The Four Vital Ways for Managers to Be More Effective

BY Stephen Koepp | September 14, 2023

Would you enthusiastically recommend your boss to another worker? Would you say they’re an effective manager? Most people wouldn’t. In a survey, only 28% of employees said they would strongly recommend their managers to others, while 14% would not recommend them at all. 

This is a chronic problem for employers, since workers with effective managers measurably thrive on the job, while those with ineffective ones languish. The impact to the bottom line can be substantial. The good news is that managers aspire to be more skilled in their jobs. But companies will have to step up: Only 29% of managers say their company gives them the training and support to be a better people leader. 

The solution is for companies to invest more in understanding what makes good managers and investing in their development, according to Caitlin Nobes, the author of a new report, “The Foundations of Manager Effectiveness,” published by Achievers, an employee recognition and engagement platform. The report illuminates how manager effectiveness drives business results, identifies four factors of management effectiveness that provide the most beneficial effects, and suggests concrete ways to give managers the leadership development they need to do a better job.

Why isn’t this all part of corporate culture already? “I think there’s a gap between what organizations are able to do to support their managers and what managers actually want and need, as well as a gap between what HR thinks they are giving, and what managers feel they are getting,” said Nobes, lead analyst for Achievers, in an interview with From Day One. “I think this report is really crucial for saying to HR and business leaders: We’re missing the boat.”

Why Is This Problem So Pressing Right Now? 

“I think that being a manager has always been challenging. And I think that it has been underestimated because it has always been seen as just part of most career paths. When you get far enough in your career, you start managing people. That was the pattern,” Nobes said.

Caitlin Nobes, lead analyst and senior content marketing manager for Achievers (Company photo)

Insufficient training for managers was almost a tradition, but only recently did the effects become so glaring, thanks to the pandemic, the racial-justice movement, and other social factors. A study from Workday and Red Thread Research found that manager effectiveness has declined since 2020. “In the last four years, we have seen the world of work get a lot more complicated,” Nobes said. “Many managers suddenly had this remote-work piece added on, with your team in their own homes–and you have to manage them effectively from your own home,” Nobes said. “All of these are complicating factors for managers who are still under a lot of pressure to meet performance objectives. I think we have managers who are potentially more aware of some of those other factors affecting their teams, but aren’t always clear on how to help address them.”

How Manager Effectiveness Can Be Measured   

The concept of a net promoter score (NPS), which measures the willingness of a customer to recommend a product or business, can be applied to managers as well. An mNPS survey asks workers whether they’d recommend their boss, with their sentiment ranked on a scale of promoter to neutral to detractor. 

That sentiment is a powerful indicator. “The performance gap between those that would recommend their managers and those who would not is huge,” the Achievers report said. The promoters, it turns out, are many times more likely to be engaged in their work, to have a strong sense of belonging, to feel committed to their job, and to say they’re productive at work. 

What Makes a Manager Effective

Manager effectiveness is the degree to which people leaders engage and motivate their team, as Achievers defines it. Four elements stand out in the survey data as being impressive drivers of manager effectiveness, the report says:

     •Contact: My manager supports my success through regular 1:1 meetings.

     •Recognition: My manager regularly provides me with recognition that makes me feel valued.

     •Coaching: My manager provides me with guidance that helps me to be more effective in my role.

     •Professional development: My manager supports my personal and professional development goals.

When employees say their manager is good at one of these, it doubles the likelihood that they would recommend their manager. When all four are present, mNPS scores almost triple, the report says.

Of those four elements, most managers can put the first three into action on their own initiative. But the fourth, professional development, “is probably the only of the four factors that a manager cannot do on their own,” Nobes said. “A great manager in an OK company–that great manager can give recognition, can be a coach, can have great one-to-one meetings, but they can’t provide career growth and professional development without buy-in from their own manager or from HR. So, I think that is really a key area of support.”

The Training That Managers Need from Their Employers

To become more effective, managers need a mandate to take the time to train themselves, as well as to pass along that value to their workers. The Achievers report recommends structuring manager training on a quarterly basis to provide a long-term framework. And companies should provide managers “with frequent touch points to remind them that part of their job is to upskill in this area,” Nobes said. 

