The obvious answer is yes, managers do bring success and efficiency to the workplace. Or is it?
Many factors influence a manager’s success, such as their personality, skill set, the organization they work in, and their style of it, just to name a few. Also, the number of subordinates they are expected to manage defines how well they can do their job. In general, about 5-6 people reporting to them is regarded as ideal in more traditional structures.
What do managers do that makes them capable of ensuring success and efficiency?
A manager hires the right people
If a manager is good, the right people with skills (also soft skills) are hired. On the one side, skills are needed to fulfill upcoming tasks. On the other hand, a manager needs to find a person that also fits the existing team. In other words, the manager needs to find the right person to ensure success and efficiency. Hiring a person with the wrong technical skills or the wrong personal skills, can damage an existing team and kill its efficiency. HR plays a vital role here as well as they generally go through applications first and sort them. Then managers choose together with HR which people they want to see for an interview. In my personal experience, interviews done by HR together with the hiring manager are the most successful and most time efficient as well. That way there are two parties to ask questions from slightly different angles to determine if the candidate will work out and HR might think of things to ask that the manager did not and vice versa.
A manager encourages the development of skills
A manager needs to detect the strengths and weaknesses of their employees and encourage their development in the right way. There are countless methods of scientific personality checks that can help the manager detect these. We use extensively Kolbe. The manager has these results made available to them through HR but will need to make their observations in the daily interaction with and between their employees. They are closest to the action and can make decisions based on their judgment.
A manager detects the dynamic of a team
The way a team works and interacts can be felt by the team members themselves, but it is a manager’s job to detect the dynamic and utilize it in the right way. Who is a group that triggers actions, analyzes, takes charge, does groundwork, etc.? The manager needs to make sure they use the right person for the right tasks and utilizes the dynamics of a group to their advantage. If they misjudge and hand over the lead to a project to the researcher and not the doer, the project or task at hand will not be done efficiently but can become rather tedious for the whole group. Also, with a diverse team that might be necessary for the organization, but is more challenging to handle, it is the manager’s task to contain things that might annoy other team members to get the most out of them. A manager needs to decide if they want all team members to be alike to get sufficient teamwork or if they need diversity to tackle different kinds of tasks.
A manager leads
Like the captain of a ship, a manager steers their part of the organization forward, keeping an eye on outside influences that might affect the team. That way people can focus on their tasks and not worry about things going on around them. Priority setting is taken care of by the leader. People can stay operational and trust their manager to take care of the strategy (or the tactical implementation thereof).
A manager motivates
Managers generally not only come with more knowledge, but they also come with experience. They can offer ideas and show different ways of tackling an issue through this. They motivate by sharing their experience, talking to their employees, and offering solutions. Motivation also comes from being able to use a manager as a sounding board in a creative atmosphere, knowing that there are no stupid ideas and brainstorming results flourish based on the manager’s input. Knowledge is increased which motivates employees further. Motivation aims to retain employees longer in a company, even if it means for the manager that an employee moves up the ladder and potentially to a different position and department.
A manager coaches and mentors
Managers help further improve skills by coaching or mentoring their employees. Say an employee has never managed a project on their own, the manager can offer to start the process together, explain tricks of the trade and be there to support. The difference between mentoring and coaching in this example: a coach is intended to improve the skills needed to manage a project and will focus to achieve that short-term goal. A mentor would do the same but stay in contact with the employee to further listen and advise the mentee on other issues as well. A coaching relationship is short-term and structured, a mentor relationship will last longer and cover anything popping up. Both of them help the employee move further along a structured path for future development.
A manager has a so-called helicopter view of things.
This means they look at tasks from a higher level, knowing a bit more about ongoing strategies that influence the way things move. They see the bigger picture and will understand where projects fit in and what might need to change. They connect more dots at their level, they see beyond the daily business, and they need to think outside the box. They need to think more long-term. While an employee is busy with daily tasks and projects, a manager plans beyond that. With this view on tasks, a manager can break down the strategy for their employees.
The Entrepreneurial Tool, in development by The Cecily Group, caters to that need. Employees get individual tasks, but they will always know to which strategic goal their part contributes. The goal will be present at the top of the tasks. With The Entrepreneurial Tool and its dashboards, everyone can view projects and their progress but also check in with the values, mission, and vision of a company. Every task can be traced back to a part of the vision, mission, and value it caters to as well as the short- or long-term goal. There is no secret, and it will be easy for everyone to read.
A manager controls resources
Resources can be measured in manhours or costs. Manhours are of course translated into direct costs by multiplying them with an hourly rate. Direct costs can be money spent on purchases needed for a team or a project, like equipment but also things like travel costs or outside resources, or even paper to print on or a pen to write with. Each department usually has a certain budget to work with to get the projects done. And a manager is the one who keeps track of the budget and can steer the resources to achieve the results efficiently. A manager is close enough to be able to judge e.g. if a meeting involving travel costs is justified and far enough to stay neutral and decide for the sake of efficiency.
A manager combines KPI or OKR views with what they see and feel
A manager relying only on numbers coming out of KPI or OKR measurements misses the influence a human has on projects. A manager needs to keep an eye on the numbers but that is not enough. Being in touch with the people that deliver the numbers, and checking how things are progressing by taking time to talk to people is essential. Only through open discussion can potential problems but also potential untapped ideas be detected. Numbers are only part of the story. This is also where so-called mid-year reviews and year-end reviews come in. The numbers are calculated, usually centrally, but they need to personally be discussed and analyzed at least every 6 months between the manager and the concerned employee to assess where things are going.
A manager, especially a new one to a team or one located physically further away, can also do a 360-degree feedback round. This means, feedback based on a questionnaire related to the employee will be given by peers, subordinates, coworkers, customers, or anyone else who interacts with the employee. It will broaden the view of an employee and not only be based on what the manager assesses.
With The Entrepreneurial Tool, we want to add one more side to the 360-degree feedback: we also ask the employee himself. Each task completed will be rated by the employee to see if the task fitted the employee’s skill set. And fitted in this context means answering the question ‘Was the task within the unique abilities of the employee?’ Collecting this information with the tool will help visualize whether the tasks given to an employee were chosen well. Only tasks within the unique abilities of an employee will ensure efficiency and highly motivated people in the long run.
To conclude, the answer as to whether a manager brings success and efficiency should be clear. Even in times of a pandemic, when people were sent to their home offices, very few companies experienced a loss of efficiency. It was the managers’ job to keep things running, even if physical interaction and presence were impossible. And it worked!