Peter was a rookie CEO 9 months in and according to Chief of Chiefs ‘not waving but drowning,’ I had been sent to help him. We had discovered the cause of his problems was some managers were not managing….with little or no feedback from their managers about the not managing. The third time I met Peter he had obviously been focusing on it’s the managers …stupid. He began with “Why is it that some managers would rather eat glass than sit down and have a review session with each member of their team? Yet somehow their managers think this understandable; and fundamentally OK. Leadership is about doing the right thing, tolerating inadequate managers is not the right thing. In successful organisations it is deemed to be a leadership failure of the first order; this will be a successful organisation. ” I was very impressed.
It is not OK to tolerate OK managers.
I then led a discussion that started with; how do you recognise an OK manager? Well, they often lack the skills to manage people who are not like them, they don’t like; or feel threatened by. They lack the indignation to confront those that breach the team’s behaviour and value system and do not adhere to process; they lack resilience to overcome the people issues day after day. They are often very nice people, you would be happy to invite home for tea and cake; but who appointed them.
Unfortunately it is usually another OK manager, except this one is more senior and therefore potentially even more dangerous; because they have the responsibility to appointment many managers. This has to be a top down process. Pictures of two of Peter’s direct reports flashed up in my mind as he started nodding at this point.
Improve Engagement = Improve Managers; why start anywhere else?
The path to profit is through engagement, engagement with the needs of your people and your customers. Many managers are appointed because of their technical skills or tenure, and any observation made about a lack of people skills is fended off with “they will be OK when they find their feet.” But often they never find their feet because the support to develop their critical people skills is inadequate; or just doesn’t happen!
We agreed that every member of the extended management team would have their management skills measured against our generic roles and responsibilities statement for managers. This would enable individual development plans to be created. Peter contributed with the classic “I will get HR to organise some courses” I looked at my shoes to mask the flash of despair that had passed through my mind.
Managing people not like you.
We are not born with skills, we learn skills; usually in the first instance the ones that make our life easier, or help us feel good about ourselves. When appointed as a manager it is soon apparent the primary skills required are not technical but people based. Colleagues they didn’t like, understand or avoided now have to be fully engaged; the horror of a public failure looms.
A better understanding of self and others is therefore the essential foundation to develop people’s engagement skills. Unless managers can retune their communication to suit the different needs and wants of people not like them; how can communication and engagement take place? This brings us to the greatest challenge every organisation has to confront when it decides to improve; how best to educate managers in new skills and behaviours. Each and every one of them has different needs and wants; each absorbs learning in different ways. Peter’s observation was insightful; “that probably means sending managers on training sessions is not the most cost effective learning for some people” to which I responded, particularly senior management people.
So how should we advance?