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HR’s Essential Guide to Assessing Manager Effectiveness

Jan 5, 2022| Reading time: 14min

BY Sharon Rusinowitz

Director of Content Marketing

At some point in their working lives, most HR professionals will have to deal with the fallout from a bad manager. Not only do ineffective supervisors harm the employees involved, but they also pose a business-wide problem.

Poor managers cause increased turnover and lower productivity. From there, it’s a domino effect. High performers leave, and the organization battles to hire new talent. Existing employees are stressed, exhausted, and demotivated. To avoid this scenario, companies must gauge their managers’ effectiveness. And for HR leaders to measure manager performance, they must ground their assessment in data, analysis, and best practices.

Here are five steps your HR team can take to assess manager effectiveness and take action as needed.

Get manager buy-in

Gaining buy-in from line managers is crucial when you assess manager effectiveness.

A good way to gain manager buy-in is to be upfront with managers about the process. You can help them view the exercise as a tool to build their leadership capabilities — not an opportunity to attack them.

As part of this discussion, communicate to managers that they’ll be provided with the resources to help them implement any recommendations. It’s also critical to explain that the larger organization (with your HR team leading the way) is there to support them and wants to see the initiative succeed.

Start at the top

Good — or bad — leadership trickles down. This means you’ll need to develop an understanding of how executives manage their direct reports as part of your assessment.

Research from leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman finds when the executive team scores below average in leadership effectiveness, all layers of management below them also have lower scores. In contrast, a Leadership & Organization Development Journal study of 1,600 manager-supervisor relationships in the United States and Germany finds that great managers typically have competent supervisors.

The best way to assess senior management is to understand the resources and support they provide their employees. For instance, find out if they have regular coaching conversations with their teams. Then speak to their direct reports to understand if they feel overworked or burned out. You may want to use a 360 review to conduct this part of the assessment.

Through a 360-degree evaluation of manager effectiveness, employees will be able to rank senior managers on statements that rate their behaviors. For example:

  • My manager uses a coaching style instead of an “authoritarian management style.”
  • My manager supports me in achieving a work-life balance.
  • I feel valued by my manager.

Your analysis might find senior managers message their direct reports after hours or over the weekend. Or perhaps C-suite leaders model healthy behaviors, like not working when they’re sick and disconnecting from Slack when they’re on vacation. These broader cultural issues enable poor or sound management practices to flourish in the work environment. This is something you’ll need to consider during your overall assessment.

Identify manager best practices

Determine the elements of good management at your company to help set a benchmark for managers.

Remember, every organization is different, so you’ll need to be clear on what a good manager looks like at your company. For example, Google launched Project Oxygen in 2008 to find out what makes a manager great at Google. Companies of all sizes have since used Google’s approach and research to inform their own manager training plans. Here’s how Google measures success for its managers:

Google’s manager behavior research identifies the traits of effective managers

Google’s manager behavior research identifies the traits of effective managers

To do a similar assessment for your own company and develop a framework for great manager behaviors, consult internal data, industry research, and relevant case studies.

During your analysis, look for behaviors that stand out. For instance, your data might show that teams with managers who give them more control over their hours are more productive. Maybe you spot a relationship between employee engagement and the frequency of employee recognition. This might suggest that when managers prioritize employee appreciation, they earn a greater commitment from their team. Or perhaps, you find managers who have monthly discussions about performance have more engaged employees. Whatever it is, identify the specific behaviors of good managers within your organization.

With your findings, develop a set of manager best practices to define what strong leadership looks like at your company. These best practices create clear standards for manager behavior, serving as practical guidelines that managers can refer to during assessment and training.

Collect multiple sources of data about manager performance

For the most objective view of manager performance, include a range of data in your assessment.

Gather and analyze HR metrics

Collect HR metrics, like engagement, promotion, retention, and turnover rates, for deeper insight into manager effectiveness. Adopting this kind of data-backed approach grounds your assessment in evidence.

Data allows you to better understand the impact of different management styles on the employee experience. Take this example: a specific department has a higher than average turnover rate. After further investigation, you find this particular team lead struggles with micromanagement. You can then come up with a plan to address the problem.

