By Dr. Carol McCoy
Have you ever read a Scott Adams' "Dilbert" cartoon about the pointy-haired manager and felt that Adams was describing your boss and your company? If so, you are not alone. Even though most managers want to be competent managers, ineffective management practices are common in the workplace.
Nothing can be more frustrating to an employee than a new manager who hasn't a clue how to deal with people. Even experienced managers make mistakes, which lower morale and productivity.
Why are management skills so important? Why don't managers know how to manage? How can training help?
Jodi Lerman, director of training and organizational development for Maine Medical Center, says, "Managers have the most significant impact on employee retention and customer satisfaction. By setting clear expectations, breaking down barriers, appreciating and recognizing a job well done, and encouraging personal development, managers create satisfied employees. Satisfied employees create satisfied customers. That's why management training is essential."
Unskilled managers can devastate a company. Being mismanaged leads to worker dissatisfaction, time wasted in workers complaining, mistakes, under-performing, and turnover. One of the top reasons for leaving an organization is having a negative relationship with one's supervisor. Not only do ineffectively managed employees suffer from low morale, they often take their own frustration out on customers. Lack of management skills can lead to an unhealthy work environment, customer dissatisfaction, lower profits, and ultimately business failure.
As Muriel Littlefield, director of human resources for the Maine State Retirement System, sees it: "Managers are in the middle of an organization. They impact it in all directions – up, down, and sideways. Skilled managers are positioned to reinforce new learning and to help the organization make critical changes so that it can stay viable."
Why don't managers know how to manage? Management skill is not simply common sense, and it is not innate. It is learned behavior and knowledge. When looking to promote someone to manager, it is natural to consider people who are excellent individual contributors with outstanding technical skills. Frequently the skill set and motivation needed to excel in managing people is different from what's needed to do the actual work.
For example, a good salesman is likely to be skilled at prospecting customers, explaining the company's products, and closing the deal. He or she is usually motivated by competition, winning, being rewarded and striving for individual excellence. Sales managers, on the other hand, need to help sales people set goals, monitor performance, provide feedback on what's going well and coach others to improve their skills.
Many top sales people don't initially enjoy or know how to manage people; they are more comfortable selling products than coaching people in how to sell. This same situation can happen with people who excel at working with computers and solving technical problems. They enjoy working with computers and may not be as comfortable in dealing with people problems. This discomfort can cause new managers to avoid communicating with their staffs.
Often people who are technical experts experience frustration with new workers who are not as skilled as they were. New managers forget what it was like not to know something. They may assume that others are familiar with company lingo and processes. It can be especially daunting for people who change industries to be overwhelmed with new jargon and unfamiliar terms. It can seem like people are speaking a foreign language. As new workers struggle to perform well, managers may be tempted to take over their work and do it themselves since it's so much faster and easier than coaching another person. This not only lowers morale and productivity, but it prevents the new person from developing the skills needed to succeed.
Even when managers do try to teach new employees how to do the job correctly, they may not do it well. They may assume that all people learn the way that they did or that lecturing is the best way to train others.
How does management training help improve performance of managers? First, it teaches people the fundamental management knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a particular organization. For example, they learn how to set expectations, discover the needs of their employees, and coach employees to improve their performance. New managers can learn best practices in handling various management situations. Furthermore, training provides managers with valuable reference tools and resources that they can draw upon on the job.
Training in a group setting enables people to meet other managers who can help them in sticky situations. By interacting with other managers who experience similar problems, managers gain a sense of comfort that "we're all in the same boat."
Management training shows new managers that the company cares about their success, which helps to build company pride and loyalty. When managers learn new skills and knowledge, they gain confidence and comfort in their ability to succeed and are more likely to tackle problems than avoid them. Well-trained managers are better equipped to play a leadership role in successfully navigating an organization through the challenges of constant change.
When managers get a chance to build their skills, customers benefit by dealing with more competent employees, employees benefit by having effective managers, and managers benefit by having the tools to do their jobs well.
Dr. Carol P. McCoy is president of McCoy Training and Development Resources, a consulting firm based in Falmouth, Maine. She provides coaching and training to individuals and organizations. The mission of MTDR is to increase the resilience and effectiveness of people in a constantly changing world. A frequent conference presenter, she is author of Managing a Small HRD Department, and editor of In Action: Managing The Small Training Staff.