of today’s younger workers. Generation X isn’t created from the same mold as the baby boomer generation. As a group, they’re more impatient, self-directed, willing to work hard but on their own terms, and expect development on the job.

A recent study conducted by New York City-based Louis Harris & Associates for Interim Services Inc, identified and defined the emerging worker. These people have redefined loyalty, job satisfaction and career advancement, and are a growing percentage of today’s workforce.

This emerging worker is actually represented in all age groups and types of work, with new attitudes and expectations resulting from the tremendous impact of downsizing, outsourcing and the speed of change affecting almost everyone’s work. Twenty-somethings saw their parents’ loyalty disregarded, and older workers personally experienced reorganizations and downsizing or commiserated with co-workers who did.

Instead of expecting long-term job security, with a dependence on the employer for career opportunity and income, emerging workers take personal responsibility for career growth and view work as a chance to grow. According to the Louis Harris survey, 97 percent of emerging workers believe loyalty is not about tenure, but about contributions made while there.

The study also confirms that traditional management approaches don’t work with emerging workers. It states that 79 percent of emerging workers expect a job that allows them to think creatively, and 78 percent measure their success based on job responsibilities and personal accomplishments rather than salaries or job titles, compared with 33 percent of traditional workers.

Since only 30 percent of emerging workers think that changing jobs every few years can be damaging to a person’s career (compared with 81 percent of traditional workers), they simply leave if they don’t feel that their work is adding value to their career. These days, managers must support employee development, and maximize the very expertise and skills they hired people for. There’s an urgency to promote a development culture in your organization, and managers are the most prominent and significant factor influencing employees’ success and satisfaction on the job.

Developmental managers have a brand new business role.
Retention is proving to be one of the most urgent and pervasive of human resources problems as we move into the new century. With fewer skilled workers available to hire at will, keeping good people has become a business need.

In the past, managers could get away with saying about disgruntled employees, "If they don’t like it here, let them leave." Today, managers need to be accountable for why employees decide to leave. If individuals feel their manager is blocking their progress, micromanaging their work, or undervaluing the contribution they could make, they feel justified in seeking employment elsewhere.

Companies are competing to be recognized as employers of choice by new workers coming off the college campus, or by experienced workers looking for new opportunities. No matter what the recruiting message, if managers don’t walk the talk, the contradiction is known before applicants are even offered a job.

While HR can provide the leadership and resources, they also must engage managers in valuing their role in developing employees and ensuring that they have the skills to do so.

Another business need driving a change in managers’ roles is the constant upgrading of skills that is needed to keep pace with the competition. With traditional workers not likely to jump ship when dissatisfied, managers must inspire, push and lead them to understand that the development of new skills is critical to continuing to add value. While HR can provide the leadership and resources, they also must engage managers in valuing their role in developing employees and ensuring that they have the skills to do so.

What’s a developmental manager made of?
Managers—now and in the future—need to emphasize their role of developing their people as much as they put effort into the bottom line.

Jeff Blade, director of operations finance at Kraft Foods in Glenview, Illinois says, "There’s a continuous need for managers to recognize that people represent sustainable competitive advantage in the future. But we’re not yet commonly talking about solving people issues. We need heightened awareness of the importance of acquiring and managing human capital.

"Acquiring and implementing capital equipment is typically a very structured, managed process,"Blade continues. "We need the same rigor in the process of acquiring and developing people. If someone bought a piece of equipment without understanding the specifications for its use, and consequently had it operating at only 20 to 30 percent of its capacity, they’d probably be fired. However, because of the complexity of people issues, it’s much harder to ensure that individuals realize their full potential."

Coaching requires active listening and, contrary to traditional managerial behavior, more listening than telling. It involves clarification of employees' motivations and goals.

Of course, good people-managers have always developed their employees, but it’s no longer optional. To enhance development, managers need to be ready to draw on four critical competencies, all of which are used in meaningful career discussions with employees:

  1. Coaching
    Coaching requires active listening and, contrary to traditional managerial behavior, more listening than telling. It involves discussion that clarifies the employees’ own motivations and goals. Development may mean performance improvement, or it may mean mentoring a high-potential employee for greater contribution and accomplishment. Both require coaching skills and time to pay attention to the individual. If there hasn’t been a history of openness about career and development issues, managers need to work at building trust by open communication, following through on commitments, and supporting an employee’s goals, even if that means leaving the department.

