Imagine a scenario where you discover that what is being executed on a routine, day-in-day-out basis is contrary to the direction set by the CEO.
Let’s make two assumptions: This is neither a case of anarchy, nor is it a case where the CEO is wrong. Instead, the context is that of change where the CEO says, “Here’s the new plan.”
Several years ago, I found myself in such a scenario with a client. It was a high-functioning organization with a well-liked and respected CEO. Yet, the change signaled from the top had no apparent traction on the street, and it was cause for concern. I happened to be in the room with leaders trying to figure out what was going on and what to do about it. I was the junior voice in the room, which may be why it fell silent when I made my declaration: “What we have here is a math problem.”
I was allowed to expand: “What are the odds that the CEO’s intent is being accurately and consistently conveyed through the multiple levels, functions and geographies such that the managers would implement the new direction as intended?”
I understood that this was an organization with substantial scale, and it seemed a lot like the game of telephone we used to play as kids, where the story starts as one thing and ends up different when it makes it around the circle. The twist here is that we had a lot of concurrent circles.
This isn’t an article about communication. It is an article about math and front-line managers.
My experience is consistent with what research continues to demonstrate that front-line managers have a massive influence on an organization’s performance, culture, talent retention, et al. Twenty years ago, in a manufacturing role, I was part of a team that developed a program that targeted 20 front-line managers to drive performance because we understood these 20 had 24/7 responsibility for 2,000 workers in our manufacturing plants.
In the book “Nine Lies About Work,” authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall assert that the CEO’s primary and most important roles are first setting, strategic direction and next, placing managers. I’d hazard a guess that the latter doesn’t make too many CEO’s job descriptions, but this is why the math problem matters. Managers — those who find themselves between the few with the plan and the many who are to carry it out — have to function as an extension of the CEO to interpret, coach, direct, redirect, recognize, reward, challenge, extend grace, develop and, ultimately, humanize the organization to its people. One of the nine lies from the text is that people don’t care what company they work for; they care whose team they’re on.
Gallup stated emphatically in a recent article, “The single most important factor for strengthening team communication is the manager.” Gallup also recently released its 2022 engagement survey data, showing that engagement among managers had a 7-point decline during the pandemic, second-only to healthcare workers at 9-points. That makes sense when considering the role of front-line management during that cycle. 2022 numbers show a 3-point rebound as organizations of every shape and size are trying to reimagine work.
Here are three things to consider as you think about your organization’s math:
How do you place managers? Do you promote the highest-performing individual contributors, or do you give thought to who might be the best fit for the role?
What are you doing to upskill your managers? Few come out-of-the-box ready, and even for those who do, the demands constantly change and become more significant. Organizations need to provide the growth opportunities that serve managers and those they lead well.
How are people responding to your managers? This will be your most significant indicator of how effectively the first two considerations work for you.
Chuck Hyde is the founder of C3 Advisors, a firm focused on executive development and talent optimization. He can be reached at www.c3adv.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.