Employer Branding

What Makes a Good Boss?

From the ridiculous antics of David Brent in ‘The Office’ to greedy Montgomery Burns in The Simpsons, there are many awful fictional managers on TV. What about in real life? 

The stats from Kimble’s recent survey on workplace attitudes “The Boss Barometer” don’t do all that much to contradict that picture. Apparently more than two-thirds of British workers feel they could do their job just as well or even better without their boss’s input. 

However, even on TV, there is the occasional helpful manager  – such as optimistic Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation. The good news is that a third of employees seem to feel that their real-life boss actually adds value and helps them to succeed in their roles.

So what are the kinds of things that employees value in their managers and want to see more of? How do you avoid being the kind of boss who becomes the reason good employees go on job hunting sites – because around three-quarters of the respondents said that the relationship with the boss is a factor in whether they stay or go. 

Here are some pointers from the survey data. 

1. Employees Don’t Want to be Told What to Do

Three-quarters of people surveyed say they want to work in a more collegiate and collaborative environment. Only one in five said they prefer to work somewhere where the boss takes all the decisions. However, only a quarter of British workers said that their boss regularly consults them when making important decisions. 

Having been a manager in the technology industry for more than 30 years, I am a big advocate of decentralized decision-making. It is often the people on the ground who understand the context of situations best. 

As organizations grow, they can develop bureaucracy. Bottlenecks where the people on the ground have to pass information up and wait for a decision to come down. 

An alternative approach is to use technology to increase transparency. Share the information and insights people need to make decisions, and then let them get on with it.

2. Employees want more responsibility

More than two-thirds of workers,  67 percent said they want to take more responsibility at work. Only a third said they don’t want this.

Giving people more responsibility might involve handing over a whole job instead of breaking it into small tasks and giving those out. That means letting the employee set the budget, clarify the outcomes, work out what ‘done’ looks like, what ‘success’ looks like and what the milestones are and when they have been reached. 

Even a junior member of staff can be asked to set a budget for something they are working on – as long as help is there if they need it and they are not held responsible for things they can’t control such as currency fluctuations. 

Doing things this way enables individuals and teams to build their skills. And it is more engaging to take responsibility for something than to be instructed to take on a series of small tasks for someone who is looking over your shoulder.

If you are responsible for something you can take credit for it when it goes well. Four in ten of the survey respondents said they feel that managers sometimes take credit for their work. That’s a worrying statistic – recognizing employees’ success and hard work is a key skill for motivating and engaging your team.

3. Employees value managers who coach and motivate – and who don’t procrastinate

Asked to choose the most important qualities in a manager, half of the survey respondents said “the ability to motivate”. A quarter said “the ability to make decisions”. The next two choices were, the ability to coach 14% and the ability to delegate 10%.

We are moving away from a world where it is seen as the boss’s job to tell people what to do. It is the boss’s job to provide clarity of mission and to remove obstacles to the team’s success.

It is also important not to procrastinate. Encourage people to bring solutions to you and not problems. And when they do bring them, I would encourage you to accept the proposed solution immediately. If there are any concerns, as long as there is a culture in a place where people are encouraged to raise issues and not suppress them, the person will bring them up. And if you have concerns, you might ask what information the decisions are based on, to make sure that everyone is on the same page with that.

Expectations of managers are high and in many cases, people don’t seem to feel they are being managed effectively. That’s an issue for employee retention and for engagement and workplace culture. If people aren’t being managed well, they are unlikely to be performing at their highest level. 

But the answers are not complicated. Kimble’s survey shows that employees are not looking to work for bosses who know all the answers and tell everyone what to do. Being a good manager is much more about building and maintaining a great team.  

Being a good manager starts with listening – and the employees in our survey gave some clear suggestions. Communicate effectively, establish a positive culture, hand over responsibility and recognize success. 

As the real-life boss, Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

About the author: Mark Robinson is CMO at Kimble Applications, a leading PSA fuelling the growth of the world’s most agile services firms.

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