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Is Managing Today a Set-Up for Failure?

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!

One Response

  1. I love the questions in the “needs assessment”. When I taught Root Cause Analysis, a common countermeasure was “training”. While that may be part of the solution, it often stopped people from considering other countermeasures such as how the work is structured, clarity of information, etc. A former boss would say the training is a trap. We think it will solve everything, when there are deeper issues or it’s simply an “and” to other actions to drive improvement.

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