Modern management – enablement over intimidation

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Written by Lyndon Wingrove on 4 February 2015

To some people, the concept of management in the modern workplace can seem like something of a grey area. The idea of what management looks like is evolving, with the old stereotype of an authoritative figure exerting ‘control’ over their employees become less and less the norm. In 2015, particularly given the rising number of millennials in the workplace, most employees would not react well to a controlling or overly authoritative manager. And if an employee is unhappy with their manager, the end result is usually the same: they leave.

‘People don’t leave organisations; they leave managers’ – perhaps an overused phrase, but no less true as a result. In fact, as many as a third of UK employees would rather leave their company than tackle the issue of bad management, according to recent research by Penna. This means that, in many cases, the manager or organisation in question will not even be aware of the issue until the employee has already gone, and another potentially talented worker is needlessly lost. It is a worrying prospect, and one which begs the question: what should good management practice look like?

Managers as enablers

As a manager, your key responsibility should be to provide your team with the things they need in order to complete their role to a high standard. That, really, is the top-line aim of the job, with the variant being what they need – it could be coaching, for example, or it could be something as simple as providing the right workspace or technology. It could just mean being approachable or promoting two-way communication. As a manager, you should be striving to understand what motivates your team (and what de-motivates them), and making sure they have everything in place to be able to do the job you hired them for.

It may be best, then, to think of modern managers as ‘enablers’ – giving their direct reports the support they need while allowing those individuals to manage themselves and their own workload. That is not to say that some direction isn’t needed – goals and roles must be clarified in order for each team member to feel a sense of purpose towards a common goal, and feedback must be given so that they know where they stand. But ultimately, you should be hiring people whose skills compliment their own, asking those employees what they need, and then trusting them to do their job. Ask them questions and give them direction when needed, yes, but don’t be oppressive.

Poor management means lower engagement

One of the key reasons that management style matters is employee engagement – something which is becoming increasingly high on an organisation’s list of priorities, and with good reason. L&D professionals have been championing for some time now that a high level of engagement has many tangible benefits (lower staff turnover, higher productivity and better collaboration, to name a few), all of which contribute to overall business performance, while a low level of engagement has the opposite effect. But recent research by the Hay Group found strong evidence of that causal link, backing up what L&D and HR practitioners have been saying: an engaged workforce is good for the bottom line.

Engagement largely begins at line manager level – these are the people responsible for setting the tone and climate within their teams. By being visible as leaders, supporting their staff through coaching, and empowering them, line managers can set a precedent for employee engagement that will ripple throughout the organisation. The fundamental wants and needs of any employee (the things which, if they have, are likely to make them feel engaged) are to feel a sense of purpose, to feel valued, to have clarity and accountability, and to have open communication with their manager. A good manager could, and should, provide all of these things.

Invest in your management talent         

This aim of this article is not to bash bad managers – it is simply to highlight an issue that could potentially be avoided. Not everyone has the knowledge and behaviours readily in place to be a competent people manager when they first get into the role – somebody could be promoted because they have brilliant technical ability, for example, but without people management experience they may not naturally know what the ‘right’ approach is.

The key, then, is for organisations to invest greater time and effort into making sure their managers have the ability to enable their team members’ success, and, most importantly, to communicate with them – not just to them – in a meaningful way. Achieve this across your business and the impact can be extremely powerful.

Lyndon Wingrove is director of capabilities and consulting at Thales L&D []


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