Your managers aren’t doing this so you need to…

It seems managers have a closer rapport with their screens (or maybe each other) than those they’re meant to be leading.

Bosses are accountable for 70% of employee engagement, according to a Gallup poll.

However, with half of employed millenials planning to leave their jobs within a year, one can infer that managers aren’t exactly captivating their workforce. Generation X is even less motivated at work, and one of them may be your boss…

As disengagement rises, happiness dips. Talent is out the door before you can ask, “Where’s my office nap pillow and mini golf set?”

Recently, I gathered a group of highly experienced HR specialists and asked them what difficulties managers have with soft skills. 

We narrowed it down to 13 areas they felt businesses should be prioritising. Below, I’ve put them in the order of the frequency they came up in the group.  

What one may think of is common sense, turns out may not be all that common. 

  1. Avoiding difficult conversations: the biggest issue across my HR collective was the inability of managers to confront behaviour due to a lack of mental preparation.  Some HR Directors have a script they give to managers and others have a list of questions they ask leaders to put to individuals to start a feedback conversation rolling.   Performance management should be reframed as ‘feedforward’ to avoid dwelling on ‘should’ves’ and ‘could’ves’.  Asking people to fix the past is impossible.  This applies to 121 conversations as much as to groups:  many leaders find being honest about the reality of the business and the impact it has on the organisation.  If you don’t set these out at the start, people will start becoming suspicious about your rose-tinted plans.
  2. Not getting buy-in: especially when it comes to communicating change.  Managers need to state what change means to their audience; understand how they got there and what the future brings.  Delivering this through stories and an aligned, compelling rationale is sometimes sacrificed for a strategic roadmap.  Flowcharts on a Powerpoint satisfies very few people.
  3. Avoid setting expectations: managers need to create expectations without creating rules.  They can then give people the freedom to decide how to get there.   However, the values that unite teams are rarely stated, leaving everyone ‘on the ground’ to wade through the vacuum, second guessing how they’re meant to be achieving goals that they may be also presuming.
  4. Not giving feedback: some say millennials want feedback so a lack creates conflict. I’m not sure it’s a generational issue: I think humans basically like to know how they’re doing and want acknowledgement.  Feedback is often dodged because managers believe that a pay rise is a natural consequence of good feedback. If you’ve done well, it’ll cost them money to say it, so the thinking goes.
  5. Delivering messages in the wrong medium: emailing when the telephone would have been better.  Generally, the issue is that communication is over-digitalised. People don’t go and talk to each other.  It’s challenging enough to manage others but the task would be so much easier if you knew the names of your team members and a little about their lives.  
  6. A lack of 121 communication: having around numerous direct reports means that leaders may never get to speak 121 to staff.  This over-digitalising of communication, means that if you don’t talk to people, you can’t see a spark before it becomes a fire: a small issue can be spotted early and sorted before it blocks business.  If you don’t know your staff, finding how to motivate them is almost impossible.
  7. A lack of networking: collaboration, information finding, streamlining systems within a company and finding resources are just some of the reasons you need face to face time with people.  However, leaders often partition themselves off.  Research from Cornell University and the UK Government Internal Communication Office show this lack of visibility has a negative effect on employee engagement.  
  8. Friction between generations: generational issues of younger workers managing older, differently experienced people can create tension, compounded by the fact that experience is no longer related to age.  
  9. Dodging coaching conversations: learning to listen, guide and break down tasks into chunks for others seems to be lacking among management.  They don’t know what level of coaching is required and when this intervention is needed. Sometimes you just have to tell; other times delegate and other times support.  
  10. Technical experts with no people skills: this is probably more general but covers technically competent specialists who are promoted to leadership positions, which require a whole set of skills for which they are unprepared.   Hence, businesses have technical experts becoming managers who are not good ‘people people’.
  11. Not giving the right rewards and recognition to people:  this is linked to numbers 4 and 6.  If you’re not getting to know your people then you wouldn’t know what makes them tick.  Leaders are often in the dark as to how their people like to be recognised and rewarded, for example, publicly or privately?   
  12. A lack of understanding about different styles of working and and perspectives:  many leaders would claim “That’s how I prefer it so that is how it is.”  However, there’s more than one way of reaching a goal, and umpteen ways of seeing a situation. 
  13. Not setting objectives for others: when objectives are set, there’s then a failure to follow through with tangible plans to meet them.

Which specific shortcomings sound familiar to you?


(It doesn’t matter if you’re leading or being led: managing up means that you need these skills just as much as your boss).

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