Do Managers Matter Anymore?

With Changes Happening At Light Speed, The Need For Managers Is Questioned.

By Steve Schumacher

As everyone who reads this knows, change is a constant in both business and in all parts of our lives. Everyone also knows that major changes have been constant and dramatic the last couple years. The things we took for granted in our workplaces may well be not only different, but non-existent. Fewer employees, remote employees, lack of candidates for open positions, disgruntled employees, etc. Where you saw yourself and your career several years ago is probably a blurry or improbable vision.

In addition to having a thinner workforce to supervise, managers are struggling with knowing how to deal effectively with current employee expectations. Setting meaningful goals for employees is nearly impossible in the current environment. Without meaningful goals, employee motivation is sketchy at best. When employee motivation wanes and turnover increases, jobs that had been solid in the past are now revolving doors.

Giving advice to leaders in business right now is very difficult also. The future is highly unpredictable, so any advice is very short term, and may not apply in 90 days. Here are a few thoughts on how to think about the usefulness of levels of supervision at work today.

Do a management assessment. Take a time out and take an objective look at what you need supervisors and managers for today. Be honest. Enlist the help of someone in HR to assist in this evaluation. It might make sense to do a short survey of employees to find out what their expectations are of managers these days. Try to let go of what worked in the past and look clearly into the short-term future and identify the skills needed in managers now. Develop a job description from this assessment, understanding that it may be fluid and change in three to six months. Be flexible and communicate the theme of flexibility to all your managers and employees.

Getting results is a constant. Your first job as a leader does not change – get results. Yes, the amount, timeliness, and quality of results may change, but your job is still to see that results are achieved. In the past you may have had a five-year plan or a one-year strategic plan. It will probably serve everyone much better if you assess your confidence level in 30-day plans, or six-month plans. With recent history, anything past six months is a roll of the dice. Historically, you would involve managers in the process of determining those plans and communicating them. Those two responsibilities may be things you determine that you should take a larger role in, if your management levels have shrunk.

Figure out accountability. With shifting organization charts, and empty boxes in those charts, accountability for results may need to be shored up. Historically, holding employees accountable was a key role of managers. With fewer managers, and possibly employees, that responsibility may need to be moved to other levels of leadership. If you have confidence that employees will hold themselves accountable, good for you. Just the changes in quantity of employees these days present a challenge in this business necessity.

Giving performance feedback. Depending on the size of your organization, this is a role that managers are needed to perform. The higher you move up the organization structure, the broader the scope of employees that full under various leaders. Regardless of the work climate, employees are humans and humans need consistent, frequent feedback on how their doing. Managers are typically able to be close to their employees and understand how to give them feedback, both positive and corrective. This ability is a key to employee, and work, improvement. Diminished feedback for employees will result in a slippage in work performance. Managers can keep that from happening.

Training. In this constantly changing work environment, with fluid goals and expectations, employees still need training. Formal training that is designed, developed, and delivered seems like a luxury these days. In the time it takes to put together a solid training programs, the need for it may have changed completely or gone away. Managers tend to know the jobs their employees carry out because they are close to the work itself or may have actually done the jobs themselves. Managers, with a little instruction, can do the job of just-in-time training that will be very effective.

The functions of managers are as necessary for a well-performing organization today as they were five years ago. Some thought needs to go into how to carry out those functions effectively, though. With flexibility and an open mind, as a leader, you will be able to meet the incredible demands of today’s work environment.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected]

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