There are a number of reasons why managers are losing touch with their staff, says Kathryn Anda, managing director of Pepworldwide — which specialises in helping businesses improve performance. She says it could be a hangover from the GFC where a company has not re-invested in staff numbers to free up the manager, or poor training could mean a manager has no clue he or she should be taking a genuine interest in staff.
Anda says if staff feel unappreciated, unloved or abandoned they will look to work elsewhere — and the increase in churn and loss of institutional knowledge can cause inefficiencies and overall performance of the team to dip.
"The problem we are seeing is that managers are so busy being busy that they are struggling to find the time to effectively lead, manage and motivate their staff," Anda says.
"It seems to come second, as an afterthought. If anything gets cancelled by the manager, it is generally the weekly one-on-one meeting with their people or the team — yet these are the people who are helping them be as effective as possible.
"And a one-on-one isn't a formal meeting, it's just a friendly catch-up to see how they're going and to offer help and guidance. It is the best thing a manager can do. It empowers team members, motivates them, keeps them on the right direction... It also means that if there are other issues coming up, the manager can identify them before they become a problem."
But there's little doubt, Anda says, that fewer managers are putting in the time to help motivate their staff.
"It seems to have evolved as a lesser part of people's work than it used to be," she says.
"Many businesses are focusing on putting more mentoring and coaching in place for their managers. But to get them to apply those lessons and create value is a real struggle. It's easy for managers to attend training, but it only has value if they go back and apply those lessons every day."
Anda works with plenty of managers looking for help, but says too many have a lack of clarity about their own role as people leader.
"You would be amazed at how many managers we sit down and ask; 'what is it you do? What are the three big things in your job?' And they can't answer it. And yet they are working 40 to 50 hours a week. That's scary," says Anda.
"Let's go right back to basics; why do managers have staff? It's to do the work that the department needs to achieve. The manager is accountable for what they are doing. But one of the very things too many managers don't do is sit down with each member of staff and say 'here's a task I'd like you to do', explain it with clarity, and then motivate them to achieve it."
Do this, Anda says, and your staff will go home at the end of the day saying 'I achieved this, I am making a difference'. And with that, staff are empowered, it increases staff retention.
"But too many managers are too busy. They get into work and start reading emails. But is that one of their most important jobs?
"Some managers are spending 40 hours a week in meetings; are they assessed on how many meetings they go to? Do these managers go home feeling that they have achieved anything, that it was a fabulous day? That's not empowering, that's not motivating. And that does bring people down."
Anda says a good manager is likely to have worked under a good manager and has learnt what it takes to manage people well.
Managers are so busy... some are losing a critical connection to their biggest asset — the people who do the work that keeps the business in business.
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"It's like when a child grows up in a hard, unloving family," she says. "They don't know how to behave. It's the same with a business. If you've had managers who have never had enough time for you, have been independent and then, when you become a manager — how will you know any different?
"Some managers need professional support and coaching so they understand what it is to be a manager of people. Management training is about changing behaviours."
And although a good manager coaches their staff, recognising good performance is also worthwhile
"Just look around any office and work out who gets acknowledged for a job well done? Too many managers just say 'well that's your job, get on and do the next thing'," Anda says.
"Managers also need to understand that staff have a life outside of work, so being able to leave a bit early to see their children on sports day is a huge thing. And people given this option will make it up in spades.
"However, recognising staff with a gift can seriously bite managers in the butt. For example, you might give someone two theatre tickets — but who's going to look after their children? If you give tickets for a night out, offer to pay for a baby-sitting service too. Or give a family pass so the entire family has a fun time together.
"It comes down to family values and recognising that your member of staff is more than just one person.
"It's about understanding their family life too."
How to motivate your staff.
1. Take time for your people and don't break the appointment.
2. Find out what's important to each member of staff.
3. Show public recognition for team members.
4. Involve staff in decisions about their work.
5. Demonstrate trust for staff and treat them as adults.