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Leader's Edge Why Bother?

No wonder managers fail at managing their staffs. You fail to reward those very skills.

By  Julia Kramer

Successful managers rarely pass the buck when it comes to their core job responsibilities. They welcome accountability and the resulting accolades for making the sale, developing a product, streamlining a process and servicing the customer. In these instances, they can honestly say “the buck stops here.”

But when it comes to their staff management responsibilities—those duties that might have less overt impact on the bottom line—the buck seems to stop somewhere else. Maybe in someone else’s lap, or in HR, or even in their boss’s office. Sometimes the buck stops so far away, it’s not really on anyone’s radar.

Why do otherwise competent and capable managers have a hard time with active staff management? From providing constructive feedback to dealing with an interpersonal conflict to counseling an employee for substandard performance, all are avoided like the plague or neatly delegated to someone else. Many managers also steer clear of orienting, training and coaching their staff. They often don their manager’s hat only in a crisis—that is, a troubling circumstance that probably could have been avoided if they had been practicing proactive management.

Ironically, one of the greatest factors in determining salary is whether a position has management responsibilities and how many people or functions report to the position. We pay much more for managers in salaries and bonuses but then pay little notice to the level of expertise and time spent managing. To better align manager’s pay with performance, examine and remedy the conflicting conditions in which most managers operate, as follows.

Measure It’s rare that an organization measures staff management expertise. When it does, the measurement is frequently based on outdated metrics and/or it’s weighted less heavily than other job dimensions. Management prowess was long-based on turnover rates—low turnover was attributed to sound management—until some genius realized that low turnover just meant that nobody was leaving. Yes, this included star employees, but it also included mediocre and poor performers. What was being rewarded was counter to what was being pursued.

Granted, it’s hard to measure management skills, but there are some key indicators that an individual is taking an active, positive role with his or her staff. Regular staff meetings; education and team building; relevant goals and measurable results; high retention rates for star employees; appropriate and timely termination decisions; active delegating and coaching; and a productive and energized staff all point to a good manager. Use these activities and add some of your own to start developing a manager scorecard.

Recognize Most organizations don’t make staff aware of successful management activities. Not smart, because when good work goes unnoticed and unappreciated, it may stop, much to the detriment of the organization. For example, Joe is viewed as incredibly lucky in hiring top-notch staff. Luck has little to do with it. Joe spends many hours crafting and implementing effective recruitment plans. Joe is also considered blessed with motivated, energetic employees. No one is aware that Joe spends much time listening to, communicating with, and developing his staff. What a shame. Without visibility, other managers don’t realize that these activities are important parts of their jobs and don’t see the value to themselves and to the firm. As a result, no one else benefits from Joe’s successful techniques and expertise.

Recognize your strong managers and provide the others with positive role models by setting high expectations, then publicly acknowledging those managers that meet or exceed them. Routine review of a manager’s staff-focused activities will provide the data you need. Hold your managers accountable for staff development, attitude and productivity, just as you would hold them accountable for other core responsibilities.

Reward Why are there so few standalone reward systems in place for great staff management? Doesn’t it make sense to reward talented, committed leaders at all levels—those who inspire others, reduce unwanted turnover and develop the critical skills of their staff? Many firms hesitate to give financial incentives for great management—they want to limit financial awards to traditional measures, such as a successful project completion. But when you consider just one cost of a bad manager, financial incentives make sense.

Take turnover. Using a simple turnover calculator, replacing within 30 days a $70,000 employee whose manager makes $100,000 costs an organization about $31,000 in lost productivity and management time spent on recruitment activities and training. Not to mention the direct costs of advertisements and marketing the position. Multiply that by the number of good employees you lose a year, and you’ll see that rewarding good management makes good financial sense.

Strong staff management is crucial to organizational stability and productivity. Help your managers embrace their staff responsibilities. Implement a system that sets expectations, measures results, recognizes achievement and rewards success, and stop the buck where it belongs—at each manager’s desk.

Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, office of the president.

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