“I think it’s very easy to get focused on metrics and to say, ‘Are we producing enough widgets?’ Or, ‘I really need to write that report this week, so I'm not going to do that LinkedIn Learning course that I bookmarked because I’m just too busy.’ We prioritize the short term, because that’s what feels urgent. So you need to have regular reminders to managers that a medium- to long-term view is also important–that you need to block out an hour a week, or two hours a week, to train yourself.”

Middle Managers: Where the Impact Can Be Immediate

“The idea of building a culture of recognition with managers first, I think is very powerful,” Nobes said. Achievers data shows that recognition can create a virtuous cycle: managers who recognize their workers frequently inspires their employees to do likewise, creating peer recognition as well. Robes describes this as a “middle-out” approach, rather than top-down. “Starting with your middle managers, they’re the frontline, the people who really can have an immediate impact on somebody’s day to day.”

By contrast, “your CEO, your C-suite can make a decision, but it will probably take months for that to be felt at the frontline. But if you can get your manager to just think, ‘If I recognize every employee once a month, and start paying attention to that, I can have a pretty immediate impact,” Nobes said.

No manager-effectiveness program is going to make every boss a dynamo of leadership, but just bringing the weak or average managers up to the next level can have a major impact on a workforce, Nobes said. “That’s huge internally. Those are more engaged employees. You’re getting discretionary effort, they’re not job-hunting as much. The ripple effect of investing in manager empowerment is so impactful.”

Why a Sense of Belonging Is So Important

Among the four elements of manager effectiveness, “employees’ sense of belonging at work is the ultimate driver of individual and business performance,” says the report. Research by the Achievers Workforce Institute (AWI), the company’s research arm, has identified five measurable and actionable pillars of belonging: being welcomed, known, included, supported and connected. “Each of these pillars individually doubles the likelihood that an employee feels a strong sense of belonging and in combination, all five together triple an employee’s overall sense of belonging in the workforce,” the report said.

“When people feel like they belong, it’s so powerful,” Nobes said. “It’s this feeling of acceptance and comfort and security. If you can create that experience for your employees, then you will have better business results on every metric that matters. When we think about how to drive belonging, we have these five pillars. The idea is that ‘belonging’ can sound very tenuous and eyebrow-raising, like, what does it even mean? So when you break it down to these five pillars that are pretty actionable, then HR and managers feel empowered.”

The questions that managers should ask themselves about their workers include, Do they feel known? Are they sharing parts of themselves? And do people remember things about them? Nobes offered a personal example. “You know, I'm a big reader. And I have talked to a few people about books. Somebody on my team said, ‘I need a new summer read. What would you recommend?’ I felt so known. Like, ‘Oh yeah, I can help you, I would love to recommend a book for you.’”

Glass Ceilings All the Way Up

While the Achievers report diagnosed inadequate manager training across the board, it identified a particular support gap: gender discrepancies in manager empowerment. According to AWI research, men are 26% more likely than women to say they manage people in their role and men are 22% more likely than women to say they have a professional-development plan. Once women make it to an initial management position, they are less likely to be promoted beyond middle management, partly because of a lack of support that Nobes calls “glass ceilings all the way up.”

“You break the glass ceiling, and you’re so happy and proud to have reached this level. And then you’re like, Okay, well, what’s next for me? And you look up, and there’s another glass ceiling.” Overall in corporate America, the result is that middle management has become more diverse, but the progress stalls in the higher ranks of leadership. Said the report: “If your pipeline to senior leadership is leaky, it’s time to step back and assess the overall process. How are succession plans developed and who gets shoulder-tapped for stretch assignments or fast-tracked promotion? … Remember, women in management are more likely than men to leave, whether for greener pastures or due to life pressures. Retaining managers from marginalized groups needs to be a top priority for companies focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion at every level of the organization.”

Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Achievers, who sponsored this story. 

(Featured photo by FatCamera/iStock by Getty Images)

Steve Koepp is From Day One’s co-founder and chief content officer.

 


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