Investing in Talented Managers: What We Can Learn from Gallup’s "State of the American Manager" Report

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Gallup’s recently released study on management in America identifies some key issues with how managers are hired. Here’s what we can learn.

The information in Gallup’s May 2015 study, The State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders makes for a sobering read.

The study’s findings indicate a startling and brutal fact: 82 percent of the time, companies hire the wrong choice for manager. This forces the company into a scramble mode, where it must “fix” the person via training, which never ends up working.  The survey also discovered that only one in every 10 people actually possess the talents required to be a manager.

The all-too-common practice of promoting employees into senior roles due to tenure or performance is an error, since—as Gallup concludes—the choice should always be based on one thing: innate talent.

Gallup’s study identifies five key attributes in talented managers:

  • They motivate employees
  • They overcome obstacles
  • They create a culture of accountability
  • They build trusting relationships
  • They make informed and unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company

State of the American Manager

Good managers are more likely to be brand ambassadors by encouraging peers to use their company’s products and services. Exceptional leaders also have a better understanding of the organization’s brand promise.

Talented managers electrify employees by stressing employee strengths. Another interesting finding in the Gallup study is that female managers have an advantage of being better skilled at engaging employees, so companies that are sexist are literally hurting their own bottom lines.

So why do so many bad managers still get hired? As previously mentioned, companies still foolishly adhere to the wrongheaded notion that tenure and performance indicate a talent for management. The obvious problem with this reasoning is that just because someone is a successful sales person or welder, it by no means ensures they will be a good manager.

Related Article: 5 Signs of a Bad Manager

What Do Employees Need from a Talented Manager?

  • Reliable and meaningful communication. All good relationships require outstanding communication. Gallup’s study discovered that using face-to-face, phone and electronic communications methods together yield the best results. Just using one of these three methods is not enough. There is a cumulative effect when all three of these channels are employed.
  • Performance management beyond annual reviews. Good mangers take the time to provide feedback whenever required, not just once a year.
  • An emphasis on strengths over weaknesses. It has long been a truism of human psychology that one needs to encourage individual strengths rather than harp on human weaknesses. Instead of complaining that sales are down for the month, call in each employee and stress how their specific strengths are what the organization needs to be successful.

What Do Talented Managers Need from Their Companies?

  • Clear communication regarding the company’s past performance and its future goals. A manger needs to personify the very values of the organization so that he or she can then instill these same attributes in employees. If the company does not communicate this information to its leaders, how can they communicate it to employees?
  • Make learning and development a priority. Human beings are forever curious. A manager that is able to develop through mentoring or classes should grow with the company and impart that learning onto his or her work peers. If you make learning and development a priority, your senior team will be better fit to face the myriad of challenges found in the role.
  • An emphasis on strengths. If the company has hired a manager based on his or her natural talents, those talents should be allowed to flourish into strengths to create success. Period.

Related Article: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Who's On Your Team?

How Do You Find a Talented Manger?

  • Select managers with natural talent. Remember, only one in ten individuals has the natural talent to be a manager.  Interviews and resumes will not cue you in to who is the best person for a management role. You have to use objective testing to make sure you find the right fit.
  • Select the right manager for the role. Tenure, past glories or politics cannot enter the equation. Use systematic and scientific data from administered tests.

mountain climbing

What Do all Talented Managers Do?

  • They engage employees. A manager sets the tone for a department or unit, and if they are enthusiastic about the job their employees will also most likely be engaged.  If the manager just hides in his or her office and surfs the ‘Net all day, he or she will most likely not be engaging employees.
  • Again: They focus on strengths. Employees that use their strengths each day are six times more likely to be engaged at work.  Focusing on these attributes improves productivity. That’s what talented leaders do.

If your company is not hiring its management team based on testing and falls back on politics and tenure to determine its leadership, there will be tough times ahead for your company and its bottom line. You can’t train the bad habits out of a manager the way you can train them out of a dog.  Unfortunately, the attributes for a good manager can be tough to identify, but you’ll certainly recognize them when you see them.

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