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Research + Insights: Understanding the Diverse Views on Effective Management


To gain insights into the factors influencing the effectiveness of people managers, SHRM Research surveyed 336 HR executives, 1,406 people managers and 1,458 U.S. workers. The study not only underscores the importance of effective people management but also identifies specific areas for improvement among managers, along with workplace practices to enhance managerial excellence.


People Managers are Vital for Success

Among HR executives ...

  • 92% say people managers are critical for the organization’s overall success.
  • 82% say people managers are critical for accomplishing the organization’s strategic objectives.

But development lags behind

  • Only 25% of HR executives make the development of people managers a high priority.
  • And only 24% of HR executives make the well-being of people managers a high priority.


The Power of Effective Management

As this chart shows, employees who have highly effective managers are more satisfied with (and committed to) their employers, and they’re less likely to be hunting for a new job:

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A Shared View of Managerial Effectiveness

This close alignment in ratings between workers (64 percent) and people managers (70 percent) is a positive indicator of the mutual understanding of managerial effectiveness. It is important to celebrate these high percentages but also not lose sight of the fact that these numbers imply that about a third of people managers are NOT highly effective.

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More Development = More Effective Managers

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About half of HR executives (51 percent) say their organization makes an inadequate investment in the development of their people managers. 

How Can Managers Improve?

The percentage of HR executives who identified the following skills as areas for further development among people managers at its organization. (Note : HR executives in the survey could select up to five skills.)

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Performance Management Snapshot

Frequency of performance management behaviors exhibited by their people managers, as reported by U.S. workers.

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SPOTLIGHT: Managers Caught in the Middle

People managers are tasked with navigating the expectations of upper management and the demands of leading their teams. The ripple effects of this tension have a profound impact on managerial effectiveness:

75% of people managers say dealing with the expectations of both upper management and front-line employees is demanding.

55% of people managers often feel caught in the middle between the strategic vision set by upper management and the practical realities faced by their team.

This has critical implications for managers and organizations:

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Roles and Goals: The Keys to Manager Success

By Ragan Decker, Ph.D.

People managers play a pivotal role in achieving organizational success. Yet insights from SHRM Research reveal that approximately one-third of these key players rate themselves as not being highly effective managers (see chart above). This deficiency has profound impacts across the organization, influencing employees’ job satisfaction, organizational commitment and turnover intentions, to name just a few.

In light of these findings, we asked people managers to identify the workplace practices that have the greatest impact on their effectiveness. Clear role expectations emerged as the foremost consideration, with 43 percent of people managers saying this practice has the greatest impact on their success. This is followed by structured goal-setting and performance metrics, which 29 percent identify as having the greatest impact (see chart below).

At the foundation of these two workplace practices is role clarity, meaning the extent to which individuals within an organization have a clear understanding of the specific responsibilities, tasks, expectations, goals and performance metrics associated with their position. For optimal effectiveness, people managers must not only ensure role clarity for their direct reports but also attain clarity regarding their own roles. Amid the rapid changes in the business environment, establishing role clarity can be a challenge, as organizations implementing innovations and change initiatives may overlook the need to ensure that employees understand their evolving role expectations.

Though people managers have control over role clarity for their teams, it is often executives or upper management who delineate the managers’ roles. This is particularly pertinent because people managers often find themselves caught in the middle between strategic vision and tactical execution, which can necessitate explicit guidance from executives regarding expectations, goals and performance metrics.

Such direction becomes instrumental in helping managers prioritize effectively and provide clarity to their teams. This guidance from executives is also critical for retention. SHRM Research found that people managers who often feel caught in the middle between the strategic vision and the practical realities faced by their team are more likely to be actively searching for a new job (see chart above).

To ensure role clarity for people managers and employees across your organization, SHRM Research recommends that organizations provide:

  1. Detailed job descriptions. Keep job descriptions detailed and up-to-date to reflect changes in the business environment. Prioritize and allocate resources for frequent reviews and revisions, to ensure alignment with evolving responsibilities and to provide a realistic job preview.
  2. Clear expectations. Clearly articulate roles, responsibilities and expectations to each team member, ensuring alignment with organizational objectives. Confirm understanding and revisit regularly.   
  3. Clear and measurable goals. Establish clear and measurable goals for each role, and communicate those goals. Identify metrics for each goal. Doing so serves as a roadmap for employees and a means to evaluate managerial effectiveness.
  4. Role alignment meetings. Advocate for and prioritize role alignment meetings to discuss roles, responsibilities and expectations in the team. These serve as an open forum for discussion and foster a collective understanding of roles and responsibilities.

Effective management begins with role clarity. Fostering such clarity demands strategic and proactive efforts by both managers and executives. While some degree of role ambiguity is to be expected, prioritizing and implementing these recommendations allows organizations to establish a robust foundation for managerial effectiveness.

Ragan Decker, Ph.D., is a lead researcher at SHRM.


What Do People Managers Want?

The percentage of people managers who say these workplace practices have the greatest impact on their effectiveness as a manager:

(Respondents could select up to three workplace practices.)

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