Thursday, August 13, 2009

Who's Bossing the Bosses?

Most organizations are in sweat denial. It's like a cosy club where the power players agree to turn a blind eye and fiddle around the edges. Middle managers protect their managers. Top leaders don't know what's going on down below.

According to a Corporate Leadership Council study the single most important factor affecting staff engagement is the quality of a person's manager, and another study found that 80 percent of people who resign from their jobs do so because they can't stand their boss. A Gallup poll revealed recently that nearly 25 percent of all employees in the U.S. would fire their boss if given the chance.

Yet, according to former IBM human resources executive Andrew O'Keeffe, author of the novel, The Boss, most organizations avoid fixing the biggest internal restraint on their business – lifting the capability of their managers and holding them to account for their people responsibilities. He believes that company leaders and human resources professionals fail in their employee/employer relationship because they don't recognize the obvious – that it's about addressing the tough stuff of bossing the bosses. Many organizations prefer to sweat the small stuff.

"There is a light bulb that needs to be turned on to overcome a fundamental blind spot," said O'Keeffe. "We don't realize or don't acknowledge that the relationship people have with their boss is emotional. We have attended to the issue of management as though it is rational – it's not. It's emotional. When you ask people about their boss, as I have done, you get an instant emotional reaction – good or bad. I rarely received a neutral response."

"The reason I wrote The Boss as a novel based on true stories is to reveal that the relationship between people and their boss is emotion, and that the relationship has a major impact on people's spirit and output.

O'Keeffe said companies can systematically lift the quality of managers in their organizations and reduce the negative emotional response and sapping of staff energy by following five rules:

  • Design a "Do-able" Job: To enable managers to do their job, their role first needs to be structured so that they have a sensible number of people reporting to them. More than nine people get managers into trouble. Moreover, organizations have to articulate clear expectations and define what constitutes success for the manager in the eyes of top management.
  • Hire Well: Hiring is 90 percent of success, so don't let middle managers appoint lower level managers without review. Use the hiring step to lift the caliber of your managers and ensure they have people skills.
  • Give Them Tools: Provide managers with practical leadership tools for recruiting staff, orienting staff, planning and reviewing work, conducting developing discussions and managing pay and rewards.
  • Invest in Skill Development: Most managers are appointed to their roles because of their technical skills. Yet the people dimension of their role is the most complex and unpredictable and the area they are least prepared for. There is a need for skilling – of frameworks, ideas, concepts, and practice.
  • Hold Managers Accountable: Senior leaders need to know the managers who are doing well at their people responsibilities, and those who are not. They need to help and push the ones who lag behind. Organizations must implement a feedback loop, such as engagement surveys of staff on their managers, "skip" interviews by senior leaders and morale reviews by HR.

Every day, managers have events at work which are moments that define their relationship with their staff such as project reviews, team meetings, performance appraisal and pay reviews. The way managers deal with these events defines their leadership authority. If they do these events well, their leadership authority is enhanced, but if they do them poorly, their leadership authority is eroded.

Thanks to Industry News