The manager in the employee experience: soft skills are not everything

Among all the levers of the employee experience, one of the most under-exploited is the manager! First, because we misunderstand his role, we think too much about his human qualities while forgetting his operational impact and then because we put too much on him without really helping him. This is an opportunity to remind people that being nice is not a job and that solving people’s problems is a laborious task, sometimes not very rewarding but essential.

I had already spoken at length about the role of the manager in the employee experience both as part of the problem and part of the solution, but this post by Volker Jacobs made me want to go further on the subject.

The manager: a critical touchpoint

I won’t surprise anyone by saying that the manager is a critical contact point between the employee and the company. Moreover, in my analysis of the 4th Employee Experience Barometer, if I was surprised by the list of levers evoked by HR to improve the performance of the organization through the employee experience (which is presented as the 2nd objective of such an approach), the place of management was not in doubt.

Source: 4th Employee Experience Barometer – Parlons RH.

You are only onboarded once, you don’t spend your time in training, but you are managed all the time and the figures in Volker’s article confirm this.

Source : VolkerJacobs / LinkedIn : Influence of touchpoint on overall experience of people at work

I think that some elements are missing because once again the weight of the processes and the organization seems to me to be forgotten unless we put it in “policy” or in “digital workplace”, “collaboration app”, “intranet/portal”.

But while I’m on the subject I might as well point out two things:

  • The tools are rarely the problem but the place where they are seen. If implementing collaborative tools was a substitute for a culture, well-established practices, an adapted management style, adequate processes and performance evaluation methods that do not favor the ” each for himself ” approach, it would be known.
  • The tools mentioned above focus on communication and collaboration, but what is missing are the business tools (ERP, CRM, Project Management, HRIS, etc.) whose complexity and perfectible user experience have an impact on the experience and performance of the employee, not to mention the fact that, once again, they are often only the reflection of a complicated organization.

But the subject of this article is the manager.

What makes a good manager?

Before going any further, we should already ask ourselves what a “good” manager is. Ask around you and you will get the most diverse answers depending on the person and the company culture.

Then a question inevitably arises: are we talking about a good manager in the absolute, a good manager for a good employee experience or a good manager in relation to the performance of individuals and the organization.

My answer is simple: everything at once.

Distinguishing a good manager in terms of employee experience from a good manager in terms of performance is precisely the proof that we have been making a misunderstanding from the beginning. It means that experience and performance are opposed, that there is an incompatibility between “feeling good” and “performing well” when the two are linked.

To put it another way, if you think that experience and performance can’t go together, I suggest you leave the corporate world right now and open a spa or a massage parlor…and have no employees.

A “good” manager can be described by who he is and what he does. This may seem obvious but in reality it is much less so.

Soft skills, the essential tool of a good manager

I will have the opportunity to talk more about the importance of soft skills for employees, whether they are managers or not, but it is obvious that they are essential in the toolbox of a good manager.

Knowing how to communicate, how to convey one’s messages, how to avoid spreading stress, how to explain what is wrong without hurting the employee’s feelings in order to create a positive dynamic… in short, it is essential to make the employee feel comfortable with his or her manager. This must lead to a relationship of trust in a peaceful context.

But we must not reduce the subject to the simple question of whether the “manager is nice” as is often done. Being nice is a quality but not a job!

We don’t ask the manager to be nice but to be honest, fair.

The nice manager forgets the negative to talk only about the positive, he usually avoids difficult situations and, by doing so, he does not help his team.

The fair manager knows how to address the negative points in order to help the employee progress in a climate of trust, without putting him or her on the defensive. And knows how to make decisions, if necessary, that may be unpleasant but serve both parties in the long term.

If it were enough to have nice managers for a good employee experience, so that employees were never questioned, never talked about what was wrong, never challenged and taken out of their comfort zone, we would recruit former Club Med G.Os.

The manager who makes things possible

I am firmly convinced that when something goes well in a company, it is to the credit of the employees, it is their responsibility. And when something goes wrong, it is the manager’s responsibility to solve the present problems and to make sure that they do not happen again in the future.

