Weekly Wrap: A Little More Evidence of Why Managers Are So Important

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This is an old story, but managers just don’t get much respect.

This is not any big surprise, but why IS a bit of a shock is that I am seeing more and more written that seems to indicate that there is a new found appreciation of managers as more companies realize that middle managers, in particular, are the glue that holds so many organizations together.

TLNT contributor Patty Azzarello wrote about the need for good managers here a couple of weeks ago, quoting a HBR blog post titled Why Good Managers so Rare,  that made the case that “the quality of the managers impacts the success of the business more than anything else.”

What great managers do that’s great

The HBR blog article goes on to make clear exactly why:

If great managers seem scarce, it’s because the talent required to be one is rare. Gallup finds that great managers have the following talents:

* They motivate every single employee to take action and engage them with a compelling mission and vision.

* They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.

* They create a culture of clear accountability.

* They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.

* They make decisions that are based on productivity, not politics.”

The New York Times also made the case for managers recently in an article titled Espousing Equality, but Embracing a Hierarchy that talked about how Google disparaged and eliminated many middle managers at one point, only to find that they needed to get them back because they provided a lot more value than the geniuses running Google had thought.

Even Google knows they need managers

As the NYT article noted:

In 2002, Google decided to eliminate managers from its engineering operations. “We were of the attitude, ‘Who needs managers? They never add any value,’ ” Craig Silverstein, the company’s first employee after its co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, told me recently. Silverstein, who later served as Google’s technology director, said this refrain “mirrored the common stereotype at the time, of managers just adding levels of bureaucracy.”

Google’s experiment with a manager-free engineering department lasted only a few months. “We realized managers actually serve a purpose, resolving conflicts, answering questions,’” Silverstein said via email. “It was a revelation to see engineers pleading for more management.”

Can we eliminate having people in charge?

Yes, I know that it’s trendy to get rid of managers and claim that you can run a business without them. I’ve made this point many times, and back in 2012 I put it like this:

Yes, the notion of a “bossless office” is a great trend story, but count me as unconvinced that it actually works in all but a handful of odd places. As quickly as the world is changing, I somehow doubt that it is changing so fast that we can eliminate having people in charge.

It’s a fun to talk about concept, but I think it probably would have driven someone like the late, great Steve Jobs a little bit crazy. Somehow, I don’t think he could have built Apple to what it is today without any bosses — mainly, him — being in charge.”

I heard YUM Brands CEO David Novak speak this week at the 2014 SHRM Annual Conference in Orlando, and it made me feel good to hear a great manager and leader like Novak make a case for the value of great managers and leaders.

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Here’s what Novak said that made me sit up and pay attention:

At least 99 percent of people want to be good and be part of something big. … You have got to trust people and believe that they want to go and do great things. … the first role of leadership is to get everybody on the same page, get their thinking lined up with the reality of things, and then focus on building a better reality.”

Yes, we REALLY do need managers, and anyone that says we don’t is delusional. Google thought they didn’t and came to realize the error of their ways, and David Novak of YUM Brands seems to think so too.

I know it’s trendy to say we don’t, and that there are oddball companies out there that think they can do it without any real, designated leadership, but I don’t know of an organization anywhere that can be truly successful without them.

Managing a team across 5 time zones

Of course, there’s a lot more going on this week than why managers really are important. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Worrying about a $15 per hour minimum wage. The media coverage of the decision by the city of Seattle to hike the minimum wage to $15 per hour has been unrelenting positive, but yes, there is another side to this story. As the Seattle Times points out, “Whether Seattle’s $15-an-hour mandate proves successful largely depends on how employers react. While it’s early, many already are factoring in the higher wage costs as they plan for the future. Will they lay off workers or raise prices? Cut benefits and workers’ hours? Or maybe they’re confident that workers with more money to spend on local goods and services will boost their bottom lines? The Seattle Times reached out to four local business owners and found all of that in the mix, though layoffs generally are seen as a last resort, and price hikes carry some risk in a competitive landscape.”
  • Picking a format for performance reviews. The New York Times’ You’re the Boss small business column has been debating the pros and cons of performance reviews recently. This latest one — How We Picked a Format for Employee Reviews  — has an interesting discussion on starting up reviews again. “There was a consensus that reviews needed to happen at least once a year, that the boss had to be involved and that they were a huge time commitment. Nobody looked forward to doing them, but everyone was glad to have done them. There was a much wider range of opinion as to exactly how they should be done and whether the discussion should focus on compensation.”
  • Managing a team across five time zones. Managing is tough, and managing remote teams is even tougher. That’s why this recent HBR blog post — Managing a Team Across 5 Time Zones — is well worth a look. As it says, “We all understand that the rhythm of a global team is not a perfect 9-5 melody. But understanding something can be very different from living it. My team has grown increasingly distributed across multiple time zones and regions of the world over the last couple of years, and we have learned, through experience and experimentation, a few ways to leverage the value of a global team while also minimizing the pain and disruption it can create for us as individuals.”
  • HR nightmare – How it went bad for one human resources manager. Here’s a sobering story for anyone in HR: According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the former manager of the HR department at FKG Oil Company, embezzled from a St. Louis area company to “support his relationship with an exotic dancer” and “was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and ordered to pay $113,984 restitution, federal prosecutors said. … From mid-2010 to April 2013, he used a series of schemes to defraud the company: falsifying mileage expense reports, using a company credit card for personal expenses, and transferring company funds directly into his own account … and used the money “to support his relationship with an exotic dancer,” authorities said.” To add insult to injury, since losing his HR manager job, the guy is now “divorced and working at a local Olive Garden.” 

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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