Employees Don’t Need to Become Better at their Jobs. Managers do.

Everyoneand we do mean everyone, wants employees to become more productive (in fact, that’s one of the key selling points of our own performance management system, so we’re guilty here too.) So we keep talking about training & motivating them to be better at their job.

Unfortunately, we’re looking at the problem  at a symptomatic level. We’ve focused so much on the employee & his/her performance, that we’ve mostly ignored the real underbelly of the situation – What’s up with our manager? Many of our large companies are stuck in a feudal, hierarchical system where the manager decides what the employee does, based on a ‘set in stone’ job description. Moreover, the manager controls the levers when it comes to the employee’s career progression, which gives the manager too much power and can endanger the employee’s career growth if the manager isn’t actually good at his job.

Finally, we have to consider that no one is actually teaching managers how to manage. The average 2-year MBA program will have maybe one course on how to effectively manage, train and build your team. And once people graduate, companies assume that these graduates will be great managers, because they’re coming from the top B-schools. So within a year or so, a fresher with an MBA degree is put in charge of a team – with little or no study into whether he has the capability, the empathy or the team skills to lead that team.

This is going to change fast, as startups and even larger companies become agile, nimble and data-driven – and we need to train managers to quickly adapt to the coming reality, where the employee, and not the company, is in the driver’s seat. So the question is how to get better at managing teams – without having to go through 18 leadership seminars (“For only Rs. 75,000, you can attend a full-day workshop with eight bored speakers in a swanky hotel basement! You might not learn much, but hey, at least there’s gulab jamun and vanilla ice cream for dessert. And you get to keep the ball pen.”) and 34 self-help books.

So How do we Manage Teams Better?

1.    Get a good Performance Management System, right now! (And we’re not just saying that because we’ve made a really good system, honest) Without a good PMS, you’re running blind when it comes to understanding your employees’ strengths, weaknesses, focus areas, skills & interests. It’s incredibly easy these days to gather relevant data and use it to improve decision-making.

2.    Restructure Career Progression. Don’t assume that “more work experience = better manager”, and build hierarchies and never-changing departments where everyone does the same role for 2-3 years before getting promoted. Structure your company around strategic goals and objectives rather than traditional departments. There are people who can manage large teams, and there are those who can’t (at least without a lot of training.) Don’t assume that if I can manage 3 people at age 28, this means that I can manage 300 people at age 38.

3.    Make goals specific, clear and actionable – and ensure that all Managers know the goals. A manager who doesn’t understand the company’s priorities will not be able to set goals for his own team-members. We spoke to Avantika Susan Nigam, the Total Rewards Capability Lead for Asia, Middle East and North Africa at Pepsi, about permeating organisational goals through the organisation. She told us, “You are only as good as the information provided to you. It’s the organisational leadership’s responsibility to make sure that the organisation’s goals and priorities are clear, and communicated clearly and often. The more you communicate it, the more employees and managers will internalise those objectives. Managers can display behaviours, but they can’t be held accountable for what information they have or don’t have.” A good goal-setting system will make this task much easier.

4.    Have strong feedback and recognition systems. If you’re saving your feedback for the end-of-the-year appraisal cycle, you’re doing it wrong – your team members might not stick around till then. We spoke about this in detail in our last article – make sure you’re acting quickly, getting feedback from multiple sources, and dealing with your subordinates in a fair, transparent and open manner.

The work ethic has changed rapidly over the last few years – and the work environment needs to catch up fast. People are taking more ownership of their careers, and see employment as a mutually-beneficial transaction rather than a long-term loyalty-over-all-else relationship. If your management style reminds them more of a henhouse than a smartly run operation, they’ll be gone soon.

If you want a game-changing tool that truly empowers your managers, Contact us today!