Is Managing Today a Set-Up for Failure?

The manager job is no longer manageable...

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The picture of Gartner’s recent report, Top 5 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2024, paints a very glum outlook. Their data draws from 40 countries across all major industries and 500+ HR leaders.

  • 26% of CEOs rank talent shortage as the top damaging factor to their business outlook
  • 75% of HR leaders say their managers are overwhelmed by the growth of their job responsibilities
  • Nearly 50% of employees view their current performance as unsustainable

Data from: Gartner, Top 5 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2024

Gartner’s conclusion is this:

The manager job is no longer manageable.

Managers are cracking – and more training won’t help.

For someone who equips leaders and managers with the skills they need to be successful, you might think I’d bristle at this pronouncement. Instead, I cheer. Here’s why:

Early in my career in “training” I was taught how to do a needs assessment. Or in plain words, to determine if training would really solve the performance gaps that were present.

The framework sorted out quite neatly when training was a good investment – and when it was a band-aid, throwing time, money, and effort at a situation in a doomed-to-fail strategy.

Here is (roughly) the series of questions:

  1. Can “they” perform the task if they are under pressure to perform?
    • If not – training is in order.
    • If they can – training is not the problem
  2. Do they have the tools to do the task?
    • If not – focus efforts on getting them what they need
    • If they have both the training and the tools – look elsewhere to solve the problem.
  3. If they have the training and the tools, what else is getting in the way?
    • Do they have the time to perform the task?
    • Have adequate expectations been established?
    • Is there accountability to those expectations?
    • Does the culture support the desired behaviors?

For optimal performance, you need:

Skills (training) + Tools (process/systems) + Support (time, expectations, accountability, culture)

Many leaders DON’T have the skills they need to adequately perform the role needed in today’s environment. For example, Gartner found that 73% of HR leaders confirmed their organization’s leaders and managers aren’t equipped to lead change. We can fix that! (just give me a ring if you want to talk training)

Yet, I see far too many organizations blaming the victim. Leaders at all levels fall prey to working harder and harder even though they have given all hope of “catching up.” KPIs are set beyond stretch and into sheer fantasy. Restructure after restructure fuels doubt and worry (never helpful for a healthy, productive workforce) – yet has the feel of moving deck chairs on the Titanic.

Please don’t mistake my message. Skill training is essential. Productivity tools are helpful. Restructuring can enable an organization to get the right folks in the right seats.

Yet none of them get you to the “root cause.” Only when you solve problems at their root, do you get long-term, lasting changes in performance. While I love to do skills training, even more so, I love to partner with leaders to create holistic solutions that allow their people to perform.

So, the task facing us is a bit more complex than exhorting folks to work smarter or harder. More far-reaching than tracking KPIs with fervor. More challenging than sending your managers to a workshop and then saying, “But you had that training.”

We didn’t get to this place quickly, and neither will we climb out of this hole easily. This is a complex situation with multiple, intertwining variables, so forget quick fixes or magic bullets.

Here are a few ideas you might consider:

  • Have honest conversations with your managers and collaborate to find solutions. Create a situation where they can talk openly and honestly about their challenges. This is best done with face-to-face conversations with trusted leaders within your organization. Yet if trust and/or time are in short supply, reach out to a trusted outside partner to gather employee insights. (Valory Myers of InAct is my recommendation).
  • Take a hard look at the managerial roles and find ways to reduce the workload. Eliminate the things that really don’t matter. Offload the tasks that others can do. Free time to allow your managers to focus on what is most important to their role. If you want to seriously simplify, Lisa Bodell’s work (her book is Why Simple Wins: Escape the Complexity Trap and Get to Work That Matters is a great place to start.
  • Reset your job expectations for managerial roles. An excellent first step is to create a success profile for the role. What do you expect? What does success look like in behavioral terms? Have conversations about it. Be clear. Remove barriers. Follow up.
  • Select people inclined to do this work. The Gartner data reveals that 20% of people managers would prefer NOT to manage people! While we know that technical competence does not equate to managerial excellence, there is a tendency to promote the high-performers at the lower level to the next level. The good news is that new data-driven tools can help you identify who has both the interest and the core skills to manage people. We are partnering with Almas, a cutting-edge objective approach to human-driven data. Reach out to me if you want to learn more!

If you are brave enough to equip your leaders for success, reach out. My peers at the Apeiron Network and I are looking for leaders who want to make meaningful, real, and sustainable changes that lead to business success!

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About the Author: Kris Taylor

Fueled by their shared passion for people-centric organizations that achieve business results, Kris Taylor joined Joe Indiano to found Apeiron, where professionals join together in an abundant, entrepreneurial community to grow sustainable businesses by collaborating together. Bringing together highly skilled consultants across functions, Apeiron is creating the “workplace of the future”, where talented professionals come together to service clients with an agile, collaborative approach to tough business problems.

Kris is also the founder of Evergreen Leadership in 2004 and has worked with over 80 companies across the US to develop customized leadership development programs focused on 21st-century skills.  Evergreen Leadership is known for its high-impact retreats, coaching, and learning programs, specializing in fostering agility, collaboration, relationship building, accountability, creativity, and innovation.

Kris writes, speaks, teaches, and coaches leaders at all levels, from the C-suite to high-potential emerging leaders. She is committed to giving back in meaningful ways, most visibly with Evergreen’s Annual Community Builder Award. Since 2015, fifteen leaders across the mid-west have come together for the Connect and Create Retreat.

Her many years of work experience are rich in variety – beginning in education and non-profit for ten years before making a career change with RR Donnelley. In this Fortune 200 company, she fulfilled many roles from Human Resources to Operations to a corporate role in Learning and Development over fourteen years.

On the faculty of Purdue’s Certificate Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation for seven years, Kris developed and taught a course on consulting, as well as a course entitled Your Entrepreneurial Career. Kris is also the author of author of Owning It: Take Control of Your Life, Work and Career and  The Leader’s Guide to Turbulent Times: a practical, easy-to-use guide to leading in today’s times. She holds a Master’s Degree from Krannert Business School at Purdue University and did her undergraduate work at West Virginia University. 

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