Do Managers Matter?

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The answer is Yes, but it's a mixed bag. Have you ever taken a jelly bean from a BeanBoozled box? You are just as likely to get a Peach flavor as you are a Dead Fish, or a Buttered Popcorn as a Rotten Egg. It's fun to do in a crowd to see the reactions on people's faces (I worry about the people who eat them alone). Managers, unfortunately, seem to have the same basic effect on people – pleasant surprise or very unpleasant sourness.

The reason why managers matter to a great number of people is because they want their manager as far away from them as possible. According to this 2015 Gallup study:

50% of Americans have left a job to "get away from their manager at some point in their career"

Let's put this out there so we aren't just beating up on managers – supervising people is difficult for most people, mainly because we are supervising humans. And humans are often irrational, emotional, and difficult in the best of circumstances, which goes for both the managers and the staff. People often don't like communicating with managers, and studies find that managers often don't like communicating with their team:

"69% of managers say there is something about their role as a leader that makes them uncomfortable communicating with their employees"

This is understandable, in a way. Often there are decisions and judgments that are made that have impacts on both sides. Communicating expectations can be as difficult as determining them. According to a survey by Michelle McQuaid, 65% of respondents indicated they'd take a new boss over a pay raise!

So why do we have managers if they seem to be such an issue? One company decided to give that theory a shot - in 2002 Google decided to simply get rid of all managers.

But don't give up hope, friends – managers have the potential to make an incredibly positive contribution. Google's experiment to do away with managers didn't go so well. In 2008 Google undertook a research study, Project Oxygen, to determine if managers matter, and decided to see what the numbers had to say about what made managers matter.

Since then, they have done some more studies and have come up with 10 behaviors of the best managers:

  1. Is a good coach

  2. Empowers team and does not micromanage

  3. Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being

  4. Is productive and results-oriented

  5. Is a good communicator – listens and shares information

  6. Supports career development and discusses performance

  7. Has a clear vision/strategy for the team

  8. Has key technical skills to help advise the team

  9. Collaborates across the organization

  10. Is a strong decision maker

Those are great behaviors that we would all love to have… but having the time to be great at all of them and do your job that is already spilling across and over your desk is asking people to be super-human.

My suggestion is to take one a month and work on it. Just one with maximum effort. Grab a book on the topic, find specific skills that enhance the behavior, and practice every week.

In fact, maybe the best one to start with is #5. Communicate to the team your vision to be a better manager and incorporate all those behaviors, and then listen to what they have to say and what is most important to them. That act alone may be like getting a Berry Blue rather than a Barf flavored jelly bean…