Most HR teams implement people analytics software to gather this kind of data because it makes it easier to track and analyze metrics. A people analytics solution can also give you an idea of how implicit biases impact the way managers lead their teams. You could, for example, run an engagement survey and check the engagement rate by gender, ethnicity, generation, and job level. Then, if you see dismal engagement rates in engineering, dig deeper. Perhaps female programmers are especially disengaged. The next step would be to meet with employees for additional context into these scores.

Solicit employee feedback

Involve employees in the assessment process to get firsthand insights from your people.

A manager effectiveness survey allows you to ask employees directly about their managers. You can find several manager effectiveness survey questions online. Most of these surveys recommend using the Likert Scale to measure if employees agree or disagree with statements like:

  • I would recommend my manager to others.
  • I know what my manager expects from me.
  • I receive feedback from my manager that helps me improve professionally.
  • I’ve had a discussion with my manager about my career in the past six months.
  • I have the autonomy I need to do my job.
  • I feel included in my team.

Once you select a survey template, use a tool to create, customize, and administer the employee survey. This will return a ton of data, making it helpful to have a people analytics software that can help you collect and analyze the feedback.

Of course, employees might be afraid to speak candidly about their managers, especially if they have negative feedback, so don’t forget to ensure anonymity to help employees feel safe and comfortable expressing themselves.

Use manager self-assessments

Improved self-awareness leads to better managers: a study by the University of Pennsylvania linked self-awareness to higher workplace effectiveness and better professional relationships. Get managers to evaluate themselves to help them reflect on their performance and identify areas for improvement.

Molly Graham, former chief operating officer at Quip, recommends managers ask the following questions to rate their management skills:

  • Are the people around you growing?
  • Are they taking on more in scope?
  • Are you seeing them change in terms of things they weren’t good at six months ago?
  • Are you pushing your top performers and watching them burn out?
  • Are you helping your lower performers figure out what’s not working?

The Harvard Business School Online recommends leaders also develop an awareness of their own strengths and motivations using a tool like this Personal Values Assessment. Finally, ensure your self-evaluation forms are forward-thinking, too. For example, ask managers what professional programs they’d like to complete or which conferences they’d like to attend.

Act on the assessment’s data

Particularly if you’re at a fast-growing company, first-time managers will likely fill most of your leadership roles. While they may be strong individual contributors, that doesn’t mean they’re natural people managers. HR can work with managers to close skills gaps and create training plans to improve manager effectiveness.

A Society for Human Resource Management survey of 457 Americans finds 84% of employees think “poorly trained managers” increase their workload and workplace stress. And 57% of the respondents say their managers would benefit from people management training.

Depending on what comes up during your assessment, potential areas for training might include:

  • Managing employees in the hybrid workplace: Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s chief people officer, says shifting to a hybrid work model demands a greater understanding of the workforce’s needs. Managers should set clear expectations and model flexibility for their employees.
  • Cultivating emotional intelligence: Research suggests power might make leaders less empathetic. And according to LinkedIn’s State of the Manager report, emotional intelligence itself isn’t an innate ability for many managers. “Some managers naturally possess the ability to understand and inspire other people. But most face an ongoing learning curve as they adapt to ever-changing circumstances.” You can create a training plan that will allow managers to be aware of their employees’ needs and feelings to help alleviate this challenge.
  • Understanding the impact of bias on performance reviews: When managing employees remotely, it’s easy for managers to fall back on biases. Collecting multiple sources of data during the review process can help ease this challenge and avoid bias. For example, implement self-evaluations so employees can record their achievements and challenges in real-time, and gather peer feedback from team members who work closely with the employee to bring in additional perspectives.
  • Building trust: According to the Management Research Review, employees who trust their managers report higher engagement and job satisfaction. One way to build trust is to prioritize transparency. For instance, effective leaders update employees regularly, sharing progress reports about key work projects.

It’s time to take manager effectiveness seriously

Managers have an outsized impact on employees. Instead of being a source of work stress, good managers become coaches. They advocate for their team members, pushing them toward opportunities for development. They offer guidance that helps employees work through obstacles and grow professionally. As a result, your workforce is more committed and engaged, making the entire organization more effective.

If an employee has a positive relationship with their manager, they’re more likely to report higher job satisfaction, according to McKinsey. Gallup, meanwhile, finds when companies hire talented managers, they achieve higher earnings per share than their competitors. Gaining insights into how your managers are doing gives them the data and direction they need to improve.

To learn more about HR’s role in helping managers succeed, watch this panel of industry experts talk about using data and tech to empower managers.

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