The biggest threat to company productivity is how middle managers treat people


In a recent WSJ article, business writer Sam Walker presents the challenge of growing our economy “back to the glory days of 7% growth.”

He writes: “Here’s a crazy idea: What if it’s something simple? What if companies could fix the problem by hiring better middle managers?”

When I read this article, I immediately knew he was onto something. As I researched my book, “ Bring Your Human to Work,” and spoke to employees across industries, I heard over and over again how much employees want to connect with their managers. Study after study shows that better managers lead to less turnover, higher engagement, and a deeper feeling of connection, which is what talent demands.

And based on everything I was seeing, hearing and reading, I was getting a strong sense that by shining a light on managers, we’d be solving a big problem. But I wasn’t 100% sure.

Now I am. As Walker writes:

“Five years ago, the Gallup organization embarked on one of the most ambitious deep dives it has ever conducted; an analysis of the future of work based on a decade of input from nearly 2 million employees and more than 300,000 business units. The results confirmed something Gallup had seen before: a company’s productivity depends, to a high degree, on the quality of its managers.”

But there’s more — something that “no one saw coming.”

What Gallup found about managers is that they don’t “just influence the results their teams achieved, they explained a full 70% of the variance. In other words, if it’s a superior team you’re after, hiring the right manager is nearly three-fourths of the battle.”

Gallup calls this finding, about the sheer impact of a manager on a company, “‘the single most profound, distinct and clarifying finding’ in its 80-year history.” Wow!

As Walker writes, “No other single factor, from compensation levels to the perception of senior leadership, even came close.” This was such big news that it nearly “blew me out of my chair,” recounted Jim Clifton, Gallup’s CEO.

Okay. Let that sink in. The biggest thing (70%!) separating your company and its optimal productivity isn’t some big scary global trend outside of your control. It’s just people — managers — and they way they treat other people.

Read more: An executive coach says practically everyone forgets to ask the job interview question that exposes a big red flag

Managers who ‘get it’ do these 3 things

And even though we often think big, complicated, expensive problems require big, complicated, expensive solutions, re-orienting managers — helping them “get it” — does not have to break the bank.

As my hero, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, says, “It’s a way of being.”

So here are three simple and bottom line-friendly ways to help managers become managers who get it.



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