Direct managers are still key to productivity
Q: One of the key findings the 2010 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey is that worker satisfaction is more profoundly affected by perceptions of top management than by their immediate supervisor. What lessons can top leaders in the public and private sector glean from this?
Socrates reportedly said that the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms, and this question begs for that clarity. "Satisfaction" - whether in customer analysis or employee analysis, simply doesn't correlate with any meaningful outcome that a manager or leader is trying to achieve.
The first question any leader should ask is "what am I trying to get done?" Generally with regard to human capital, there are three basic objectives: recruiting terrific people to the organization, getting the highest contribution out of the people I have, and engaging and retaining the high performers.
Leaders have different levers to pull, or investments to make, to achieve of these outcomes. (Which make intuitive sense, based on other human behavior, the things that motivate you to try a product are very different than those which motivate you to continue to purchase it.)
The Corporate Executive Board's vast databases on employee analytics shed a little light on what levers a leader should reach for to accomplish each of these objectives, and generally place the direct manager at the center of the equation:
As you'd guess, people first are attracted to work for a company/agency not because of their manager per se, but because the combination of firm reputation, pay, etc. create a compelling offer.
With regard to both productivity and retention, the role of the direct manager - rather than "senior leadership" per se - is paramount. The relative importance of the direct/middle manager is very consistent across both corporate and U.S. government workplaces - with one notable exception - it is considerably harder to change the engagement, retention, and productivity of federal workers.
The "so what" for leaders is to a) select managers with great care - they are your primary communication channel and connective tissue to your employees, b) teach them to lead and manage (a disproportionate percentage of employees are managed by poor, or first time managers) and c) remove other burdens from you management team. Across the organizations we sample, managers are working 10% more and spending 20% less time coaching and developing employees. That's a problem worth fixing.
September 1, 2010; 2:27 PM ET
Category: A leader's team , Accomplishing Goals , Leadership Save & Share:
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