In any large organisation, the corporate structure or hierarchy roughly looks something like the following:
- the CEO,
- his C-suite of senior executives, sometimes organised into an EXCO,
- senior managers, usually responsible for separate business divisions,
- front line managers, managing small teams and responsible for delivery of specific functions within a division,
- front line operational personnel, tasked with carrying out the operational daily functions necessary to deliver on the strategic goals of the firm
This is a very stylised structure, but in essence the corporate pyramid consists of thousands of personnel at the base of the pyramid, above which reside several layers of management. There will be hundreds of line managers, dozens of senior managers, and then at the top of the organisation the EXCO and C-suite executives running the organisation.
It is clear that the top layers of management will be seasoned executives with considerable experience in leading and taking strategic decisions in the context of large organisations. They will normally have had access to specific coaching in management and leadership skills to enhance their proven business skills.
At the other end of the organisation, the thousands of employees carrying out functional tasks will vary in quality and responsibility according to their experience and skills. They also will usually have had access to training in a very task-specific way, whether they are salespeople, product specialists, IT, legal, support functions etc.
And then we have line managers. Line managers are usually promoted into this position as a result of outstanding performance in a functional role. That is to say, employees are usually promoted into a line manager role not because they are good managers, but because they have excelled in an operational context. They are rewarded by senior management by being given responsibility to manage the team from which they have been plucked. By definition, they are the least experienced managers in an organisation, but at the same time are collectively responsible for managing the thousands of employees who are tasked with executing the firm’s strategy on a day-to-day basis.
Put this way, it is clear that the line manager cohort is critical to an organisation’s capacity to deliver excellent results, every day. Great line managers will beat targets, enhance their people, bring new ideas and solutions, deliver excellent results. Poor managers will miss targets, fail to motivate their teams, lose their best people to competitors, dissatisfy clients. Line managers are the talent pool for promotion from within into senior management roles.
Line managers usually face very challenging objectives, being required to deliver on results every day whilst mastering the skills to manage their people. Managing people is a complex task as all employees are different, bring their own issues into the office and can easily create tensions within a team environment. Managing employees in the 21st Century increasingly requires an appreciation of emotional intelligence (EQ), something that has historically been viewed as weak or too soft for effective management. The workplace is changing, it is no longer appropriate or acceptable to scream at or bully people to get results. More enlightened managers will appreciate the addition of EQ skills to their management armoury. The academic literature increasingly supports the wisdom of high EQ managers and the correlation with better business results. EQ behaviours can certainly be learned by most managers, but they still need to be taught!
So why is it that in many organisations, the budget allocated to training line managers is so meagre relative to the leverage this cohort has on business results? Training is often seen to drag managers away from their daily tasks, and a distraction or diversion. Many poorly trained line managers spend much of their time fire-fighting, or micro-managing. They feel themselves that they cannot commit to time away from their team to learn new skills (even if those skills would lesson the need for fire-fighting and micro-management!). Training is a cost, and with many organisations focused on today’s bottom line, cost control is a key focus for senior management. However, succumbing to these concerns is an illusion, a strategic false economy.
An organisational commitment to a better trained line manager cohort is an investment in the future. No investments pay off instantly, and indeed great line management cannot be coached in a day. There has to be a commitment to a strategic effort to ramp up line manager excellence across the organisation. With the appropriate follow up, manager behaviours will improve, morale and motivation at the base of the pyramid will pick-up, individual performances and ultimately better business results will follow. Future leaders will emerge from the line manager cohort. To draw a simple conclusion, there is no excuse for any large organisation NOT to be investing in their line managers. The RoI on relevant coaching of the line manager cohort can be enormous.