Reinvention is a hallmark of the current era in which companies look to adapt to a fast-changing competitive environment and 98% of companies say they plan to change business models in the next three years, according to the 2023 AlixPartners Disruption Index. But 85% of CEOs don’t know where to start, and talent is being lost in the shuffle. As a result, attrition of top talent risks becoming an ancillary cost for companies who don't work to retain their stars.
If you are changing business models, and wisely hoping to minimize the organizational debt and attain high impact and scale, you’re going to need more than change management or transition management. I recommend people management as a great place to start. But why and how?
While the war for talent is not the same as it was a year or two ago, in a tightened economy it is just as critical to attract, develop, and retain top talent. One of the root ways to address employee engagement and motivation is through managers that are equipped and supported.
Often, companies aren't investing enough in managers. If you ask people why they left or are considering leaving their job, you aren’t likely to get high hit rates on outdated systems, though these are a common pain point, and improving operational systems is a common target for corporate investment. What you are likely to hear are answers either about their manager directly or areas their manager should have the responsibility to impact. People stay and don’t even start shopping around if they feel truly valued and supported, and managers have the greatest influence over this.
One of many first-hand accounts I’ve recently heard came from an ER nurse who works long, high-stress shifts alongside travel nurses being paid more than twice her rate. She often considers quitting, but one thing stops her — a dedicated manager who advocates for her team’s wellbeing:
“Sure, I could leave and be a travel nurse, go to another area of nursing, or a new career altogether, but my number one concern is I would not be supported like I am under my current manager and that makes all the difference.”
High levels of turnover are not solely attributable to poor management, though. Managers need to be continually equipped, supported, and trained to gain leadership skills and leverage the best resources. Like all other desired behaviors in the workplace, manager qualities must be reinforced with investment, accountabilities, KPIs, and so on.
Like many of us, managers are also often pulled in various directions and asked to play both a player (contributor) and a coach (manager) role. Effective people management skills (and project management skills for that matter) are not naturally learned. If employees do not perceive that their organization values people management and leadership skills, those who are or can be great people leaders do not have the incentive to prioritize developing these skills among their many other demands.
The traits of a great manager and leader have evolved. While strategic control at all costs used to be a revered approach, finding ways every day to distribute agency and power to the top talent that you have gathered and empowered will now pay dividends in helping provide perspective, insight, and success.
Google found one of the most important factors for creating an effective team is psychological safety— feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of others. Over the past few years, pandemic-induced stress and other forms of trauma have demanded a greater degree of “humanity,” and emotional intelligence in building a trauma-informed workplace.
Building and maintaining trust, again, does not just occur without intention and is easily dismantled. Leveraging some of the old tricks may lead managers to abuse of power or authority in the workplace. Jumping on board with previous approaches disguised as new trends such as requiring employees to be in the office, may send the message that you demand control and don’t trust them, and that’s a challenging foundation to build on.
A few questions to consider to improve management capabilities at your organization:
- Do you invest in your managers at various levels by providing specific trainings, resources, support, mentoring, etc. to fully equip them to become great at managing, developing, and leading their teams? This is especially important if you have lean support functions.
- Do your managers have the capacity to figure out how to bring their full and best selves to work each day to support, empower and value the people and strengths on their teams? This is particularly important for a player/coach with a high span of control.
- Does your performance review process reward good people managers and hold them accountable for their teams—not just output—in terms of behaviors, performance, and so on? Are the people you promote on traditional career paths sending signals about the importance of people leadership within your organization?
I challenge you to build up your managers – in trust, in coaching, in empowerment – so they can feel seen, known, and supported bringing their full selves to work and making others feel the same.