Management. Irritant #9 of the employee experience

It is often said that an employee joins a company and leaves a manager. This means that management plays an essential role in the employee experience. And it’s no surprise that the manager is in the top 10 elements that make a good employee experience or conversely destroy it.

What’s the main criticism of the manager? The living myth of the “little boss” who embodies a command & control model that is now obsolete. But there is also the weak role he plays in the personal and professional development of the employee, his lack of impact, the perception that he complicates things more than he facilitates them etc.

The manager: an easy scapegoat

But does that mean that all managers are terrible, as we hear everywhere ? If you look at the list of all the irritants observed so far, this is a short-sighted way to go. In fact, located at the frontier between the organisation and the employee, he embodies all the contradictions of the latter in front of the employees, and sometimes despite his will.

When you have a complicated organization, poorly defined or monitored career paths, when the organization itself hinders the most efficient ways of working, when everyone jealously guards their silos and holds back information, what kind of management style can you expect? Businesses generate the management styles they deserve.

It is one thing for everyone to be aware of the need to evolve towards a managerial model closer to servant leadership, and even more so in a world that is switching to remote work willy-nilly, but to believe that this will happen on its own is a sweet dream.

One does not change a company by transforming the managers, but the organization…

Saying that companies are aware of all this is an understatement. And no matter what anyone says, they are investing in the training of their managers. But nothing changes. There are four main reasons for this.

The first is that, unlike the “hard skills”, the “soft skills” we are talking about here are harder to acquire because they imply a deep questioning of the “software” of each individual. One must unlearn before learning, but this unlearning involves questioning or even the disappearance of what one has been. It’s very personal, almost intimate.

And it should be added that the person has been recruited for certain characteristics that have been reinforced over decades of working in the world of work, in the company. And it is precisely some of the “qualities” that made a person recruited and promoted that today they have to forget or even make them a problem.

The second is intimately linked to the first. You can do all the training you want, try to get people to change or even change them altogether by replacing them, nothing will change. I think that everyone has experienced the episode of training that goes well in small groups, so much so that in the end you strongly believe in it before going back to your daily work and going back to good old bad habits. The reason? As always when it comes to change and transformation: the system always trumps the individual. The best of wills can do nothing against a mechanism that works almost autonomously and a culture that is nobody’s property and lasts while individuals are just passing through.

Employees don’t criticize the manager as a person but as a byproduct of a system.

Besides, if everyone complains about managers, both subordinates and superiors, there are some figures that do not lie. I had already seen similar figures at the end of the 2000s and obviously nothing has changed. Yes, you complain about your manager, but nobody wants to take his place! 79% of employees would not take their manager’s place if they could.

Sorry the exhibit is in French but explainations follow.

And the reasons speak for themselves.

The conclusion is quite simple: they do not criticize their manager as a person but as a representative of a dysfunctional system. That’s why they don’t think they could do better if they had the job!

Good or bad, the example always comes from the top…

The third is a common evil: the example, good or bad, often comes from above. Many companies are coming to the conclusion that they need to rethink their managerial model, change the posture of managers and take the necessary action. But when the bad practices to be banned are embodied at the highest level of the company, things quickly get complicated. I was talking about it again with a middle manager of a medium-sized company who told me that a major training plan had been put in place in his company, that everyone believed in it, but that it hadn’t worked. All levels of management had been involved…except the leadership team. According to him, it was the practices and often very violent words of this small group that were often suffered by senior managers before being passed on to the lower levels and so on.

Here, too, leaders are often quick to point the finger at wrongdoers while neglecting their own responsibility.

Careers that are bad-managers factories.

And finally, another well-known subject: the system which means that you can only progress hierarchically and that you end up promoting excellent experts to managers who will make mediocre managers. This is a double penalty because you lose both expertise in the field and managerial quality. One day we will have to accept that good managers have not always been the best in the field at the level below and that the best man in the field may not have the managerial skills or the desire to occupy such a position.

A role and a posture to be (re)defined

Nevertheless, the role and posture of the manager are still to be totally redefined. But in a concrete way. Managers are the first to complain that they are asked to manage well…without ever being told what that means. Or through objectives but without specifying how this should materialize on a daily basis, as if management was an innate science!

However, if management cannot be learnt, or not completely, no company has taken the effort to explain in concrete terms what good management looks like on a day-to-day basis, and what is expected from managers on a day-to-day basis. No wonder that everyone does things in their own way and in a disorganised manner.

You have to get away from the idea that everyone has a basis, that everyone has a managerial part in them and that inheriting the title makes it possible to put all that into practice. This may involve abandoning the illusion that management school graduates have learned to manage. They have learned to administer, not to manage (unfortunately in France we poorly translate the word management and also use it for administration).

And maybe that’s where the problem lies: asking administrators or experts to become managers because the required qualities are not the same.

Photo : Poor management by Sergey Nivens via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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