Do your managers love managing people or have they been promoted for their technical skills despite lacking people skills? With many businesses today tightening the purse strings on L&D, it's important that you invest in the right people for the job.
When was the last time you asked your managers if they want to manage? Have you asked them at all?
I’m on a mission to persuade organisations small and large to ask this simple question to their line managers. With managers having such a strong influence on employees’ work-life, job satisfaction and retention, you can’t afford not to ask this question and acquire this valuable insight.
A survey from Gallup reported that 75% of the reasons employees give for leaving a company are factors that have line manager influence, for example working environment, and slightly strays from the adage ‘employees leave managers, not employers.’
Recently, respondents to exit surveys at Facebook said they were actually happy with their line managers. But they were leaving for reasons that their line manager could influence and have an impact on, for example career growth and underuse of strengths and skills.
With this in mind, line managers who don’t enjoy being a line manager – granted it’s not for everyone – can have a detrimental impact on the workforce. Some managers may have assumed line management responsibility following a promotion, one which was based on technical skills rather than people skills.
Yet it’s expected for, as an example, a newly appointed senior engineer who has exceptional technical ability to manage people as a result of their place in the hierarchy, regardless of their people management skills. (Or at least the lack of these skills are more likely to be overlooked on balance with their technical expertise.)
One could argue that a position as a senior engineer requires sign-off responsibilities and therefore warrant people management responsibilities, but these are two separate accountabilities, often confused as the same.
You do however happen upon line managers who love managing people, and are really good at it, reflective of their engaged and high-performing team.
We all have a favourite manager in mind – odds are, they really enjoy helping, growing and supporting you and the rest of the team.
Investment in management development needs to be made on the right people – managers who want to be managers.
Line management investment
With L&D budgets being slashed, this exercise will also ensure you’re investing in the right people with the right training. This means that HR and L&D are having to be more creative and targeted in their approach to fill a skills shortage, including line management skills.
While the CIPD report 'Investigating the untapped potential of UK skills' suggests that the majority of training is proving to be useful, the uptake has been significantly lower and we have to question if this is due to lack of interest in certain responsibilities, such as management.
This means investment in management development needs to be made on the right people – managers who want to be managers.
The line manager survey
The survey should be simple to answer and limited to just two questions:
How much do you enjoy being a manager? (Scale 1-5)
How confident do you feel in managing people? (Scale 1-5)
This simple survey will then provide four key results:
Those who like being managers and feel confident in managing
Those who like being managers but don’t feel confident in managing
Those who don’t like being managers but feel confident in managing
Those who don’t like being managers and don’t feel confident in managing.
These modest results provide such remarkable insight. It essentially splits the organisation in half – groups A and B enjoy being managers, with B needing some additional support, while groups C and D don’t enjoy being managers, with D not even feeling confident enough to manage.
Consider the impact C and D are having on your staff. Is it fair for staff to be managed by managers who don’t like to manage despite their people management abilities?
It’s worth noting that you need to be incredibly sensitive about how you word the survey.
People will not lose their jobs if they fall into C and D, and this needs to be emphasised. It should be steered in a way that can positively re-evaluate management responsibilities leaving C and D to get on with their day job without these.
Don’t be afraid that the line managers stripped of their management responsibilities will have less work to do. Odds are they may already be doing 100% technical duties (their job) in addition to management duties.
How to use the information
You can then use this information to find ways of removing line management responsibilities from as many managers in C and D as feasibly possible.
The training and development investment you would have put in these groups can instead be targeted to groups A and B in the future who will have more genuine willingness to take it up.
As a transition, those in group C (who don’t enjoy managing but feel confident to do so) can provide coaching to those in group B (who enjoy managing but not confidently) before passing their management responsibilities on.
This means group C can transfer that knowledge to a ready-to-receive and eager manager in group B, rather than be left unused.
There may not be an ideal benchmark for your manager-to-employee ratio but your re-evaluated ratio needs to be appropriate for your organisation, carefully balancing the needs of your organisation and the quality of management.
You should also be mindful that a wider ratio (i.e. managers managing more employees) may also alleviate excessive sign-off procedures.
Don’t be afraid that the line managers stripped of their management responsibilities will have less work to do. Odds are they may already be doing 100% technical duties (their job) in addition to management duties – a paradox that some of you may relate to.
Orchestrated in the right way and delivered with a sensitive and transparent message, your workforce will have more managers who are keen to develop their management skills, are making the most efficient use of the L&D investment and are, in turn, developing, motivating and supporting staff.
About Charles Goff-Deakins Assoc CIPD
Charles Goff-Deakins is a senior HR policy specialist and a member of the CIPD with HR and managerial experience from the private and public sectors. He is a HR policy lead, author of the book 'HR Beyond the Theory', HR feature writer, career development blogger and editor, international speaker, and a hungry learner. He also founded the career management blog The Avid Doer.