Suck-Up to Your Managers – A Business Imperative?

The evidence is pretty clear; it is also current.  It is game-changing. Company managers—in all industries—demand your attention, development, and investment. And, as a hot-off-the-presses study from Gallup has cited:

“Managers account for an astounding 70% of the variance in their team’s engagement”.

Translation, managers have a direct impact on individual-contributor performance, overall company experience, and the financial results associated with long-term growth & brand.

As we look to 2020 and the next decade, I am going to respectfully suggest that proactive manager development is the business imperative for company leaders. Said another way, IF you are a decision-maker regarding dollars invested in people—performance, learning development, retention, and engagement—this is your leadership moment if not imperative!

So, what is the evidence?  Let me identify just a sample of findings and their sources:

  • Predictive Index people management study taught us that 99.99 percent of respondents think it’s important that managers are self-aware.
  • Korn Ferry has found that poor-performing companies’ employees were 79% more likely to have low overall self-awareness than those firms with robust ROR or Rate of Return.
  • NBC conducted a poll in 2015. 70% of participants said they would forgo a 10% raise for a “nicer boss”.
  • Online Harris Poll found that 69% of Managers are uncomfortable communicating in general with their employees.
  • Gallup, 2017 found that 1 in 2 employees don’t leave a company; they leave a manager.
  • OfficeVibe found that 66% of the managers they surveyed said that they did not receive any training or coaching before starting out as a manager.
  • Again, Gallup, 2019, Millennials say that “quality of manager” is a top factor they consider when looking for a new job.

My question—considerately asked: “What are you waiting for?”  Company managers are already highly influencing people and performance; and, your profits.  “Do you like what you see and experience in the company culture and on the financial statements?”

Do an analysis.  How many managers are you actually setting up for people-leader success? What are the program offerings?  And, are these offerings multi-faceted and sustainable over time?  How frequently—and, I don’t mean “one and done”?  Be sure to look at the proportion of dollars invested versus high-potentials versus senior leadership.  Hmmm?

Leadership development, performance, and role-fulfillment is my life’s work.  My experience tells me, time and again, that the following learning topics are both valued and needed for your managers to thrive:

  • Self-Awareness; a leadership profile assessment that enables them to benchmark innate competencies and self-regulate deficiencies.
  • Emotional Intelligence training so as to develop empathy and professional sensitivity to varying personalities associated with one’s work; a balm for productivity.
  • Clarity of expectations and responsibilities; together.
  • Creating psychological safety: trust, acceptance, new ideas, and mistake-making; of course, all free from shame or embarrassment.
  • Effective 1:1’s; how to organize them, listen, and respond; including mutually shared feedback.
  • Managing up and across for both relationship building & alignment.
  • Coaching-skills for potential and development.

Solutions, Recommendations, and Resources:

  • C-Suite and Senior leaders engage in an in-depth study on the “state of managers” today, and what’s required for the future. There is a ton of very good research that is current.  See Gallup, Jhana, OfficeVibe, Predictive Index, and Spencer Stuart—as examples.
  • Once the study has been understood, together, assess for current learning and development offerings within your company. Any alignment?  If not, ask for a rehaul of how L&D researches and delivers for relevance.
  • Assess, too, your own learning agility as leaders. I am proposing a new way of approaching L&D—minimally a different emphasis of priorities.
  • Engage outside consultants and L&D experts who feel passionately about setting managers up for success. Let them, more objectively, serve as coaches and trusted confidants who can both advise and design with you—including those who formally own the L&D role.  And, this will not be a time for “ego” warfare.  It is a time for humility and possibility.
  • Financial analysis of your investments for learning—and for what audiences? Likely you’ll find that limited dollars are associated with a multi-faceted learning approach for your managers; and, remember, they most closely interact with and influence both the retention and productivity of your employee population.  Learning platforms will likely need to be revisited.  I favor such platforms as Jubi and Docebo for versatile/sustainable micro and any-time learning.
  • Make a commitment to take a strong sample population of your managers and to engage 2-3 learning cohorts in a whole new people-leader learning experience (see # 2 above). Pre and post-tests—and with a sample of managers who did not  follow, support, and inspire the whole learning process with strong messaging that aligns with a new learning culture and company outcomes.
  • Be mindful of how you address and “see” managers within the company. As previously written, managers are not second-class citizens.  If the company cannot envision their managers as leaders, they have promoted the wrong person for the role.  And, while you are at it, is the manager’s own leader providing the people-leader skills to better coach and support them?   Do these leaders, in fact, have a people-leader skill set?

Please know that I offer these reflections with respect for all leaders—and the many demands on their time.  I believe the current research and data are providing new incentives to re-evaluate how companies “do” learning, and “who” they are providing leadership development for in support of their roles; and, an overall company experience of meaning and relevance.

The following are some articles or resources I have found helpful for my own learning and context:

  • Gallup, The Managers Experience and How Your Manager Experience Shapes Employee Experience.
  • The Future Organization, Evolution of the Manager
  • Jhana, See
  • Google, Project Oxygen
  • Center for Creative Leadership, Talent Reimagined
  • , See, 6 Warning Signs of Bad Leadership You Should Never Ignore

Finally, my hope is to stimulate thinking and to promote agility in our own learning.  I welcome your thoughts, comments, or the opportunity to learn from and work with your managers.


Bill Dickinson
Bill Dickinson
Leadership is tough. It demands clarity, empathy, and credibility; and, yes vulnerability! And, I still thrill at innovating and solving for leadership solutions. It’s what I do best! With care and integrity, I coach, advise and deliver on leadership needs & opportunities. I thrive on life, and the work I get to do in service to leaders in all industries. I am a senior leadership advisor, executive coach, and L&D disruptor.

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