Skilled managers have never been more critical to a company’s success as they are today. Not because employees can’t function without direction, but because managers play a vital role in talent management. Gone are the comprehensive career management systems and expectations of long-term employment that once functioned as the glue in the employer-employee relationship. In their place, the manager-employee dyad is the new building block of learning and development in many organizations.
Good managers attract candidates, drive performance, engagement and retention, and play a key role in maximizing employees’ contribution to the company. Poor managers, by contrast, are a drag on all of the above. They cost your company a ton of money in turnover costs and missed opportunities for employee contributions, and they do more damage than you realize.
Job seekers from entry-level to executives are more concerned with opportunities for learning and development than any other aspect of a prospective job. This makes perfect sense, since continuous learning is a key strategy for crafting a sustainable career. The vast majority (some sources say as much as 90%) of learning and development takes place not in formal training programs, but rather on the job—through new challenges and developmental assignments, developmental feedback, conversations and mentoring. Thus, employees’ direct managers are often their most important developers. Consequently, job candidates’ top criterion is to work with people they respect and can learn from. From the candidate’s viewpoint, his or her prospective boss is the single most important individual in the company.
Managers also have a big impact on turnover and retention. The number one reason employees quit their jobs is because of a poor quality relationship with their direct manager. No one wants to work for a boss who doesn’t take an interest in their development, doesn’t help them deepen their skills and learn new ones, and doesn’t validate their contributions.
This isn’t what departing employees tell HR during their exit interviews, of course. After all, who wants to burn a bridge to a previous employer?
Instead, they say they’re leaving because of a better opportunity elsewhere. And so what happens is that organizations remain in the dark regarding how much damage their inept managers are doing.
Regardless of what else you expect from your managers, facilitating employee learning and development should be a non-negotiable competency. Becoming a great developer of employees requires managers to expand their focus from “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members?” to “How can I get excellent performance out of my team members while helping them grow?” Savvy managers know that doing well on the second part of the last question helps to answer the first.
The best managers ask, “How can we harness employee strengths, interests and passions to create greater value for the firm?” Systematically linking organizational performance and individual development goals in the search for learning opportunities and better ways to work is a hallmark of organizations where sustainable careers flourish.