Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member David Creelman.

Jodie Foster is a famous American actor who became a famous film director. In other words, she got a management job. So how does one prepare to go from being a specialist individual contributor to being a manager? What do you need to learn before making the jump?

Foster says that the one thing she wished she had known was that all she really needed was confidence and a pen and paper. She had thought she’d need a whole lot of relevant knowledge about camera lenses, lighting, and so on. She says that didn’t turn out to be the case. She says the truth is that everything you need to know is inside of you, every decision-making process is instinctual and as long as you have a pen and paper to write it down then you’re in good shape.

Implications for management development

It should be noted that you or I, jumping into the role of a movie director, might find it a little more taxing than Foster did. She’d been in movies her whole life, she started acting on a television show when she was six years old. She’d had decades to learn the nature of directing by osmosis.

Yet, there is still something profound in her insistence that the skills of management come from the heart. To be a bit more neurosciency about it, we might say that the skills of management come from the right side of the brain, the side concerned with looking for patterns and understanding things holistically rather than doing analysis.

As an aside, we know that the brain doesn’t neatly divide activities between the left and right hemispheres, nevertheless psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist argues that the clinical evidence suggests it is reasonable to think of the right hemisphere as holistic and the left as analytical.

If our management training programs emphasize an analytical approach, then we may be misdirecting where managers should focus their attention. Rather than saying, "listen to see if there is clarity about roles and milestones", we might be better off saying, “just listen”.  Instead of saying, "pay attention to budget variances", we might say “just pay attention.”

The role of reflection, conversation, and immersion

The natural approach to management development is to focus on telling people stuff in a classroom. That leans towards teaching managers an analytical approach. Perhaps management development should focus more on immersing employees in managerial situations and having them pay attention. Find ways for high potential employees to sit in on management meetings, give them opportunities to talk to senior managers, and encourage them to reflect on what they heard. Give them a chance to talk to others about what they’ve observed.

It reminds me of an answer I got from a senior executive at a large manufacturing firm. I’d asked him how he’d learned to become a good manager, he said it was by working for a lot of bad managers. Those bad managers hadn’t taught him useful techniques, but he’d paid close attention all those years. He learned in his heart what good management was. After that, I suspect he could get by just with confidence and a pen and paper.

(Shout out to for the course on directing by Jodie Foster)

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member David Creelman.

The standard advice I give in any change effort is to “over-communicate”.  Ask employees if they are kept in the loop the way they need to be and they’ll say “No, we don’t get enough communication”.

Now turn around and ask those same employees if they get too many emails, memos, and reports. They will say, “Absolutely, we get way too much communication.” 

That’s the communication paradox. Employees simultaneously get too much and too little communication.

Understanding the paradox

We can understand this paradox by considering which communication we like and that which we don’t. Let’s think primarily in terms of email.

Email we like is:

Email we don’t like is just the opposite:

In essence, it is not so much about more or less communication. What employees want is more selective and higher quality communication.

Tactics for higher quality communication

For the formal messages from HR and leadership, we can and should get input from skilled communicators before we blast off a message. This might mean running things by an internal communications department, using a gig worker who specializes in communication, asking for help from someone in the department who is good at writing, or simply taking more care yourself in crafting the message and deciding who it should go to.

The challenge is that most communication is from individual managers and peers, not HR and leadership. To address the communication paradox, we want all employees to be good at email communication.

If you agree that improving the quality of communications is a problem at your organization, consider the following steps:

Wrapping up

As is usually the case in management there is no magic in the steps needed to improve communication. We start with data, get leadership buy-in, then ensure that people can learn what to do, and are motivated to do it.

There are two other points worth noting before we end. As much as possible information should be accessed as needed rather than pushed out to people. If there are status updates on a project, these can usually sit in the project management software rather than be pushed out via email.

The other point is that tools like Grammarly are getting more effective at helping people write well. Expect much more from software tools that aid communication in the future. Using these tools adds a small extra step which takes some of the author’s time but saves everyone else time.  If quality communication is a leadership priority, then people will take this extra step.

