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Why Don't We Respect People Managers?

Here is what we know: engaged employees execute better on a successful strategy to ensure higher profits and all kinds of good things that benefit the organization. We also know that the thing that is most likely to engage an employee is their manager. Based on this, you would think that the front-line manager would be considered one of the most valuable resources in the organization.

So why don't organization respect managers? My guess is that most organizations won't admit they don't respect them, so let me offer some proof.

  • Most companies have worked over the years to create the "flat" organization. Some have even foolishly tried to eliminate managers completely. This would only make sense if you see the manager as a waste of resources.

  • Organizations have known for years (I know because I and many of my HR colleagues tell them) that they select managers using the wrong criteria. Managers get selected because they were good individual contributors, not good manager material.

  • Front-line managers have gotten the short end of the development stick for decades. If they get training (most will tell you they don't), it is poor. The evidence of this is that the ratings of managers and their success hasn't improved in decades, even after spending millions of dollars to address the issue.

  • Lastly, organizations don't consider managing a "job". A recent HBR article wrote this that I think sums it up. "While all employees can relate to this challenge, managers have the added responsibility of ensuring their team members get what they need to succeed, on top of doing their own work." Bold is mine for emphasis. They literally think that managing a team and getting results isn't enough, they assign them other work so they can earn their keep.

This lack of respect for managers carries over into the deeper culture. Look at the recent popular depictions of managers in entertainment. Michael Scott of the office and the Pointy-Haired boss from Dilbert are not exactly the flattering depictions that managers would like to see.

Back to my original question: why don't organizations respect managers? I believe this comes from the fact that the role of the manager has drastically changed over the last 30 years and executives are not aware or interested in the change. Older workers - I put myself in that category - will remember when the manager was the most experienced person in the group. Their role was to make sure everyone knew how to do everything and enforce the company rules. The manager of today may very well be the least knowledgeable person in the department because of the level of specialization and expertise needed. I think about an HR manager and the variety of things that can encompass: recruitment, onboarding, training, compensation, benefits, laws, etc. There is no way that 1 person can be the expert in all that.

The great manager finds the people who can be the experts and creates the environment for them to succeed. An executive wants to be able to roll out a strategy and expectation and then have the manager deliver the results. But because of this shift, many times the manager isn't the one who can deliver the results. The manager goes to the team - who are the real experts - and finds out how they can do it.

Let's take a pause here to explore a critical element. I find very often that the people who set the strategy are not experts in the field anymore either. If they don't get the feedback of the experts (those in the front lines), the strategy is often flawed.

Recap: Executives create a strategy. Because of their level of expertise, that strategy is probably flawed. They hand the flawed strategy to the manager to execute. The manager hands the flawed strategy to the team, who most likely point out the flaws. The manager either has to tell the executives the flaws or simply get the team to do the task anyways. The result: The team thinks the manager is a fool because he is asking them to do something they know shouldn't be done and the executives blame the manager when the strategy isn't executed properly and the desired results likely are not met.

That is why organizations don't value and respect the manager.

One last note: if you think my example is the exception to the rule, I dare you to ask around. I'm currently in that exact situation with a client and have been in that situation many times. I know many people who describe the same situation as well.

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