Accidental Managers – the Management Paradox

Do you know any colleagues who were unprepared for the management roles they are now in? They were formerly superstars who excelled in their expertise as a sole contributor, but now they’re looking stressed and worn down.  You might even be hearing some grumbling from their team.

There’s a name for this colleague: the Accidental Manager.

Most accidental managers in the workforce are promoted because they’re really good at what they did in their former role.  The paradox comes from the assumption that if they were good there, they’ll be good here. Close to 60% of frontline managers never received training for their new role. That faulty thinking sets new managers up for the very real risk of failure: a study by CareerBuilder found that 50% of managers are ineffective.

I’m not suggesting all new managers will be ineffective. But it’s a rare individual with the natural aptitude and personality to hit the ground running, guiding and leading others successfully from day one. Most employees with exemplary technical and functional skills and knowledge may not have the soft skills to motivate, inspire and develop others.

The Center for Creative Leadership suggests moving from a sole contributor to people manager may be the most difficult transition an employee can make: “Their individual successes and function-specific knowledge don’t automatically translate to being a successful leader of others.”

So how can companies ensure the accidental leader becomes successful as a manager? And who’s responsible for their success in leading others?

That’s no surprise given that a  2016 Training Benchmarking Study, found 58% of organizations spent more than $1,000 per learner on training for senior leadership—compared to just 39 percent for high-potentials and 32 percent for mid-level management. This means the majority of professional development funding is not spent on the majority of managers – new and mid-level.

That makes me wonder if senior leadership simply don’t understand the need to spend money upfront on preparing and developing great habits and people-leading skills in newer managers? That organizations incur significant financial and culture costs as a result of ineffective leaders? That they’ll likely spend far more downstream when those same managers are let go or the turnover in their teams increases?

New managers themselves are accountable to learn what it is to lead others effectively. It’s incumbent the manager be open to learning and realize that what got them into their last job, likely won’t guarantee success as a manager. 

Being a people leader requires continuous development of one’s own self- awareness. This includes the ability to understand how others experience them. It means being flexible and adapting to the needs of others – shifting from “me” to “us”.  This includes the ability to inspire and really develop the potential of their direct reports and teams.

The question we should ask is: If you were (or are) a senior leader, why would you risk placing your high-potential, high producing sole contributor into a manager’s role without appropriate professional development and training?

And if you were (or are) that high-potential sole contributor, would you really want to be an accidental manager? Or would you advocate for support and training to ensure your success?

Being an accidental manager can be lonely and overwhelming. It can breed low self-confidence. It can tarnish a reputation. And, ultimately the blame for failing to succeed will publicly fall to the manager him or herself. 

Before your company promotes that superstar from the Marketing Department, consider investing in their success. If you are that superstar, I recommend checking out, Signs you’re ready to be a leader… and a few signs you’re not from Padraig Coaching and Consulting, before you sign on the dotted line.

How Inspirational Leadership Improves Your Bottom Line

I recently came across “Inspirational Leadership” as a core leadership competency on the Government of Canada’s website. Although it’s written for public servants, one part of the definition caught my eye: to provide motivational support employees need to grow and the empowerment and accountability to take responsibility for their own success. 

Imagine having managers in your company who make it their responsibility to do exactly this with their direct reports? How might this kind of inspiration affect your company’s bottom line? 

Inspiration’s a key motivator for employees.  A good manager inspires their employees and teams a number of ways. They listen, ask questions and make it a priority to help others make the connection between the organization’s vision and goals with that employee’s or team’s specific accountabilities.

Great managers create a culture of curiosity and creativity.  They know the strengths of their employees and make way for them to express their talents. 

The result is employees who feel heard, valued and and connected to the bigger picture. This translates to being engaged and motivated.

According to Gallup, highly engaged business units realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism, 24% lower turnover and a 17% increase in productivity. Those are pretty substantial statistics. 

Unfortunately many of us have experienced low motivation and inspiration in our work. 

According to O.C. Tanner, an employee recognition and reward solutions company, more than 1 in 4 employees don’t trust their direct manager. It’s no surprise then that only half say their manager motivates them to do their best work. 

