My managers were promoted for their technical expertise, but they can’t manage!
Do you have managers who can’t manage effectively? We look at how to spot the problems early on – and what you can do about them.
It is common in smaller businesses, particularly those that are growing fast, to find people who were initially recruited for their technical expertise suddenly overseeing other staff members when the team expands.
‘Often the assumption is that they’ll be able to manage those colleagues,’ says Jackie Kibbler, a Portfolio HR Director at People Puzzles. ‘They are often put into these roles without the necessary support or training; despite never having managed people before.’
The problems of not managing effectively
Without awareness of what management entails, these people may simply offload work to the new recruits without making time to manage them. However, this can lead to performance issues.
‘If there isn’t a structure around setting objectives and having regular feedback, people might think they’re doing a good job when they’re not doing what the business actually needs them to do,’ explains Jackie.
Another problem can be a lack of delegation. ‘Managers can end up micro-managing if they’re used to doing everything and find it hard to let go,’ says Jackie. This can cause low morale in their staff which, if left unchecked, can lead to low productivity and performance, absenteeism and/or a high ‘churn’ of staff.
Part of managing effectively is being able to address issues like performance or absenteeism early on, to prevent them becoming big problems that ultimately affect your business. However, an inexperienced manager might find it hard to broach.
‘A lot of the time it’s confidence. If there’s a difficult conversation to be had, they might not know how to approach it, or don’t know what they can and can’t do – so they end up doing nothing!’ says Jackie. ‘But those things don’t go away, they tend to get worse.’
In some cases, bad management can lead to disciplinary action and/or grievances. ‘It is not uncommon for smaller businesses to have absenteeism or performance issues that have been going on for years without being addressed,’ says Jackie.
‘Often, an issue will escalate and at this point, the Managing Director will want it dealt with quickly. When you advise them that they will need to go through a lengthy process to resolve it, they can get frustrated. Dealing with issues at an early stage prevents them escalating into bigger problems.’
Management training and coaching
If you have identified these issues in your business, Jackie recommends implementing a training programme for your people managers, covering generic people skills, processes and techniques for effective staff management.
This can include workshops on areas such as performance and absence management, time management and delegation, and handling difficult conversations.
This can be followed up with coaching sessions on specific issues. Jackie does this by leading an initial meeting with the individual and manager present. ‘With issues that need ongoing action, we model the conversations and I provide support until the manager feels confident to carry it forward on their own,’ she explains.
‘It is important that the manager owns it going forward as they have the day to day relationship with the employee.’
Regular meetings for open communication
Setting up a process for regular conversations and feedback can keep potential issues in check.
‘The really important thing is having a conversation,’ says Jackie. ‘Give staff time and feedback and let them feedback to you, be it ideas that might be useful or things they feel are not right. You should do this at least monthly, even if it’s a short catch-up. The more informal you can make it and the more it becomes part of normal business practice, the more you get out of it.’
Spot the problems early on
If you are experiencing a high staff turnover then exit interviews can help establish whether there’s a problem with the way they are being managed. However, if you want prevention rather than cure, regularly engaging with staff you don’t directly manage can help keep your ear to the ground.
If this isn’t practicable, there are a number of online tools available that enable employees to provide feedback anonymously. This may not work for everyone, but as Jackie says, ‘it’s about giving people the opportunity to raise issues which can be more difficult in smaller organisations.’
Accept that management isn’t for everyone
You might find that regardless of training and coaching sessions, there are some people who are simply not natural managers. ‘In some cases it’s just not their skill set. If you want to get the best out of them, the solution might be to move the people management responsibilities to another manager so that you can fully utilise their technical expertise’ says Jackie.
However, for those who respond well to management training and coaching, it can be quite a revelation, according to Jackie. ‘There are so many businesses that don’t have that support but really need it,’ she says. ‘When done well, you can really see managers develop and gain in confidence which is essential for any business which is looking to grow.’
Jackie Kibbler, HR Director