In action, the “good” manager solves problems and makes things possible. I know that for many people, the “problem solver” side of things, which implies putting one’s hands in both the operational and, above all, the organizational side, is not seen as rewarding. We prefer to be in the action and save the world, save projects, rather than put our hands in the processes, the organization, the tools, to make sure that things don’t malfunction in the future. We like to value the doers, less the fixers, who are more sustainable and less involved in making a splash, and that’s a shame.

Yes, the manager must be able to work behind the scenes so that his employees shine on stage. In the short term when a situation is out of control, in the medium term so that it does not happen again, in the long term to develop the employee’s skills.

But a manager does or rather has to do many other things

Which delivery model for the manager?

To make others succeed, a manager has many things to do. Because it is important to note that the role of a manager is to make his team succeed.

Rewarding tasks, obscure tasks, business-oriented tasks, administrative tasks, continuous improvement tasks… And if I had to summarize the general belief: they don’t do them!

Indeed, if we listen to employees, few are satisfied with their manager, whereas if we listen to managers, many think they are doing a good job. A gap between the expectations of some and the understanding that others have of their role is not attributable to either of them but most often to the company that leaves the managerial function in total limbo. Yes, there are skills, know-how, missions and objectives, but the “how” is rarely clear.

Thus, the manager tends to forget certain tasks, or even does not know that they are his or her responsibility, or does not know how to perform them. A large part of the manager’s role, especially when it comes to the (too) many administrative processes, is informal, with little or no documentation. But in the end it is the employee who pays the price.

How many times have I heard “ah I didn’t know I had to do that” or “I didn’t know how”. The tasks involved in the management function depend on the company, or even on the departments within a company, and a “good” manager in theory can find himself totally lost when he takes up a position.

In organizations, we have delivery models for everything except management. As if it were enough to define a mission so that the person concerned knows everything that it implies and how the things it implies work in the company. That doesn’t work. But that’s a topic I’ll cover in more detail.

But by talking about the absence of a “delivery model”, this “how-to” to which the manager can refer in order not to forget anything about the concrete actions that are expected of him, we are highlighting a point: the manager is not necessarily helped in his mission by the organization.

It is widely accepted today that there is no customer experience without employee experience. We are seeing that there is no employee experience without adequate management, but there is no adequate management without “manager experience”. The manager cannot give more to his team than the organization gives him.

We can therefore say that the “manager experience” is both what happens between the manager and the employee but also between the organization and the manager.

What experience for the manager?

On this point Volker also offers us the results of a research he conducted.

Source : Volker Jacobs / LinkedIn : Experiences of managers (topic modeling / sentiment analysis, 60,000 free text comments)

We can’t say that managers feel fully supported and helped by the organization and especially the support functions. In addition to the fact that they face the same employee experience problems as their team, they don’t have all the support they need to do their job and improve things for the team in question.

If I had to summarize things: we use a buzzword, “experience”, but a word that must not make us lose touch with reality. We are talking about quality requirements and operational excellence. The company makes a promise to the customer, it is the employees who keep it, and for that they need their manager. And, in the end, the manager needs his organization to support him and make things easier.

The manager experience is the foundation of the employee experience.

Managers responsible but not guilty

There is a tendency to blame the manager for many of the ills in the company, but it must be admitted that they are often only the result of a corporate culture and a certain vision (or lack thereof) of organization and management. As Bruno Metling (former HR Director of Orange) said, companies have the managers they deserve.

Unlike many projects (such as the digital workplace or digital transformation, for example) that systematically forget about people in the field and only talk to privileged populations, the employee experience does the opposite: it skips the managers and goes directly to the field. This is proof if any were needed of the overly superficial and insufficiently operational approach that companies have. Strangely enough, companies are doing too much for their employees while forgetting to deal with the real problem: themselves.

But cuddling doesn’t work and managers need to be given the tools to create the employee experience that will make a difference in the field.

Image : manager from Maslowski Marcin 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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