Managers: Your Key To Bridging the Gap

Alison Lazenby
Alison Lazenby,
Managing Director, Root Compass®,
Root Inc.

One of the widest and most damaging gaps in an organization exists between managers and their teams. A sure sign of this problem occurs when we hear the terms “them” and “us” used to characterize the relationship. This gap inhibits an organization’s ability to execute strategy, and it is sadly commonplace. But it doesn’t need to be this way. We can and must work towards a more aligned and inclusive approach that values all levels for the contributions they make, irrespective of their tenure or seniority.

Managers must take the lead in this. They are the linchpins when it comes to mobilizing or engaging their teams and closing the gaps so that strategy can flow seamlessly with conviction from the leaders who create it to the front lines who bring it to life on a daily basis with every customer, guest, or patient interaction. These interactions define a business’ brand and ultimately its success.

This phenomenon is known as the Service-Profit chain, and we see it play out across all kind of organizations – whether they are retail focused or not. Managers are the number one driver of employee engagement; research shows unequivocally that employee engagement drives the customer experience, which in turn impacts growth and profitability.

Unfortunately, research also shows that managers are not doing such a great job of closing the gap:

  • Only 26% of employees believe that most of the managers in their company embody the values they want their people to have.
  • 62% of employees say their manager has not established an effective working relationship.
  • 61% of employees say their manager does not understand his/her role at the company.

When managers can’t effectively engage and communicate with their people and when they don’t understand their role in the organization, the gap widens and seriously impacts our ability to successfully execute our strategy. So, how do managers bridge the gaps and break down the “them and us” mentality?

Narrowing the Gap

The answer is not complicated. Managers need to understand and master four things:

  1. Managers must understand their role in the business, which is about engaging a team to deliver results. For many, this is a significant and difficult adjustment. They are often promoted because they are outstanding individual contributors; as they transfer into a people-leadership role, they must recalibrate and focus their efforts and time on harnessing and developing the talents of their team to bring the organization’s strategy to life.
  2. Managers must understand the big picture of the business and where their team fits and contributes. Only in this way can they focus all of their people on the important business drivers that will lead to success.
  3. Managers must engage and inspire their team and ensure that everyone is connected to the corporate vision and understands their role in making it a reality. In essence, managers are translators for their teams – taking corporate dictates and turning them into compelling stories that have meaning and purpose for every member of the team. Once individuals understand how what they do makes a difference and see that they are an important part of a bigger system, they will have a sense of pride in their work and the motivation to go that extra mile to succeed. It narrows the gap between them and their manager.
  4. Last, but not least, managers must build trust and communicate with every member of their team. It’s all about fostering a team spirit so that there is a feeling or culture of “being in it together,” with joint ownership, joint accountability, and joint purpose.

Manager Capability

It sounds simple; but for many, making the leap from individual contributor to a people-manager is far from easy. Managing human beings, who bring complex emotions and experiences to work every day, can be incredibly daunting, especially in the absence of any direction or leadership training. And, remarkably, very few organizations address this. Manager training tends to focus on compliance and safety and HR policies and procedures, but very few organizations make leadership or soft-skills training a priority. In reality, these soft skills drive hard business metrics and enable critical organizational gaps to be bridged.

In a recent training session, a participant summed up the manager’s dilemma very eloquently. She explained that each year she is trained on how to use a fire extinguisher, but she has (thankfully) never had to use one. Yet she had not received any training whatsoever on how to lead people – despite the fact that she has been managing them for 14 years.

Managers are likely one of the biggest untapped sources of productivity in our organizations. They hold the key to unlocking our people talent, satisfying our customers, driving growth and productivity, and bridging the critical gaps that can thwart our best efforts to execute strategy. So we must make it an absolute priority to set them up for success and invest in their training and development. It’s too important to leave to chance!