Managers are not born with management skills

Columnist Dave Conrad says hiring, keeping good managers will reap rewards up and down any company's ladder.

Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug
Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug
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Dear Dave: I see that you often write about good management, but how can we accurately measure what our managers are doing – or what they are supposed to be doing? I don’t think many of my fellow managers are doing the best job; many are doing just enough to get by. We don’t have much money at my company right now for training, but what can we do when we find manager performance problems? A few of our managers are making it hard for our employees to work and some of our best employees are leaving. — S

There are many ways to answer your questions. First, if the hiring process was done right at your company, lousy managers would never be hired. I will say that hiring the best managers, training them intensely, allowing them to work and do their jobs, rewarding them, and working hard to retain them are the best methods for getting and keeping good managers.

Also, you want managers that believe in teaching and mentoring their workers, so the workers can improve their management skills and be ready to be hired when openings occur. Keep in mind, that you want to make leaders of all of your managers. But remember, you want to assess behaviors and practices, not personalities, even though you are tempted to do so. I believe the best managers are smart, and they possess people skills.

I just talked to a manager friend of mine, and she believes a strong management team contributes to the success of the organization as a whole. She also said, “The most important goal for management is to achieve synergy of the talents of the team. Getting by in today’s world is not good enough and good managers define what the organization is attempting to achieve and provide clearly stated expectations for accountability and ownership of success.”

I will add that employees are always watching their managers and trying to determine if they are being treated fairly, trained and educated effectively, and are rewarded according to the quality and volume of their work. Good managers know they are being judged by their staff throughout every workday. The question becomes: how far will a manager go to achieve the respect of their staff? Some managers may not care, but the true leaders will do all they can to be seen as trusted, inspirational leaders. Here are some specific analysis ideas.


Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do your managers and employees share a vision, mission and values for organizational success?

  • Do you have and use a system to measure/quantify management effectiveness?

  • Are internal management practices in alignment with achievement of organizational goals?

  • Do the behavioral skills of managers contribute to a positive collaborative impact on performance?

  • Are your getting far too little productivity from your management team?

  • Are your managers savvy at training and educating their staff to be the best workers and potential future leaders?

I believe these questions create the gauges you need to assess whether or not your managers are doing superior work and adding greatly to the culture of the organization. Every organization depends on the quality and integrity of their leadership. If you need to spend more dollars to hire a great leader, then go for it.
Also, conduct an organizational management analysis to provide a factual summary of a manager or management group. This should provide a vision of ideal management effectiveness and the current state of management effectiveness. Filling the gap between the two becomes your development mission and a clear picture of your company's culture and the alignment of management groups with your company's goals and objectives.

Analysis actions to take:

Data collection: Conduct interviews, survey managers and employees, conduct focus groups, conduct manager 360 assessments (getting feedback from many organizational members, possibly customers, too), or simply observe managers at work.

Analyze possible trouble spots: These conditions include poor communication, distrust of management, inability to delegate, low motivation, lack of commitment, stagnation of ideas and status quo, low performance standards, and workplace conflicts.

Use the information for: Developing and enhancing training and education, mentoring programs, personal management improvement plans, and succession management. In-house training, mentoring, and performance reviews and coaching are relatively inexpensive. Use the talent you have within to teach and help others.

Teach and measure: Management development, which may include communication, leadership, adaptability and responsiveness, relationship-building, listening skills, delegating responsibility, problem-solving, facilitating team success, cultivating individual talent, and motivating successfully.

Retain only the managers who can build morale, heighten creative thinking, solve nagging problems quickly and thoroughly, and be a teacher and coach for your staff. Finally, I need to add that you — hopefully — will find many things managers are doing right. Use that information as teaching examples and make sure to thank those managers for their good work.


Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at . Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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