In 2019, possibly thousands of articles were written on the topic of corporate leadership. Gallup put together a list of its own most-read leadership articles from last year. Looking over these pieces, the most common leadership concerns become apparent.
At the top of the list is a piece on the challenge of giving employees feedback, “Feedback is Not Enough.” In my own career, I have learned the value of proactive communication that goes beyond offering feedback once a task is done or a question is asked. You might say I recently had to manage-up by giving “feedback” to the head of our department when it looked like I was about to be passed over for a promotion. It turns out the department had no idea I would be interested in the open position or that I would be angry about a newcomer to the company hired to be my boss. Instead of waiting for that feedback from me, it would have been better to have kept a pulse on how I felt about the job, including my interest in advancement. Rather than being reactionary, managers should be trained to ask at least yearly about employees’ level of satisfaction in their job, and the opportunities for advancement they would be most interested in.
Along with feedback, the issue of trust ranked high as a concern for many. One well-read article pondered why some leaders versus others have their employees’ trust. I have found that if a leader doesn’t have an employee’s trust, there is usually a good reason for it. I never trusted my manager who just retired, making way for my recent promotion. I always suspected he was a poseur who talked big rather than doing the work that needed to get done. To compensate for his own inadequacies, he could be hypercritical and condescending. After nine years, it appears I was right not to trust him. After hiring a project manager partly to oversee the completion of his many out-standing projects, it became apparent he wasn’t getting his work done. It seems the new pressure to be accountable for productivity was at least part of the reason he decided to retire at the end of 2019.
Hand-in-hand with inadequate communication and lack of trust is the damage done by a manager who creates a negative employee experience. This was highlighted in the Gallup article, “How Your Manager Experience Shapes Your Employee Experience.” The piece notes that Millennials say that “quality of manager” is a top factor they consider when looking for a new job.
The dilemma here is whether to stay with the devil you know or risk getting a new job under what could turn out to be a far worse devil. That’s a cynical proposition, but it’s one I have personally faced and joked about with a colleague at a past job, with both of us ending that frequent conversation agreeing that our decision to stay in the job was mostly a case of “the devil you know.” From the employee’s perspective, the question becomes how to evaluate in employment interviews and through research whether a new manager stands a good chance of being better than the one he or she is leaving. From the employer’s perspective, it is a question of keeping a competitive advantage over other companies vying for the same talent—in some cases, the talent already under your roof.
The most important competitive advantage may not be salary and benefits, but the quality of work life provided by an employee’s manager. Employees have a good chance of staying if they can say they truly enjoy working with their boss.
If all else fails, be sure to turn outgoing employees into brand ambassadors. It’s hard to believe that such a thing could be possible, but the Gallup article, “Build an Exit Program That Improves Retention and Creates Positive Exit Experiences,” says you can ensure employees leave your company with a favorable impression. It’s a little suspicious that the article is tied to an employee exit program Gallup offers, but I see the point that how you handle an employee’s exit impacts how that employee perceives the company, and what the company learns about its shortcomings.
From my own experience, it’s important to offer the employee a confidential conversation during the exit interview. When I left my first full-time job in September 2005, it was after a traumatic employment experience in which I strongly suspected my manager was misrepresenting me, or even outright lying about me, to our boss. I wanted to convey that suspicion during my exit interview, but I was afraid that what I said would get back to my soon-to-be former boss, who loved the manager who had been abusive toward me. I was afraid I would be forfeiting the ability to have her serve as a reference in the future. In addition to offering confidentiality, it’s important to provide an exit interview and program to employees who were laid off, whether through no fault of their own or through poor performance. It’s worth hearing from the employee’s perspective what went wrong. And when the layoff is budgetary or for business reasons rather than performance-based, it’s important to show employees that you recognize they are being laid off through no fault of their own, and that you value their insights.
What are the top leadership concerns of your company’s top executives and mid-level managers? How are you addressing those concerns?