During a quiet moment of reflection have you ever thought “I know that our team has the potential to excel, but we’re not there yet? What can I do to help take our performance to the next level?” Management performance is one of the key determinants of success factors such as profitability, employee engagement and resilience.

Research by Gallup revealed that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement.  Additionally, there is a statistically significant positive correlation between employee engagement and profitability, productivity, and customer satisfaction.  Gallup’s 2016 meta-analysis report revealed that, when it comes to employee engagement, the top 25% business units outperform the bottom-quartile units by 10% in customer satisfaction, 21% in profitability and 20% in productivity. Despite this compelling evidence, many employers are not taking the necessary steps to make certain that their managers are equipped to ensure that they and their teams perform at the highest levels.

Which managers need help? Truth be told, both new and veteran managers need help taking their performance to the next level. Many of the former are struggling to acclimatise to their new role, while the latter may have plateaued and have not adapted to the changing world of work. This situation is exacerbated by the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment that is so emblematic of the pandemic-era realities confronting us all. Managers at all levels are being challenged, and it is imperative that organisations find a way to provide a lifeline.

Additionally, those aspiring to a managerial role need to begin their preparations now. As the 5 P’s motto sagely points out proper preparation prevents poor performance.

Mastering Transition with New Managers

Even before the unprecedented challenges of 2020, heads of organisations in both the public and private sectors found that there was a gap between perceived potential and the actual performance of new managers. This is evidenced by a CEB study which found that 60% of new managers either underperform or fail during their first two years. In a separate study conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies® managers themselves acknowledged the gap in performance and attributed it to a combination of factors including being unprepared for their new role and a lack of management training.

It is a common practice to reward high performing individual contributors by promoting them to managerial positions. Unfortunately, this is often done without providing the training, coaching and other support required to help secure a successful transition. This lack of preparedness places pressure on new managers at a time when they should be savouring the positive validation of their past performance and embracing the opportunities associated with their new role. From the employer’s perspective, a new manager’s failure to level up effectively and efficiently may lead to second-guessing the decision to promote.

As individual contributors, these new managers probably stood out for their high productivity. Their success likely depended on their ability to get the task done. In contrast, a manager’s success is predicated on the ability to get things done with and through others. The focus on doing needs to be replaced with planning, leading, organising, and controlling. Therefore, the people management skills are essential.

The reality is that under stressful situations, there is a tendency to revert to what comes most naturally. In the case of our new managers, that might mean reverting to doing the work themselves rather than rallying their direct reports to take the team’s performance to the next level.

Highlighting the Importance of Situational Leadership with Veteran Managers

Veteran managers are not exempt from challenges. The increasing diversity reflected in today’s workforce requires a level of agility that may not necessarily be part of a veteran manager’s existing toolkit. The command and control approach to leadership is obsolete – unless you are operating in a paramilitary environment. A one size fits all approach also misses the target. What is required for managers to optimise performance in today’s workplace is situational leadership – i.e. adapting one’s style of management to suit the requirements of the organisation, circumstances or individual being managed.

One of the most valuable and least optimised tools a manager has at their disposal is delegation. Managers are often reluctant to delegate. According to statistics presented by Leadership Choice during an ATD webinar, 78% of employees in major corporations think that their bosses do work that could be effectively delegated to more junior employees. Interestingly, 66% of managers said that they would like to increase their use of delegation as a means of improving their time management and to afford them opportunities to engage in professional development.

So, if line staff think that managers should delegate more, and managers believe that delegating more would help them, why isn’t it happening? While the reasons vary, there are a few that stand out. They include perfectionism, a concern that direct reports lack the necessary knowledge or skills, being uncomfortable “asking for help” and concern that the task is too important.

The bottom line is that there is both an art and a science to effective delegation. The sweet spot lies somewhere between two extremes – i.e. the dump and run approach that is associated with an abdication of responsibility and the micromanagement approach. Both extremes can be frustrating for both managers and their direct reports. Success requires the delegation of both responsibility and authority. It requires trust and confidence. It means letting go while remaining available to help if required. It appreciates the difference between monitoring progress and micromanaging.

Another pre-requisite to effective delegation is being able to identify when it is appropriate. That depends both on the nature of the task and the readiness of the direct report. In terms of the nature of the task, managers should not seek to delegate their strategic responsibilities or issues that are highly confidential or high risk. When it comes to the staff readiness to handle a delegated task, it is imperative to ascertain that the individual is both able and willing.

In addition to foregoing challenges, veteran managers must contend with the unprecedented situation of managing employees who are working from home. In doing so, they need to effectively manage the polarity of focusing on task and focusing on relationship and the physical and emotional wellbeing of the members of their team. 

Emotional Intelligence as a Predictor of Leadership Success with Aspiring Managers

In addition to closing gaps in the performance of new and veteran managers, organisations are well advised to proactively engage aspiring managers to help groom them for success.  Such an approach would help to alleviate the angst associated with the transition from individual contributor to manager.  Rather than standing by until it becomes necessary to implement damage control when high performers join the ranks of new managers and then underperform – or fail outright – during their first few years, organisations can and should invest in grooming aspiring managers for success. This involves acknowledging that the competencies required to excel as a manager must be learned and providing opportunities for that learning to take place.

According to leadership expert Warren Bennis, emotional intelligence can account for as much as 85 to 90% of success at work. Among other things, emotional intelligence will enable your aspiring managers to know themselves, their strengths, their values and how to perform at their best.  Emotional intelligence begins with a focus on self-awareness and self-regulation and then extends to an awareness of others and the ability to engage in mutually beneficial relationships.

By cultivating self-awareness in these would-be managers, organisations can minimize the prevalence and adverse impact of blind spots.  By coaching and otherwise supporting their ability to self-regulate, these individuals will be better positioned to respond – rather than merely reacting or being hijacked by their emotions. Ultimately, this will help to ensure that the on ramp to the managerial ranks is navigated more efficiently and effectively.

So, what are some specific examples of ways your organisations can upskill the next generation of managers and establish a steady flow of talent in your leadership pipeline? The introduction of a succession planning programme is an essential first step. While the specific design of such a programme will vary based on your organisation’s nature, size and strategy, fundamental elements include training, stretch assignments including working on cross-functional teams, effective feedback, coaching and mentoring.

To what extent is your organisation currently working on each of these three areas of focus? Is there scope for you to enhance your management performance – and ultimately your bottom line – by investing in the development of your new and veteran managers as well as those aspiring to the managerial ranks? By focusing on these three areas, you and your organisation will be positioned to achieve your full managerial potential.


Ambassador Joan H. Underwood is a senior management consultant and policy advisor with extensive experience in both the public and private sectors.  Professional designations held by Ambassador Underwood include that of a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) from the US-based HR Certification Institute, the Society for Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), Accredited Director (Acc.Dir.) and credentialed Master Trainer as designated by the Association for Talent Development (ATD).  She also holds the designation of an Erickson Professional Coach (EPC) and is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Joan’s most recent professional accomplishments include certification by the Human Capital Institute (HCI) in Strategic Workforce Planning and Change Practitioner as certified by Prosci© Canada and the Change Management Learning Centre.

If you are looking for the resources required to help you take your management performance to the next level in 2021, click HERE to obtain a FREE SAMPLE from her new book Managers’ First Aid Kit.

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