The question that no manager gets right

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Written by Paul Matthews on 29 November 2016

“What is your job as a manager?”

You would think that would be an easy question to answer given they have a job description, and given they have probably had some sort of introduction or training on how to be a manager.

Here is a little challenge for you, or at least a thought experiment. Go out and ask managers in your organisation what they think their job is, especially in relation to the people they are managing. What do they say?

Whenever I have done this, the answers I get back are like these.

  • I tell people what to do
  • I have to manage their performance
  • I carry the can when things go wrong
  • I work with other managers and their teams to get things done
  • I’m responsible for the KPIs
  • I try and get them resources and training when they need it
  • I keep them informed about stuff from management meetings.

Now, on the face of it, there is nothing wrong with any of these, but what I have never yet heard from any manager is the ‘right’ answer.

  • It is my job to help the people on my team be excellent at what they do.

If you think about it, the manager only has one job to do in relation to their team, and that is to help them be as good as they can be. It is to serve the people on the team in any way they reasonably can to help those people perform well within the organisation.

They may have other jobs in relation to systems and processes, and how many widgets to order or produce, but in relation to their team, they need to have a mind-set that they are there to help and serve. They need to see that their job as a manager is about ‘doing for’ people rather than ‘doing to’ people.

Coming from that mind-set, their behaviour and approach to management will probably change considerably. They will start looking at each person on their team, not just to discover how they could assist them to improve, but also to discover what barriers are stopping them performing better. You see, very often people don’t perform well because of barriers around them in their environment.

Just think of your own performance in the past month. How many times were you unable to do a task that was delegated to you, or you delegated to yourself? There are always tasks that we don’t get done in time or to the quality we would like, but what is interesting, is that most of the time it is because of something in our environment that acts as a barrier to the success of the task rather than because we are incompetent in relation to the task. Factors in our environment can render us incapable of doing the task, even if we are competent.

A good manager seeking to improve performance is always on the lookout for barriers that are limiting performance whether they are within the individual, or within the environment that surrounds the individual at their point of work. Old school managers tend to focus on the individual and their supposed incompetence if they see less than the desired performance. Their reaction, albeit in good faith, is to consider what training that person might need to become competent, and therefore capable at the point of work. They are far too ready to blame the person for the lack of performance, rather than the more common reason, which is the environment within which that person is operating.

A good manager looks at both the person and the working environment as a performance system and seeks the levers within that system that he can pull to get the whole system running more smoothly. Their focus is on helping and serving the people in their team so they can be the best they can be.

About the author
Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy to find out more visit

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