Do managers have too much to manage?

Some 77 percent of employees are placing increased importance on manager support, but simultaneously managers have 51 percent more responsibilities than they can effectively manage, a Gartner HR survey has found.

Sydney-based Jonathan Tabah, director in Gartner’s HR Practice, says managers are the fulcrum of nearly every change in an organisation, whether big or small.

He says in a statement that today the rate of change has accelerated to the point “where organisations are stacking change, upon change, upon change; and managers are on the hook to make them a reality. Every change means new responsibilities, processes and tasks for managers; and their plates have become overloaded.

“The result is the role of the manager has become completely unmanageable and many are failing. At the same time, employee expectations have also changed dramatically in the last couple of years. They now expect personalised support and development, as a whole person, not just as a professional. That places a whole new set of expectations on the shoulders of managers.”

Tabah suggests that organisations need to look beyond manager training and development to examine the role and their expectations of managers. They need to evaluate whether all the activities, responsibilities and tasks on managers plates are still driving value.

“Manager development is important, but you can’t train your way out of an unmanageable set of responsibilities,” he says.
A December 2022 Gartner survey of more than 6,000 individual contributors and managers found that managers are twice as likely to report an increase in responsibilities versus individual contributors, compared to before the pandemic.

Gartner says that for example, 35 percent of managers say they have more direct reports and 49 percent report that the complexity of their responsibilities has increased.

“In response, most organisations are trying to drive manager effectiveness by investing more in development programs to increase skills proficiency,” said Swagatam Basu, senior director in the Gartner HR practice.

“Unfortunately, a March 2023 survey of 98 HR leaders found only 25 percent feel confident their investments in manager development are working.”

Gartner research reveals that focusing on job manageability – ensuring that managers view their role as focused, executable and sustainable – is five times more effective than skills proficiency in improving manager effectiveness.

Employees reporting to effective managers are 15.4 times more likely to be high performers and 3.2 times more likely to stay with their employer; they also have 12.5 percent higher physical and mental well-being.

Gartner says organisations can implement four things to improve job manageability:

Reset role expectations: Brent Cassell, vice president in the Gartner HR practice says organisations must redesign the manager role to focus on the activities that have the greatest impact on manager effectiveness. Leading organisations are shifting the manager role by:
•    Empowering managers to connect employees with others for coaching and development.
•    Rescoping the role to focus on high-value tasks that managers are uniquely positioned to execute.

Rebuild the manager pipeline: Most organisations evaluate potential managerial candidates based on their performance as individual contributors (IC); 79 percent of HR leaders say that a candidate’s past performance in an IC role is a very important consideration for promotion to a first-time people manager role.

“Past performance in an IC role is not a foolproof predictor of future performance as a manager,” noted Cassell. “In addition, pushing high performing individual contributors into management by default can lead to employees who aren’t interested in management becoming managers.”

Gartner says progressive organisations are letting potential managers self-discover their fit for the role by allowing them to:  
•    Understand their own strengths and development areas.
•    Participate in ‘manager simulation programmes’ before taking the job.
•    Choose to opt out of the management training programme and remain in an individual contributor role without a loss in pay or respect.

Rewire manager habits: Despite growing investment in manager development, Gartner analysis found that focusing on manager skills proficiency only boosts manager effectiveness by four percent. Rather than building skills, organisations need to help their managers build long-term habits, which will ultimately drive more effective managerial behaviours. Building habits saves managers time and energy, which they can then redirect toward making other critical decisions.

Remove process hurdles: The presence of process hurdles – things like dated onboarding processes and complex budget approvals processes – increases levels of manager fatigue by up to 42 percent. “Managers are 1.4 times more likely to find their jobs manageable when their organisations take steps to minimise process hurdles …” said Basu.  

 

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