If we don’t trust our manager, it’s highly unlikely they will inspire us. This can result in lessened enthusiasm for doing one’s best or a growing culture of negative behaviors by team members. Whatever the outcome, lack of inspiration can spread throughout the organization like wildfire.

What does inspiration really look like? How does a great manager inspire?

Inspiration begins with the manager who makes it their purpose to hold others up rather than hold him or herself up.  They recognize great work in others and use feedback as a respectful tool for learning.  Abundance is the perspective of a great senior leader; they’re willing to share what they know and get out of the way when they should.

The problem in many organizations is that senior leaders assume when they promote or hire a new manager that they’ll come with all the skills and traits necessary to be an effective manager.  And that’s a mistake because there are very few “naturally great” managers.

So what’s the solution? Support and development. 

Managers, especially new ones, need an array of tools and experiences that expose them to new perspectives and the soft people skills.  And they need this before they develop habits that won’t serve them or their teams well. 

From an ROI perspective, investing in managers early in their career can result in huge savings later on: the loss of productivity and revenue plus the cost of high turnover will be far greater than money spent at the beginning of a manager’s career.

If we want motivated employees, we need to develop managers who inspire. This means investing in managers to develop strong skills for leading people effectively – early in their career.

Will They Stay or Will They Go? – How Managers are Key to Retention

With low unemployment rates in most places, retaining top talent is a hot issue on almost every manager or business owner’s mind.  The reasons are many but it’s not to be blamed solely on the Millenials and their desire to job hop. That’s why it’s critical companies focus on what really matters to their employees.  

My colleague, Janet Wright, and I recently delivered a workshop at a hospitality conference. This is an industry with turnover rates for food service professionals (17.6%) and hospitality professionals (17.0%) ranking second only to technology.

It’s no surprise the room was packed. We didn’t need to tell the audience that theirs is an industry of young and part-time employees. Or that traditionally in North America many hospitality roles are viewed as a “job” versus “career”.

We did need to help them understand that having strong leaders creates greater employee engagement. This results in greater staff retention.  And this is why Managers who are great leaders are the key to retaining employees.

We used the most recent data to prove our point.

Our quick quiz , based primarily on Gallup’s State of the World’s Workplace  and SHRM/Globoforce research, may surprise you.  For starters, companies with high employee engagement have less employee turnover than those with low employee engagement.

What’s the number one thing employees say their Manager could give them to improve engagement? If you guess money, flexibility and autonomy, you’d be wrong. While these do collectively contribute to decreasing employee turnover, the answer is feedback.

Done well, feedback can open the door to a two-way conversation, especially if it’s meaningful, specific and done in real time.

We offer up 3 simple, yet effective “soft skill” strategies Managers can put into practice right away.

  • Adopt the Platinum Rule – treat others the way they prefer.

We’ve been conditioned to treat others the way we want to be treated. But often, this is the exact opposite to the way the other person prefers. The onus is on the manager to learn to “read” others and adapt their communication style to one that can be heard and received comfortably by their employee.

If, for example, you’re a Manager with a more introverted personality, giving feedback to a more extroverted employee means being more animated and giving them time to share back their response and input in the moment.

Conversely, providing feedback to a more introverted employee requires speaking calmly, respecting their need for privacy, and giving them time to reflect without demanding a response from them in that moment.

  • Ask and Listen – instead of tell and sell

Whether it’s a formal performance review or “in the moment” feedback, good feedback starts with a question.  Not just a “How are you doing?” Rather, an intentional question that opens the exchange toward an issue or process. “How about you walk me through the project timeline to get a sense of progress and challenges?” is an example of a Manager finding out more information from their employee without putting them on the defensive. It empowers the employee to share what they know rather than potentially shutting the conversation down before it begins.

Continuing to ask questions can guide the employee to a new awareness or solution and keeps the story focused on them. Your listening acknowledges their importance.

Even if the feedback is negative, starting with a question gives the employee a chance to provide their perspective first. “I’m curious what you think about your work on XXX project?” can open up a dialogue where the Manager can gage the employee’s position or perspective.  This creates the space for the Manager to ask further questions or provide specific feedback.

