1 in 10 Have Talent to Be Great Manager

Companies fail to choose the right manager 82 percent of the time

By Roy Maurer April 27, 2015

The combination of attributes that characterize great managers only exist in about one in 10 people, according to new research from Gallup. Another two in 10 working adults have some of the traits to become effective managers with the right coaching and development, the research-based consulting firm said in its The State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report.

Gallup’s study features 40 years of analysis covering 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, and measures of engagement for 27 million employees.

According to Gallup research, the majority of managers are miscast. Just 18 percent of current managers have the high talent required of their role.

“Authentic management talent is rare,” said Jim Clifton, Gallup chairman and CEO, in the report. “They know how to motivate every individual on their team, boldly review performance, build relationships, overcome adversity and make decisions based on productivity—not politics. A manager with little talent for the job will deal with workplace problems through manipulation and unhelpful office politics.”

Managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units, Gallup estimated. And, overall, employee engagement isseverely low worldwide: Only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and a staggeringly low 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged. “Over the past 12 years, these low numbers have barely budged, meaning that the vast majority of employees worldwide are failing to develop and contribute at work,” said Randall Beck, a managing partner at Gallup.

Managers’ engagement scores are not much better. Gallup found that 35 percent of managers are engaged, 51 percent are not engaged and 14 percent are actively disengaged.

Managers’ engagement has a direct impact on employees’ engagement. A Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults revealed that 50 percent had left a job to get away from their manager at some point in their career. Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59 percent more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers, Gallup found.

Beck said that conventional selection processes for management roles are a big contributor to inefficiency. “When Gallup asked U.S. managers why they believed they were hired for their current role, they commonly cited their success in a previous nonmanagerial role or their tenure in their company or field,” he said.

What Is Talent?

Gallup defines talent as the innate capacity for excellence. According to Gallup, great managers challenge themselves and their teams to continually improve and deliver distinguished performance; overcome challenges and resistance; create the structure and processes to help the team deliver on expectations; build a positive, engaging work environment; and solve complex issues and problems by planning for contingencies, balancing competing interests and taking an analytical approach.

“Managers influence everything that is done in a company,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist, workplace management and well-being at Gallup. “These people hold employee morale, turnover, productivity and creativity in their hands. Managers with the right talent for the role help create cultures of excellence, while those without this talent help create cultures of mediocrity.”

In a study of 2,551 managers, Gallup found that 54 percent of managers with high talent are engaged at work, compared with 39 percent of managers with functional talent and 27 percent of managers with limited talent.

Fifty-five percent of managers with high talent are better brand ambassadors for their company, encouraging family and friends to purchase or use their organization’s products and services, compared with 40 percent of functionally talented managers and 28 percent of limited talent managers.

“Managers with the natural talent for their role are more likely to be engaged, more likely to be connected to their company and its purpose, and more likely to focus on employees’ strengths rather than their weaknesses,” said Harter. “These managers know how to communicate with employees and develop meaningful relationships with them. They understand the importance of helping employees set tasks and goals, and they appreciate each employee’s unique talents and strengths and mold their jobs accordingly.”

In another Gallup study of 1,003 randomly selected U.S. employees, 61 percent who felt they had a supervisor who focused on their strengths or positive characteristics were engaged. That’s twice the average (30 percent) of U.S. workers engaged nationwide. A manager’s emphasis on employee strengths has a profound impact on engagement, and that engagement has a profound impact on just about everything that matters to an organization’s long-term viability, according to Gallup.

What Employers Can Do

Gallup recommended employers create a holistic, talent-based human capital strategy. This means “weaving [talent] into every aspect of how they align, attract, recruit, assess, hire, onboard and develop managers.”

Organizations are advised to develop career paths for employees based on talent rather than title. The strategy of putting people in managerial roles because they were successful in previous roles or because they have been with the company for a long time is a “flawed strategy with serious consequences for an organization’s engagement, financial performance and long-term sustainability,” Gallup said. “Organizations should be highly conscientious in their succession planning. A great front-line employee is not necessarily going to be a great manager, and a great manager is not necessarily going to be a great leader. Each of these roles requires a different set of talents. Organizations should honor the differences between these roles.”

Companies are also advised to reward for performance, instead of title. “Top performers deserve the highest pay, whether they are in manager or front-line roles. In many cases, this type of pay-for-performance system may mean that employees make more money than their managers do and there is nothing wrong with that. Organizations back themselves into a corner when they tie pay to managerial status, creating an environment in which employees constantly compete for roles that don’t suit them,” the report said.

Finally, Gallup recommended that companies continually invest in their managers and provide them with the resources, tools and support they need to learn and grow, whether through a mentor or coach, group classes, conferences, or online learning.

“The good news is that sufficient management talent exists in every company,” said Beck. Leaders should maximize this potential by choosing the right person for the next management role using predictive analytics, talent audits and talent assessments, he added.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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