Developing Managers for Team-Driven Success

By William Moskal  |  Posted 2009-10-26

Investors know that past performance is no indication of future returns. Unfortunately, this can also hold true for employees as they rise through the management ranks.

When new managers fail to recognize that they’re on a path with greater responsibilities, they may cling to tasks at which they once excelled but that now belong to those they lead. Managers need to learn how to correct any behaviors that hinder leadership and unintentionally obstruct or alienate employees.

Subversion in lieu of supervision occurs from neglect as well as from “command and control” rigidity. Delays, dissension and turnover can result from the following executive behaviors:

• Micromanagement: Decisions are imposed, not delegated. First-line authority is overruled openly. There are frequent project status checks, and brainstorming is given a low priority.

• Communication gaps: Goals, strategies, expectations and timelines are not shared. E-mail copying and forwarding is not used as an awareness tool. Feedback is withheld.

• Inconsistency: There are abrupt reversals, deadline changes and frequent new priorities.

• Intimidation: There’s a disproportionate focus on discipline, not coaching, including public criticism and rudeness.

• Self-promotion:Opportunities are not shared, and credit is hoarded.

• Lack of mentoring: Subordinate managers are not groomed for advancement. Cross-training and interdepartmental assignments are not encouraged, and access to upper management is restricted.

The reassuring news is that managers who unwittingly build barriers can also remove them. The most productive results arise when senior management recognizes a need for structural and cultural change, rather than paying isolated attention to midlevel managers.

Senior executives should take a wide-angle look to identify opportunities to empower and motivate front-line managers, while avoiding corrective approaches that stigmatize and single out individuals. Proven approaches for strengthening behavior follow a three-step process: awareness, readiness and commitment (ARC).

The first step—awareness—involves enlightening managers by challenging assumptions and creating new understandings. Readiness—the second step —involves searching for better tools and approaches. These two steps may involve anonymous surveys, 360-degree evaluations or focus groups. Also, training can address issues that range from delegating and mentoring to problem-solving and leadership styles.

Commitment is the “staying power” step. It requires time and effort to indoctrinate managers with new behaviors and ensure they stay committed to change.

Learn It, Do It, Achieve It

Here’s how conference room lessons can turn into game-changing actions:

Old way: Inefficient delegating plagues organizations. It’s basic human nature: Managers think they delegate, but, typically, they simply dump tasks and responsibilities onto subordinates.

New way: Managers delegate the top three items on their desk and follow up periodically to monitor progress. They also provide support and resources to ensure success. Multiple goals are accomplished: Front-line managers gain knowledge, confidence and respect. Supervisors gain time for strategic planning, process improvements and new initiatives. Coaching and succession are addressed.

Old way: Decisions flow from discussions that have no forceful pushback or where negativity is based on presumed outcomes and reflexive pessimism.

New way: Rotate an “official dissent” role among line managers to develop contrarian ideas. Sanctioned opposition can be a powerful tool for collaborative decision making, analytic skill building and improved outcomes.

Old way: Ineffective initiatives are buried quietly, perhaps with overt or covert blame. Any failure is a career ding.

New way: The word “failure” is rarely or never heard. Setbacks are seen as learning opportunities that foster problem solving.

It’s easier to summarize strategies and tactics than to transform a workplace with robust, durable changes that support front-line managers, elevate their impact and inspire their loyalty. With a top-down tone and visible commitment, those transformations can be measured in reduced costs, increased productivity, higher employee satisfaction scores and improved retention. Sincerity, flexibility and patience are vital tools for reshaping an environment into one that helps entry-level managers thrive.

William Moskal, with IRI Consultants in Detroit, is an authority in team building, leadership development and coaching.