  • Say Thank You

You and I have both heard this many times before.  But in the fast pace of work and the pressure to achieve results, there’s a high risk we don’t actually acknowledge others effectively.

We know this because 70% of employees say their motivation would improve massively if their managers thanked them more!

Like any feedback and recognition, it should be genuine, heartfelt and specific. Showing appreciation as soon after you’ve noticed it will have the biggest impact on the employee. Doing it publicly or privately is best tailored to the personality of the employee. Some of us simply don’t respond well to a public showing of affirmation.

There is one small caveat to this: constantly saying thank you has the reverse effect by being disingenuous. The rule of thumb? Do it when you really mean it!

Employee turnover is always going to be an issue for most companies. So the goal should be on increasing employee engagement to decrease the number of employees walking out the door.

We’ve offered up 3 simple strategies your Managers can begin doing. Add to this ongoing leadership development for those Managers and the result will be much higher staff retention. Doing this will also improve your company brand as a place that puts a high value on an engaged and positive culture.   

We’ve offered up 3 simple strategies your Managers can begin doing. Add to this ongoing leadership development for those Managers and the result will be much higher staff retention. Doing this will also improve your company brand as a place that puts a high value on an engaged and positive culture.   

Janet and I are on a mission to help organizations develop their Managers to be great leaders. Whether it’s one Manager or many, drop us a line at evegaudet@eveofchange.ca and we’ll talk with you about options to improve your engagement, retention and bottom line!

What’s Your Self-Development Plan?

If you’re thinking I’m asking about your personal self-development plan, you’d be only half right. So often we segregate our lives into personal and professional. But I’m in disagreement with this view.

We aren’t made up of compartments – we live whole lives. That means, when we think about goals and aspirations regarding our career, family, health and finances we need to look at our own big life picture.

Think of your life as a spider’s web. All parts are held in balance with each other, albeit sometimes tenuous. Whatever happens in one aspect of our life has impact on others.

As an executive leadership coach, I work with clients wanting to develop their professional competencies. In order to do that, it’s critical that we also look at how other aspects of their lives intersect with their learning.

Having a self-development plan is critical to your success. Being complacent and letting life happen is fine but won’t ensure you’re learning, reflecting and moving forward with intention.

At times your plan’s emphasis will be on health and other times career. But keeping the big picture in mind will help you achieve your goals. For example, if you’re planning to start a family, how will you realistically continue to meet your career objectives? Or if work is taking over your life, how is that supporting your health?

Consider approaching your self-development plan with these questions:

  1. What are the priorities in your life right now? This can change from time to time and that’s okay. Base your plan on what’s important to you now.
  2. What is your Why? How might you focus on what your purpose is to help build your self-development plan?
  3. What aspect of your life has room to give in order to put more emphasis into other parts of your life?
  4. What is the learning you want to put in your plan and how does that relate to the various aspects of your life? (Hint: it should support more than one goal)
  5. What do you want to have achieved in 2, 5 and 10 years? (Knowing of course that life changes along the way)
  6. What if you were to make this plan about you and what you want? As opposed to what you think others want of you? How will that affect your plan?
  7. What will you need to ensure you’re accountable in following your plan?

There are multitudes of templates, tools and approaches you can use to support your plan. MindTools offers some great tools for free. The important thing is that you set it up to work for you.

The key to a successful plan and the ability to see it through rests with its simplicity and detail.

That’s right. The challenge is to not make it more than you can possibly achieve. But it does require putting in both where you want to get to and how you are going to do it. The “how” requires specific activities that will help to move you forward.

As you create these activities look for the links and impacts to each part of your life. If furthering your education will take up the majority of your time, how will that impact your family life? How might you reorganize your time to meet your family commitments? Are there opportunities to combine your goals or use the space in between work or education to do healthy activities?

Finally, keep it simple by chunking your goals into time frames. Life shifts and being able to keep to your goals and activities is easier if you put them in 1-3 month periods.

Creating your self-development plan is your responsibility. Make it work for you. The results will follow!