Are Your Managers Up to the Current Challenges?

Dr. Jack Wiley, Author, The Employee-Centric Manager shares eight attributes employees want in a boss.

Are Your Managers Up to the Current Challenges?

CEOs always have a lot on their minds, but what likely tops their current list of concerns is the ability to attract and retain the talent needed for their organizations to succeed. The news cycle is focused on employee burnout, resignations, replacement costs, unfilled job openings, and the competition for talent, along with only a hint of light at the end of this long, agonizing tunnel. 

The temptation is to look at today’s external environment. We can acknowledge that our economy is in a unique period with no historical framework to call upon to chart the way forward and pray that things will change before irreparable damage is done to customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and corporate reputations. 

But what about looking inside the organization for a solution to employment challenges? For years now, reliable research has told us that what employees most dislike about their job is working for a lousy boss. These bosses are often why employees finally give up and are willing to say goodbye to a job they truly love in search of better working conditions. 

There are 24 million people managers in the United States alone. Why are so many of them ill-suited to their jobs and the source of so much vexation to their subordinates? My recent research has uncovered these startling facts about managers: more than 70% have received no training in people management skills, or their training was limited to four hours; managers habitually overestimate their abilities as people managers, and many managers are unable to identify what employees most want from them. 

A decade of research conducted worldwide has told me exactly what employees want in a boss. It boils down to eight attributes: five behaviors, one skill, and two values. 

Behavior-wise, employees want to work for bosses who are supportive and understanding, provide recognition for a job well done, treat them with genuine dignity and respect, clearly communicate what they want to be done, reward their contributions with better pay and training, and provide development opportunities. 

Skill-wise, employees want to work for bosses who excel at problem-solving and decision-making. That means making good decisions in a timely manner, eliminating obstacles to getting the work done, and encouraging employee involvement in the decision-making process. 

Values-wise, employees want to work for bosses who are fair and just, and honest and trustworthy. In other words, they want bosses who treat them equitably and don’t play favorites, and bosses who can be trusted with confidential information and admit when they make a mistake. 

CEOs and C-level executives should be asking these eight questions about their current managerial ranks. To what extent do our managers… 

  1. Provide the help and support employees need to do their jobs?
  2. Recognize or praise employees for their great work?
  3. Take care to ensure the well-being of employees?
  4. Give employees useful feedback about how well they are doing?
  5. Reward financially the contributions employees are making?
  6. Explain the rationale for their decisions?
  7. Enforce work rules consistently with all employees?
  8. Keep the commitments they make to employees? 

Why are these questions important? Because my research shows the answers to these questions have an outsized influence on the quality of an employee’s work experience. What is at stake is the level of employee engagement, the quality of the interpersonal chemistry within teams, and the overall level of team performance. Good managers – those who are truly employee-centric – make a huge difference in the overall satisfaction of employees, their sense of pride in the organization, their willingness to recommend the organization to others, and their commitment to stay. 

This is what CEOs and C-level executives must do now to address some of their talent attraction and retention headaches. First, assess their current managers on the attributes employees most want in a manager. Second, for those managers who are not measuring up, determine if they have the will to become better, and if so, invest in their development. Third, for those already delivering on what employees most need and want, make sure they are rewarded accordingly. Fourth, these same managers should be the ones next in line for a promotion and higher levels of people management responsibility. Fifth, tell and routinely reinforce with all your managers that the pathway to success in your organization runs through people management skills. You can’t accomplish these actions overnight, but you can start today. 

Working smarter, performing better, and staying longer are three outcomes any leader wants from their workforce. The fastest way to achieve this is most likely by ensuring that the employees in your organization are getting what they most want from their immediate bosses. Which I’d ask you, are they? 


About the author

Jack W. Wiley, PhD, is recognized internationally for pioneering research linking employee work attitudes to measures of organizational success. He is the author of two books published by Jossey-Bass, Strategic Employee Surveys: Evidence-Based Guidelines for Driving Organizational Success (2011) and RESPECT: Delivering Results by Giving Employees What They Really Want (2012). Most recently, Dr. Wiley was professor of psychology for Manchester University where he founded the undergraduate program in industrial-organizational psychology. He currently serves as the Chief Scientific Officer at Engage2Excel and as the president and CEO of both Jack Wiley Consulting, LLC and Employee Centricity LLC.

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