Many people believe that being a good manager onlyrequires common sense, and that it is therefore easy to be done. If this weretrue, good managers would be commonplace and as a result, employee engagementand retention would be high. However, only 13% of workers worldwide are engaged at work. As these statistics suggest,either most managers lack common sense, or good management is, in fact, quitechallenging in practice.
When managers subscribe to the “common sense” viewof management, they see little value in exerting effort when it comes toleading their teams. In turn, they become lazy managers. There are at least twosymptoms associated with lazy management: 1) a tendency for managers to blamelow performance and turnover on employees, rather than on oneself or on theorganization, and 2) a tendency for managers to look for quick fixes to complexretention problems.
Psychologists have long recognized that peopleoften overestimate the role of personality and underestimate the power of thesituation in shaping human behaviour. When managers become lazy, they tend tomake this fundamental attribution error more frequentlyand on a larger scale, believing that employees act the way they do because ofwho they are. By blaming employees for performance problems or retentionissues, lazy managers free themselves from doing the hard work of consideringhow their own management style affects employee satisfaction, performance, andturnover.
Also, because lazy managers believe that goodmanagement is simple, when things go wrong, they are drawn to simple solutionsthat are easy to find. For example, when employee retention becomes a problem,lazy managers may be quick to suggest pay raises or bonuses as the antidote — acostly solution that may fail to address the underlying issue(s). The latestmanagement fads may also be more appealing to lazy managers. Indeed, the sheervolume and availability of solutions to employee engagement and retentionproblems through blogs, books, podcasts, and other sources is greater thanever, and the reality is that much of it targets lazy managers seeking quickfixes.
First, when employees are disengaged, rather thanasking what is wrong with them, managers should instead start by consideringthe possibility that management is doing something wrong. After opening theirminds to this possibility, managers can determine whether this is the case bycollecting data. For instance, quick, frequent “pulse surveys” may be useful for keeping tabson how employees feel about their own jobs and the job that management isdoing; likewise, self-development tools, such as the Reflected Best Self exercise, a tool thathelps people understand and leverage their individual talents, may provideleaders with feedback that can help them use their strengths more effectively.In short, managers need to take the uncomfortable and intentional step of gatheringevidence from others to inform what they can be doing to re-engage theiremployees. The good news is that by simply signalling to employees that amanager is willing to work hard and make meaningful changes, some employeeswill feel more supported and inclinedto stay.
Second, managers who are willing to make the effortwill find that there are ongoing advances in the practice and study ofmanagement which offer an ever-expanding set of tools for diagnosing andaddressing employee retention challenges. Not every toolfit a given manager’s style and the organization’s circumstances. Therefore,good managers must not only continually learn, but also must have thediscipline to verify whether the advice they do receive, even when based onstrong evidence and best practices, will apply to their team. For example,before providing employees with customer feedback in order to stoke their prosocial motivation — that is,their interest in helping customers for altruistic, unselfish reasons — a trialrun with a subset of employees can provide evidence regarding whether it willimprove employee attitudes and performance, and if so, by how much.Fortunately, there are resources available to managers who want tolearn more about “people analytics” and how to use it to improve theirorganizations.
Finally, when retention issues crop up, leadersshould consider whether lazy management is contributing to the problem. Ifmanagers are just going through the motions when it comes to employeeengagement and retention, it could indicate that they lack the necessary time,resources, and motivation to do more. Since effortful management requiresenergy in the short-term, but does not pay off until down the road, somemanagers forgo their responsibilities to their people because they are toofocused on meeting short-term objectives. To discourage lazy management, then,managers must be given the support, incentives, and direction needed tomotivate them to dedicate time and energy toward more actively managing theirteams.
Management is not easy, and it takes a lot morethan common sense to develop and retain a highly motivated workforce thesedays. By abandoning the “just common sense” mentality associated with lazymanagement, managers can learn how their actions influence employees, stoplooking for easy fixes, and exert the thought and effort that is uncommon intoo many workplaces.
AdaptedHBR Jan 2019 Bolino & Klotz