Are Managers Too Busy Managing Stuff To Manage People?

April 29, 2014

woman speaking to colleague“For the majority of employees, managers are the gateway to the future.” This quote from a recent Knightsbridge study is one that resonates with many people. From our experience, leaders underestimate their impact on employee engagement and retention.

What if I told you most employees just want leaders to show interest in who they are, what inspires and what motivates them in the workplace? What if I then told you that there is a business case to support the theory that if you simply get to know your employees it would also help to increase engagement and retention and finally business results?

Would you believe the theory was too simplistic because the world of work has become too complex … with technology, systems, compliance, political agendas and process? Or is it possible that this theory may have some merit?

It takes one conversation at a time to understand what drives and motivates an employee. There is no "one size fits all" workshop or engagement survey; nor is it the role of Human Resources.

I recently attended a webinar that spoke to the priorities of CEOs. At the top of the list were customers and finances, and at the bottom was talent. But if employees are not engaged in their work, you can be assured it will reflect on how they treat customers and ultimately will hurt finances. 

Reasons for not having Career Conversations

I worked with an organization that asked me to review their career management practices. Their last engagement scores showed a dismal decline around career development and the retention scores were decreasing year over year. During a focus group with managers from many different countries and across the business, some even became angry when I asked why they weren't having career conversations with employees! 

The managers responded with a laundry list of reasons:

  • “I don't have time, I'm much too busy working.”
  • “We do this in the yearly review.”
  • “It's HR's job.”
  • “I don't know all the resources available in the organization.”
  • “If I have the conversation, the person will leave" or "I've invested time and resources and training, and I can't afford to lose this person right now."

I bluntly told them that if they don’t have the conversation, their employees will leave anyway. But then, it will be on the employee’s terms and the company will have lost a good employee to a competitor. 

Their answers mirrored the results of the recent Talk With Me study that Knightsbridge did in partnership with HCI.

Making Time for Career Conversations

Managers need to get back to the basics of managing and start to understand the people who  work for them. You cannot do this if you do not make the time to have a conversation. 

This can be done in two very simple ways:

Formal:  Plan a yearly or mid-year review. Although performance reviews are about an individual’s performance and tend to look at what has been done, we need to take the time to ask questions about career aspirations.

A good way to ensure that the conversation is focused and not an after-thought is to start with the career conversation and then lead into performance.

Informal:  It’s as simple as greeting someone in the hallway or popping by an employee’s desk to ask questions like: How are you enjoying the project? What are the highlights and the challenges? Would you like to be on a similar project? These types of conversations can happen anywhere and you may also learn more about your business.

As the saying goes, “people do not leave companies, they leave managers.” So, managers: look up from your projects and processes and take a moment to chat with your people. It will not only give you personal satisfaction, it will also provide you with results.

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