Article: Dr Natalie Baumgartner on managing managerial performance and the way forward

Performance Management

Dr Natalie Baumgartner on managing managerial performance and the way forward

Managers worldwide are tasked with performance management, but what about their own performance? Dr Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, shares some thoughts on how managers can step up their own game.
Dr Natalie Baumgartner on managing managerial performance and the way forward

Good management, especially performance and productivity management, starts first and foremost with the managers. Yet managers themselves are not performing as they should. A study by the Achievers Workforce Institute turned up the discouraging finding that managerial effectiveness—as measured by metrics such as manager contact, recognition, and professional development, among others—is overall less than 25 percent globally, and less than 40 percent of managers have received the training they need to support their reports.

Why is this the case? People Matters asked Dr Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, for her thoughts on what's going on with managers and how the situation could be improved. Here's what she shared.

Managerial effectiveness globally is much lower than organizations would find acceptable for just about any other role. Why do you think this has been allowed to pass so far?

Measuring manager effectiveness is challenging so I suspect that a lot of organizations are not intentionally ignoring the issue, but are simply unaware of whether their managers are effective and what they can do to support them. If they are not regularly measuring effectiveness through pulse surveys or continuous listening tools, then organization leaders would not have the information they need to make appropriate decisions.

To help businesses take that first step towards better understanding their managers, we identified a few fundamental features of manager effectiveness that they can help build and nurture in their leaders. These include one-to-one manager contact, recognition, strength-based management, professional development and empathetic leadership. If businesses invest in the right tools, resources, and training to empower their managers—especially in these key areas, they will be better able to address any gaps. After all, the impact an empowered manager can have on employees’ feelings of satisfaction, support and engagement is undeniable.

Why do you think such a low percentage of managers receive proper training in team management? Is it related to organizational policy, a workload issue, or something deeper?

The low rate of management training worldwide was a surprising and striking finding. We know that organizations need to be training managers in the key focus areas identified if they are to ensure consistent manager effectiveness, but the Manager Empowerment Report shows that the majority of managers are not only lacking in the training that they receive but are eager for more training. This was echoed by three quarters of respondents who (74%) indicated that they would use an app or software to be a better manager.

Organizations often believe that managers already have the skills they need to excel in their role, or may not have the right tools and training opportunities in place to help them get there—leading many to feel inexperienced or overwhelmed with the responsibilities that come with the position.

Alternatively, it may be as much a bandwidth issue as anything else, with many HR and leadership teams stretched thin and unable to provide the support they wish to deliver.

That said, manager training is increasingly becoming a must-have for companies, so employers must strive to empower their leaders with straightforward, actionable insights, as this will not only drive effectiveness, but also improve the overall employee experience throughout the organization

2020 brought an increased focus on employee engagement and well-being, which so far seems to have fallen mainly on HR's shoulders. Moving into the new year, do you think this focus will stick? Will it translate into better training and preparation for managers?

HR teams have been seeking a seat at the leadership table for a long time, with mixed results—yet the focus on engagement and well-being now gives HR teams the opportunity to make a true impact on the company’s bottom line. For HR teams to maintain that role, they need to prove their value as a business partner and it is up to them to ensure that the focus sticks so they can make the most of their expanded role to better support employees.

For example, when planning for the learning and development of their managers, HR teams can introduce compulsory management training to ensure a consistent, high quality response to management problems, create a culture of recognition from both the top down and bottom up, increase the focus on professional development plans for employees at all levels, and incorporate empathetic leadership into management training.

By zooming into these key areas, HR teams would be able to scale manager effectiveness so every individual at every level has the support and leadership they need to excel.

What needs to be done to bring manager training and development up to where it needs to be? How will this play out in the coming year?

When it comes to leadership development, three of the most important factors are meaningful goals, sufficient support, and a consistent process.

Organizations should have clearly defined training programs for all managers to give them a foundation to build on—one that incorporates the unique goals of each employee. Investing in support tools, like LinkedIn Learning or Udemy, also allow organizations to scale training, thus enabling managers to learn in their own time. It is important to remember that managers should not have to figure out on their own what key skills they ought to develop to achieve their goals. Organizations need to provide the structure and resources to help them clarify objectives, identify areas for improvement, and hone strengths in order to excel in their roles.

For instance, when training managers on the importance of scheduling one-to-one meetings with their staff, organizations can ensure that meetings are scheduled weekly, and that the discussions are not only focused on tasks—but also on recognition. Organizations can also provide managers with a continuous listening tool, so that they are aware of their team’s top concerns and are therefore able to respond individually in these one-to-ones. Additionally, firms can consider introducing ‘Connector Managers’ to facilitate the professional development of employees—notably, managers can use this to help identify employee needs and thereafter connect them with relevant contacts to help develop specific skills and competencies.

While remote working continues to be the main mode of working in many countries across the globe, the aforementioned steps firms can take to bring manager training and development up to where it needs to be can also still be applied—even if it will be through a screen. As the past year has proven that firms are able to adapt quickly to the sudden shift of their operations online through the use of digital platforms and online learning tools, I do not foresee the year ahead to be much different.

In 2021 we will look even more to technology solutions to support and scale learning and development initiatives. HR leaders need to be keeping an eye on the unique development needs of each employee and looking to technology to support their thoughtful efforts.

Overall, do you think the prospects for managerial effectiveness have improved much over the course of 2020's upheavals?

Manager empowerment is particularly important when organizations are experiencing a critical event. The Achievers Workforce Institute’s research identified manager contact and manager support as two protective drivers that powerfully foster resilience in the workplace. This means HR leaders are turning a critical eye to empowering managers, which is a good point of focus today and in the years to come. My hope is that with the upheaval of the last year, HR will double down on the core drivers of engagement in order to drive success throughout their organizations—and I would certainly include manager empowerment as a key topic in that conversation.

Moreover, as companies have had to drive significant changes to their operations as a result of the pandemic, many business leaders are recognizing that a robust workforce led by effective leaders can make or break them during this period of major disruptions.

We, too, have identified that there is a strong and direct correlation between employee engagement and manager effectiveness. For instance, in our Manager Empowerment Report, we found that more than 9 out of 10 of respondents who would recommend their managers are reported to be highly engaged, while disengaged individuals are six times more likely to not recommend their managers. As such, I do foresee that companies will start to take tangible steps to empower their front-line people leaders and help them better connect with, motivate and optimize their teams—especially as we continue to navigate the unpredictable year ahead.

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Topics: Performance Management, #RethinkPerformanceandRewards

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