    Coaching also requires understanding the differing motivations, work values and capabilities of individuals. Traditional managers expected employees to comply with their directives and way of doing things. Effective managers today must do the opposite: Adapt management style, rewards and recognition and development assignments to the individual in order to engender the best work and greatest contribution. One of the fastest growing career orientations of the emerging worker today is lifestyle balance. DeDe Bonner, in research for her Ph.D. dissertation "Examining Schein’s Career Anchors in the New Workplace," found lifestyle balance has increased 52 percent as the most cited "career anchor" (motivator) from the 1980s to 1997.

    Traditional managers kept work life and personal life separate and expected employees to do the same. They believed they needed to always put work and the company’s interests first in order to succeed, and some carry that expectation today for their employees. Effective managers must respect everyone’s motivators and needs, even if they are different from their own, and gain value from the diversity and tapping everyone’s strengths.

  2. Giving feedback
    When individuals are working more independently in their areas of expertise, managers are often less involved on a day-to-day basis. That means they need to plan time for giving feedback, both positive and corrective.

    Checkpoints are needed for feedback on projects, often requiring communication with employees who are not in the same office. When the emerging worker is managing his or her own career and development, feedback is usually expected and welcome to stay on track and make course corrections.

    Employees also need reality testing on the viability of their goals and planned actions. Developmental managers structure time for feedback, and seek opportunities for giving timely feedback.

  3. Aligning with organizational needs and strategy
    Savvy individuals know they can continue to add value only by aligning their goals with the direction and needs of the organization. To do this, they must have current information about organizational direction. Managers have the responsibility to help translate organizational issues and needs to their department level so employees can plan their development accordingly.

  4. Development planning
    Most development happens on the job, not in formal classes. Developmental managers seek and invent opportunities for development by challenging assignments, crosstraining, special projects, overcoming barriers the employee may have (either personal or organizational), as well as coursework targeted to competencies that need to be developed. They assist employees in setting viable career goals and the action steps to achieve them.

HR’s role is to partner with these managers.
So in our own busy organizations today, how do you develop managers to develop their people? Amy Clement, manager of professional development at TRW Space and Electronics Group in Redondo Beach, California, involves them in a leadership role with their people in implementing a competency identification, assessment and development planning process.

In "Intact Work Groups," Clement or her consultants meet with the management team first, to identify their leadership competencies to meet their business drivers, and so managers can be role models with their teams. Then the professional development consultants facilitate the process with managers and their teams, followed by manager/employee development discussions resulting in individual development plans.

"Our managers’ intentions are good about developing people, but because they have a more analytical/technical background, an unstructured process is not necessarily easy for them. The intact work group process is analytical, and our software leads them to gap-analysis discussions and provides suggestions for development activities. The process speaks to their more analytical approach. We have very motivated managers who want to learn and see their employees succeed, and they’re thrilled that we provide more than classroom training for them."

Blade engages managers by helping them see both the external and internal strategic factors in discussions of people issues, such as finding enough highly qualified people to fill the jobs. He knows that the traditional recruiting methods don’t work as well as they used to, with every hiring organization want-ing to be the employer of choice.

Though Blade is a senior manager, he has developed a comprehensive HR strategy for his division, aligned with the company’s overall business strategy and incorporating Kraft’s finance competencies into selection, development and recognition, as well as in workforce planning. Blade involves managers in the development and implementation of strategy and tools, and like Clement at TRW, has managers use the process and tools for themselves first. He nurtures "organic growth" of the development culture, "while reinforcing the message that this strategy is the way we’ll do things going forward."

Developing effective managers is simply good practice that’s essential for organizations to remain competitive in the new millennium. Progressive management styles and objectives like Blade’s and Clement’s pave the way to a happier, more productive workforce, which benefits their companies and their employees. Human resources can be a critical partner by helping managers build their competencies and integrate an ongoing process for ensuring development of their people.

Workforce, August 1999, Vol. 78, No. 2, pp. 47-52.

Comments powered by Disqus

Hr Jobs

View All Job Listings