Managers underperform when managing underperformers

by 19 Feb 2008

EMPLOYERS NEED to do more to help their managers motivate poorer-performing staff, according to research by Watson Wyatt.

“Managers find it easy to manage top-performing employees but are not so adept when it comes to improving poorer performers,” said Carole Hathaway, a senior consultant at Watson Wyatt.

“Some of the greatest opportunities for improved organisational performance lie in helping managers raise the bar for moderate and poorer performers but it appears from our study that few employers are doing a good job of this.”

A Europe-wide study involving more than 5,500 employees and 175 companies found that a top performer was 66 per cent more likely to say that their immediate supervisor does a good job of communicating organisational and performance management issues than a poor performer would.

The study found that only a third of poor performers were able to say that their immediate manager does a good job of communicating expectations for organisational financial performance, that their manager does a good job of establishing goals for their individual performance that are linked to business objectives, or that their immediate manager does a good job of providing direct feedback on their individual performance.

Moreover, less than 30 per cent could agree that their immediate manager does a good job of linking organisational performance to rewards or of linking their individual performance to rewards.

“It could be that managers need more support in understanding how to communicate with all their staff, not just the more motivated stronger performers,” said Hathaway.

“Employees perform better if they have a clear understanding of their organisation’s goals and what they can personally do to contribute towards these. So setting good objectives and getting performance management communication right, especially for the weaker members of a team, is of vital importance.”

Another recent report also indicated that UK bosses’ lack of leadership skills in setting objectives, motivating employees and dealing with poor performers has an adverse effect on business performance. Commissioned by chartered psychology firm Ros Taylor Ltd, the study found that 77 per cent of respondents said their boss was not interested in them and 90 per cent said their boss did nothing about poor performers.

The report, which drew on responses from 1,500 employees, also found that 79 per cent claimed their boss did not set clear objectives and a further 89 per cent said their boss lacked innovation and was unreceptive to new ideas.

“That’s only 15 per cent of people we asked who thought their boss was any good and 8 per cent who thought they were inspirational,” said Ros Taylor, managing director of RTL.

“I wish I could say I was shocked –but the truth is it’s slightly better than I expected. The fact is that while businesses are quite rightly paying attention to their cost base – squeezing every last ounce of value out of the food chain – they are not so cleverly overlooking a very real business and financial asset.”

Companies should forget the old clichés about soft skills, according to Taylor, as bad leadership costs shareholders and stakeholders real money.

“While companies are spending millions on automation and the new IT architectures they could be spending thousands and saving millions by sharpening up their leadership assets.”

She said many line managers, heads of department and directors are on big salaries, and represent large investments for the company.

“As a psychologist I am intrigued that companies who bend over backwards to think smart ignore this area. It’s the one thing they could do that would deliver tangible results – and yet the vast majority just don’t do it,” she said.

“They probably think that, in the old cliché‘leaders are born, not made’ and yet in our business we disprove that on an almost daily basis.”

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