With management quality and effectiveness vital to employee wellbeing, productivity, loyalty and job satisfaction, what can HR do to ensure managers lead their teams effectively?
What are the main reasons employees leave their jobs? According to Gartner, manager quality, respect and people management are the top three reasons, highlighting the need for businesses to prioritise quality leadership in order to retain and attract the best talent in a competitive market.
The last few years have been turbulent for management, in a constantly changing landscape that has shifted from office to remote working, and now to hybrid models. During this time, the role of management has become more challenging – yet more important than ever.
Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author, Chief Innovation Officer at ManpowerGroup, and Professor of Business Psychology at University College London and Columbia University, shares his insights on how HR can foster effective people management.
1. Understand what differentiates the good from bad leaders
“You measure good leadership in terms of team results and team engagement, and the things that good leaders do to engage the teams, which then translates into high performance or good results. They create trust, they create fairness, they treat people not the same, but as they want to be treated. They make an effort to understand the people in their teams,” says Chamorro-Premuzic, who will be dialling in virtually as a speaker at AHRI’s 2023 Convention in August.
“The really good [leaders] manage to have diverse and inclusive teams.
“If managers create environments that aren’t stressful, where people can have a good work-life balance, where people have freedom and flexibility and where they actually feel connected with others, results will come.”
A good leader copes well under pressure, putting a buffer between their emotions and their behaviour by being deliberate in the language they use (using positive rather than negative language) in order to maintain high morale and engagement, he adds.
This is important because there’s always something that creates pressure for managers.
“If you as a manager or leader are impacted by it, you might inadvertently stress other people out, bring other people down or demoralise or disengage your people.”
When it comes to the characteristics of an unsuccessful leader, over-confidence is usually one of the main traits they possess, especially if it tips over into narcissism, says Chamorro-Premuzic.
“It detaches leaders from reality, and they construct their own delusional cocoons, where they reject any feedback or information that harms or can deflate their egos.”
Read HRM’s article on the three types of narcissists you might encounter at work.
So what other characteristics make a bad manager or leader?
“I think excitability to the point of being volatile and unpredictable, which can become a source of stress for their teams. And then I think selfishness and optimising everything for their own personal success, and prioritising their own interests at the expense of the groups.”
This, combined with a lack of technical competence or expertise, can exacerbate the detrimental effects of poor leadership, says Chamorro-Premuzic.
“If [leaders] have these problematic personality characteristics and, on top of that, they’re not very qualified and don’t know what they’re talking about, it’s a big problem, as behaviours then become poor decision-making.”
Other traits of a bad leader to look out for include not listening, not caring about their team, not empathising, being cruel, and being biased, says Chamorro-Premuzic.
“Making nepotistic, unfair decisions and spending most of the time managing up, as opposed to managing their people, which, paradoxically, is likely to get them promoted even further,” he says.
Read HRM’s article about the four different listening styles that HR needs to adopt.
“Confoundingly, these are the same people who might impress others during an interview, that might come across as charismatic and likeable in short-term interactions.”
2. Hire good managers by minimising the role of the interview in your recruitment strategy
This may seem obvious, but hiring good managers from the outset is a more effective way to ensure quality leadership than to train existing ones, says Chamorro-Premuzic.
“If you start with people who are already not leadership material, and who are not interested in helping people function as a high-performing team, it’s a lot harder,” he says.
“I always say, when selection fails, there’s always coaching, training and development, but better selection would identify people with the right traits and the right behaviours.
“I would say, de-emphasise the role of the interview and de-emphasise the role of human interviewers, when a decision is being made about whether somebody is hired or promoted,” he says. “Focus more on science-based assessments, on the results of psychometric tests, on their past performance.
“We love to interview others because that’s the perfect opportunity to unleash our own biases,” he says. “And you cannot de-bias humans; humans are biased by design.”
For example, when looking for people to put forward for an internal promotion, he says one of the sources of data to evaluate their leadership potential is to assess their former 360 reviews. This tells you what others think of them.
“If you had a boss for a year or two, you can evaluate them very well based on what that person does, and [that information is] a really good measure of that person’s potential,” he says.
3. Train only those who are trainable
Not all bad managers are able to be trained to become better, so start by identifying those who have the capacity to improve and be trained, says Chamorro-Premuzic.
“My rule of thumb is that 30 per cent of people will improve by 30 per cent. So you have 30 per cent of people who might not need much coaching because they’re doing alright and you have 30 per cent of people who are probably close to uncoachable; they’re not willing to change, they’re not interested in changing, and they shouldn’t have been selected in the first place,” he says.
“Most managers still struggle when they’re giving feedback… that can be improved if they pay attention to the signals language conveys.” –Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
“The best thing an organisation can do is identify the people who are in the middle, so you do not waste too much time with those who are not interested in this process.”
This isn’t to say that these people shouldn’t have access to training – it should be available to everyone in order to be fair – but you might choose to focus your efforts on those who are enthusiastic to learn.
Leadership training should focus on improving their emotional intelligence and communication, says Chamorro-Premuzic. “We have to ensure managers and employees try to show some empathy, try to understand other people’s perspective, and behave in a proper, decent way. I think social skills training and social etiquette awareness is very important.”
“Most managers still struggle when they’re giving feedback to their employees. A lot of that can be improved if they pay attention to the signals that their language conveys.”
4. Learn how to be an effective hybrid leader
Having to a lead a hybrid team has made management more complex, says Chamorro-Premuzic.
“It makes it very hard to be fair and equitable, and very hard to not be impacted by proximity bias. [It’s also] very hard to convey a sense of fairness in others, because people might be thinking, ‘Why am I coming in and they’re not?’”
An effective manager needs to understand how to leverage technology to create more equitable experiences, he adds.
“They need to ensure that the people who are in the room aren’t benefiting politically and the ones who are not aren’t disadvantaged.
“You have to experiment; try things out and measure. Ask people how they’re feeling, ask people what they’re not happy with and measure the impact on performance.
“We have to give people freedom and flexibility, but also [monitor] how they’re contributing, and measure their value, performance and output, so they get the freedom and flexibility they deserve for contributing. A lot of people need to be in the office and need social connectedness with others, and some people really don’t.”
Want to learn more from Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic? Sign up for AHRI’s National Convention and Exhibition in August. Secure your spot today.