Why promotion breeds incompetence in managers
EMPLOYERS USING INSUFFICIENT SELECTION CRITERIA AND FAILING TO PROVIDE HIGH QUALITY TRAINING RISK HIRING NEW MANAGERS WITHOUT THE RIGHT SKILLS TO LEAD THEIR TEAMSJermaine Haughton
By 21 years of age, Dubliner Marcus Hamilton was amongst the top five per cent of salesmen at a leading multinational telecoms company. Before he knew it, he was rewarded with an enhanced position as a team leader. But deep down, he knew he wasn’t ready. He said: “I love sales. The challenge of conversing with people from all over the country and providing them with goods that can benefit their lives was brilliant.
“But, as team manager, I hated my job. I was now responsible for other people. Some were underachievers, and it was incredibly frustrating trying to teach them how to be better at sales. Also, I spent more time doing administration work or fielding queries from other teams than actually selling.”
Marcus’ experience is not unique. Many employers continue to employ ‘accidental managers’ – individuals without a track record in management, who are promoted due to their exceptional performance in technical roles. CMI research found that as many as 80% of managers are accidental managers.
PEOPLE MANAGERS WANTED
At the heart of the problem is often a misunderstanding about the skills required to be a successful manager. People management is, in many cases, a separate skill like coding or salesmanship. The Harvard Business School, for example, recognises delegation, goal-setting, empathetic leadership, strong communication and long-term problem solving skills as key assets for effective people managers.
These are skills that people can be learnt, but need to be studied, practiced and refined. Yet, research shows there are limited training opportunities for employees to actively develop their skillset. Jobs website Totaljobs’ study of more than 2,600 UK jobseekers and nearly 100 employers revealed that nine in 10 workers wanted their employer to offer more training courses. Also, two-thirds of them felt that training was more critical now than it was two years ago. More than 90% of employers admitted that training for an individual had a noticeable impact on the wider team.
Managers are busy. This means that employers are encouraged to use flexible training methods, ranging from e-learning to podcasts to assignments, with relaxed timelines for delivery.
Throwing ill-equipped managers into the deep end can hurt both the individual, plus the organisation with poor engagement, increased staff turnover and a sharp decline in team performance. The impact can be severe. The team often loses a phenomenal contributor and gains an average manager.
THE IMPACT OF INCOMPETENT MANAGERS
One study suggests incompetent managers are at the root of poor performance issues in UK offices, with 96% of the 800 HR professionals surveyed citing performance management as a problem at their organisation. Research from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics also suggests poor managers are a cause of the UK’s productivity woes in recent years, with the country scoring just 3.03 out of five for management best practice, behind the US (3.31), Japan (3.23), Germany (3.21) and Canada (3.14).
“Becoming a manager is one of the most stressful and challenging transitions in any career,” said William Gentry, author of Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For: A Guide for New Leaders. “But when you become a manager, everything about your job needs to change –your skill-set, the nature of your work relationships, your understanding of what "work" is, and how you see yourself and your organization. You have to operate from a brand new script, one that's about “we – ensuring collective success,” he concludes.
DO WE NEED TO CHANGE OUR ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURES?
The rigidity of some organisations internal structure doesn’t help. In some companies, the only route for junior staff to progress through the career ladder is to take on increasing managerial responsibilities, even if they do not want to.
Rather than having a passion for managing people, many accidental managers accept their positions because it is the only clear pathway at their organisation to a salary, enhanced title and acknowledgement for their current achievements, according to leading researchers Gallup.
A SOLUTION FOR INCOMPETENT MANAGERS
A solution for employers looking to provide an alternative pathway for high-performing technical staff is to create senior-level contributor positions. These advanced technical roles, for example, could see individuals given greater input in bigger projects and a compensation package to match their seniority, but without the responsibility of people management.
In Leadership and Culture at Work: The CMI/Glassdoor Top 20, companies such as MediaMath were named the best companies in the UK for management and working style. At MediaMath part of this success was attributed to having a matrix structure where each employee has two managers – one for function and personal development, and one who manages the logistics of a specific project.