It is a commonly held belief that line managers represent the main reason for employees leaving or wanting to leave their employer. This assumption, supported by the findings of several research studies, is underpinned by the idea that the person with whom employees mostly build, develop and maintain relationships within an organization is their direct manager, who is indeed in a position to strongly influence employee engagement and eagerness to go the extra mile and exercise discretionary effort.
This concept was firstly, aptly summarized by Buckingham and Coffman (2005) in the aphorism “Employees leave their managers and not their employers” and later reinforced by MacLeod and Clarke (2009), who suggested that “people join organisations, but they leave managers.”
Mismanagement, bias, lack of consideration and respect, the inability to inspire and empower individuals, effectively communicate them the business vision and provide clear direction are just some of the ingredients of the recipe for management failure. Inasmuch as the idea behind the dictum “Employees leave their managers and not their employers” is clear and worth being backed up, management is not the fruit of inheritance, nor is it bestowed for acts of great athleticism. Managers are appointed by their employers, who should offer management positions only to the individuals who have showed to really have the characteristics and exhibited the behaviour required to effectually fill this crucially significant role. Employers should hence take full responsibility for their management actions and behaviour. Depicting employers as the victims of their managers as if these have nothing to do with their identification and nomination, and therefore with what they do, would definitely represent a massive blunder.
More often than not, organizations appoint as managers individuals who possess superior technical skills and a considerable level of expertise in their field. Despite it is widely acknowledged that it cannot be established a causal relationship between technical expertise and management capability, to wit: an outstanding professional does not necessarily also is a good manager, employers seem to continue ignoring this circumstance. It can be thus argued that a knowing doing gap persists.
At the outset, individuals are lured by an employer brand, corporate culture, reputation and value proposition, but whether not supported by consistent appropriate management, the fascinating effects produced by these corporate features are soon drastically destined to vanish into thin air, overshadowed by the employee experience. Under such circumstances individuals would believe that the employer walks the walk, but doesn’t talk the talk.
When proposing the appointment of new managers, executives are clearly acting in good faith, but they might have not gained a thorough view and understanding of their nominees’ traits, capabilities and behaviour, especially under different circumstances and in a different environment. Most likely, they just appreciate these individuals for their technical knowledge and expertise, do not taking heed of the disastrous consequences the wrong appointment of a manager produces. All too often, employers, that is to say HR professionals, are then forced to hastily put in place a series of initiatives so as to put newly appointed managers in a position to carry out their new role. HR support in these cases is paramount, but its involvement in the process should invariably precede not follow the appointment of a new manager
The introduction of practices clearly establishing and outlining the path employees must follow to be appointed as managers and how this route interrelates and combines with the organization’s succession plan would clearly help to dramatically minimize at worst and avert at best the risk of appointing the wrong individual for the role of manager. At times, it may rather be a problem of appointing the right person at the wrong moment, that is to say the individual who has the potential to fill a management position, but who is not ready for that yet.
To keep pace with the incessant process of change nowadays affecting every organization, the need for talented individuals to take more responsibility may arise anytime and, worse still, suddenly. Whether individuals having the right traits and potential are not ready to take additional responsibility, the negative consequences will certainly make an impact on their direct reports, but also on themselves. Appoint managers and then try to put them in a position to properly and effectively play their role is not clearly a methodology likely to pay off. It is essentially a matter of timely planning; rather than a reactive a proactive approach should be hence definitely favoured.
The positive effects yielded by appropriately developed succession planning are indeed twofold – firstly, it enables employers to detect and classify the key and strategic roles existing in the organization, and secondly, it urges employers to timely identify potential successors. The identification of people who are deemed fit to fill strategic and management roles should be followed by a period of preparation, hopefully experiential learning, enabling these, the moment arrived, to be ready to take over management responsibility.
It clearly emerges that succession planning of its own does not suffice, it should be indeed conducted in combination with talent management and employee development practices. The identification of the potential successors in fact will not secure businesses the talent these require whether, once identified, individuals are not assessed, trained, prepared and tested on the roles these will be called to perform in the immediate, not-too-distant or distant future. The development path prepared for each individual will clearly be different according to the role each employee is due to fill, but organizations should never overlook the need for individuals to be prepared and able to carry out different roles and not necessarily a specific, identified role. The ever-quickening pace change occurs may indeed require sudden, unforeseen changes of programme. Talented individuals should hence be invariably ready to perform well and yield positive results under any circumstances including, of course, first time circumstances.
HR is growingly focusing on the idea of employee experience, but it is glaringly obvious that any employer efforts and bids to provide its staff an excellent employee experience is doomed to miserably fail whether not supported by the organization management. The underpinning component and funding pillar of employee experience practices in a business should be hence definitely represented by the quality of its management, which can clearly make or break individual engagement, motivation and sense of belonging.
Findings of a recent research study conducted by ADP UK, The Workforce View in Europe 2018 (ADP, 2018), reveal that bad management also produces disastrous effects upon employee productivity. In particular, the study found that only 23% of respondents believe that their work environment enables them to be productive “all the time”, 46% claimed this happens “most of the time”, 22% “some of the time” and 10% “rarely” or “never”; bad management (19%) was indeed cited as the main reason for employees failing to reach maximum productivity (followed by inefficient systems and processes – 18% and slow and inefficient technology – 15%).
Bad management can indeed be regarded not only as a direct, but also as an indirect cause for employees wanting to leave their organization. ADP’s study also suggested that 30% of employees feel so stressed in their workplace insofar as considering to seek a new job. Despite stress levels at work may be influenced by many variables, it cannot be denied that many of these variables, like workload, job design, task delegation, etc., actually depend on managers.
Individuals having problems with their managers will leave the organization by reason of their manager’s incapability to manage and lead, but it can be hardly contended that under such circumstances the employer could not be blamed.
HR can and should play a significant role in helping employers identify suitable individuals for leadership positions. As contended by Furnham (2018), in their talent acquisition process, employers should take heed not only of the traits, skills, competencies and behaviour regarded as necessary to fill a given role – selecting, but also of the undesirable traits and features, that is, of those qualities which candidates should not have or not have beyond a certain degree – screening or selecting-out. During the talent acquisition process, HR should thus also investigate and look for evidence of the traits and types of behaviour considered unacceptable by the employer and regard these as select-out factors.
The insights offered by Furnham (2018) into the talent acquisition process are indeed valuable and also relevant to the process used to identify future leaders within an organization. The prime objective is averting that talented individuals, who may have the competencies and ability to lead others, will not at some point “derail.” There are many components of a manager personality which may account for his/her derailment, but some factors can prove to be more significant than others. The most accurate predictors of an individual attitude to effectually fill a management role and avert failure are the individual:
- Disposition to develop and maintain good, long-term relationships with different types of people;
- Ability to adapt and learn (Furnham, 2018).
Identifying the right individual for the right position and prepare this to effectually perform in the new role, represents a daunting task for any employer. Making choices carefully and plan in advance enable organizations to offer potential future leaders the opportunity to gain the capability and experience necessary to attain the desired standard before being appointed, enabling in turn the identified individuals to feel confident and self-assured in their new role. The adoption of this approach will benefit the organization in terms of employer brand, employee engagement and motivation, and ultimately productivity.
The adage “employees leave their managers and not their employers” might also prove to still hold true, but this has to be regarded as the tip of the iceberg and not as the root cause of the problem, whose responsibility to address invariably rests with employers.