Great managers hold the key for successful companies

28 May 2019 4 min. read

The key to success is great management, according to a new book penned by two experts at Gallup. Exploring what organisations must do to truly thrive in the age of rapid change, the volume suggests companies should forget the hype around cutting out middle management or going completely manager-less, as “nothing works in the absence of great managers. Even leadership doesn't work in the absence of great managers.”

Amid the rise of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, gig workers and new workplace demands to managing remote employees, a diverse workforce and focus on new organisational models, organisations are facing rapid change from all sides of their value chain. People stand at the heart of this change, as for all the technological capabilities a firm might possess, it is human beings who ultimately have to lead the change, and adopt new ways of thinking, planning and executing to successfully embrace future-proof ways of working.

According to the authors of ‘It’s the Manager’, managers are unsurprisingly the key to it all. Jim Clifton, Chief Executive of Gallup, and Jim Harter, Chief Workplace Scientist at the firm, based their view on extensive year-long Gallup research by the US firm. While the conclusion might seem obvious, then, this deep dive analysis led to some striking insights. Perhaps the most shocking of these is that more than half of the workforce in Western economies is unhappy.Great managers hold the key for successful companies

“It's the manager. Period,” Harter explained. “Leaders everywhere in the world have a tendency to name the wrong person manager and then train them on administrative things – not how to maximise human potential.”

In support of this, deeper data analysis found that up to 70% of all the variation between lousy and great team engagement could also be explained by the function of the manager. Having to operate with an unhappy workforce comes with a cost, too.

Clifton highlighted, “Lousy managers create miserable employees. They – miserable employees – ruin customer relationships and have significantly worse health. Their miserable life at work goes home with them and is the single biggest contributor to overall low life satisfaction and all the other things that go wrong. It’s a vicious circle of negative business outcomes.”

Next generation

Being a great manager is more than just having the right person in the job, who has the right skills. A great manager is someone that can inspire the younger generation and takes a real interest in the development of colleagues. According to Clifton, the importance of this cannot be overstated, particularly when it comes to engaging new members of the workforce – especially younger generations – who want their work to have deep mission and purpose.

“They want coaches who inspire them, communicate with them frequently and develop their strengths,” he explained. “When a company has great managers who can maximise the potential of every team member, they will see organic revenue and profit growth. Every employee will be given what they most want: a great job and a great life. This is the future of work.”

Elsewhere in the book, the authors also elaborate on a list of 52 discoveries in the so-called science of management, across major areas of a manager’s work including strategy, culture and employer brand. These are tied together to show leaders how to adapt to successfully navigate the future of work. Above all, though, one of the major pieces of advice for managers is that while the world’s workplace has been going through extraordinary historical change, the practice of management has been stuck in time for more than 30 years, and the old ways are not going to fly in this brave new world.

Gallup’s “State of the American Workforce” report recently found that only 30% of employees feel “really good” at work. That means 7 out of 10 employees are not engaged, while more than half of all employees are actively looking for a new job or watching job openings. If companies are to successfully combat this, managers must therefore shift their approaches “from boss to coach.”

Concluding, Clifton said, “Decades of global Gallup research reveals that a manager is the most important person in an organisation. They are the ones who make or break an organisation’s success.”