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member and Skeptical Guy, John Hollon. While poor leaders make lots of workers miserable, he wants to go on the record that there is good news about bad bosses.

Here's one thing I've learned about bad bosses: they're a never-ending source of headache, heartache, and angst.

They also drive a lot of research studies, including a global study we did in 2019 that indicated seven out of ten employees believe they could do a better job than their boss.

Plug the term "bad boss" into Google and you'll get 1.65 million results. Googling "bad manager" results in 347,000 listings.

Bad bosses are on my mind because of a new survey, by the resume advice website ResumeLab, digging into the topic of those terrible people who "keep you up at 2 am and give a whole new meaning to Monday blues, not to mention sapping away your energy from a potentially very fulfilling role."

ResumeLab surveyed “over 1,000 Americans who had the misfortune of having to work under a terrible manager,” and asked a series of questions including:

  1. How long did you work for a bad boss?
  2. Why did you put up with them for as long as you did?

The answers from the ResumeLab survey are interesting and instructive. Here's what they found:

How long did you work for a bad boss?

Why did you put up with a bad boss for so long? 

What makes for a bad boss, you ask? According to ResumeLab, there are four things that employees identify as the absolute worst things they do:

  1. They criticize employees in front of their peers;
  2. They systematically kill ideas and initiatives;
  3. They deny raises or promotions without a valid reason; and
  4. They lie to people -- both employees and other managers -- on the job.

What does it take to be a great manager?

Here's my take: I was thinking about this bad manager survey when I came across an old Harvard Business Review (HBR) post titled Why Good Managers Are So Rare.

It started out by citing research on employee engagement -- a Gallup study back in 2016 that said only 13 percent of workers were engaged -- but it also offered this smart advice on how to improve employee performance:

"The root of performance variability lies within human nature itself. Teams are composed of individuals with diverging needs related to morale, motivation, and clarity — all of which lead to varying degrees of performance. Nothing less than great managers can maximize them. But first, companies have to find those great managers."

This raises the question: Just what DOES it take to be a great manager? HBR lists these traits, identified by Gallup, as the hallmarks of a great manager:

My experience is that great management takes lots of hard work and frequent communication, but many managers and bosses don't even want to do that, much less tackle the tough challenges that separate real managers from the wannabes.

There is one upside though: the best thing about working for a bad boss is that you learn all the things YOU shouldn’t do when you start managing people.

Yes, there's nothing like learning from a bad boss.

Today's post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute.

Our CEO, Aron Ain, always says that every employee deserves a great manager.  Today’s discussion is about how Kronos has made measurable progress on that promise. Lots of organizations invest lots of money in management training. According to the 2018 Training Industry Report published by Training Magazine, US respondents indicated they'd spend 34% of their training budgets on management and executive employees. With a total training spend of $87.6 billion, that's a lot of investment. Are organizations seeing manager effectiveness increasing as a result of that spend?

The Training Magazine report doesn't include this insight, however the 2018 State of Leadership Development Report from Harvard Business Publishing sheds some light. In it, while 66% of learning and development professionals rate their programs as best-in-class or excellent, only 45% of their line of business peers agree. And 25% of respondents in this survey say there is "no proven ROI" associated with leadership development training.

I recently interviewed Kronos Chief People Officer, Dave Almeda and Kronos Vice President of Global Talent Management, Kim Nugent to discuss how Kronos has implemented - and measured - programs to ensure that every Kronite has a great manager. While we focus a lot in this conversation about how manager effectiveness is developed and measured, we also talk about the importance of ensuring that leadership development is explicitly aligned with the strategic goals of the organization.

In our conversation, we address the following questions and issues:

You can listen in on my podcast conversation with Dave and Kim by clicking on the player below.

Additional Resources that explain the Kronos culture and the Manager Effectiveness Program:

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