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Dear CEOs: Improve Organizational Health By Focusing On The Heart Of Your Company (Your Managers)

Leading academic research from Stanford, Yale and the University of Michigan reveals the three most common management mistakes CEO's make.

Managers are at the heart of your organization, vigilantly pumping the lifeblood of inspiration and support throughout the teams they lead. And just like the body, if your heartbeat isn’t strong, the rest of your company will lag and ultimately fail.

CEOs (the brain of the organization) must design healthy workplaces and empower managers to bring out the best in their people. Below, we’ll focus on the heart (company managers) and cover the three most overlooked, but high drivers of effective management that CEOs should capitalize on to maximize the health of their company.

Just like in medicine, where the most effective diagnoses and remedies are based on data, the most effective management decisions are also evidence-based. Let’s look to science for the answers to our modern organizational health conundrum.

1. Preventative Medicine: Keep the wrong people out of management roles in the first place

For the 95% of companies that hire and promote people into manager roles, at a cost of billions of dollars each year, ineffective management can be lethal.

One of the most common mistakes a company makes is promoting individual contributors who possess strong technical skills, but lack people skills. A recent study shows that salespeople who closed twice as many deals as their peers were 14% more likely to earn a promotion into management, and the better they were at sales, the worse they were managing.

According to Gallup, only one in ten people have the talent to manage. These 10% have the unique combination of talent to help a team achieve excellence and significantly improve a company’s performance.

Another two in ten people exhibit some characteristics of basic managerial talent and can function at a high level if their company develops them.

So what do we do about the other seven?

Healthy companies filter people who aren’t right for management by investing in stellar promotion selection strategies. It’s easier, less painful, and less costly to care for our bodies first than to have open heart surgery later on.

In Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense, Stanford professors, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton point to research that shows good and great bosses only moderately increase employee happiness, but bad bosses greatly decrease it. So avoiding bad managers is even more important than hiring or promoting great managers.

You may be thinking, what about the growth mindset and the importance of believing in the ability of others to grow and develop?

The growth mindset for managing is like the placebo effect for medicine. The more you believe in the potential of medicine to work or people to grow, the increased likelihood that it will happen. Managing and leading may be easier for some people and harder for others, so for those who struggle but also possess glimmers of managerial talent, if they’re willing to put in the work, they can develop into great managers with the right help and guidance.

As an alternative you can offer lateral moves with increased responsibility for those who are better suited for individual contributor roles. 

2. The most effective medicine is commonly overlooked: Why job crafting increases employee engagement

Just as there’s an endless list of decisions a person can make to stay healthy, there’s an equally endless list of programs and practices to help employees thrive, including: hire great people, design a stellar onboarding experience, focus on growth and development, increase diversity, and the list goes on and on.

ALL are important and research shows there are no ‘three things’ to drive engagement. In reality, there are over 50 factors that drive engagement at work.

Since all are important, we’re interested in revealing the high impact, yet commonly overlooked practice for employee engagement:

Continuous work-role fit conversations.

Work-role fit means who you are as a person should directly align with the work you do every day.

Many companies try to identify work-role fit in the recruiting process, but usually the conversation stops there. Work-role fit is a discovery process that managers must direct, especially for millennials who may be exploring the workplace for the first time.

The conversation around work-role fit shouldn’t stop once the company makes the decision to hire because it’s not a static or one time process. This conversation should continue through all stages of the employee lifecycle, from the hiring process, to employee onboarding, and through continual growth and development check-ins.

Most role descriptions are rigid, company-centric, and don’t capture the entire role. It’s time for role descriptions to become more flexible, more employee-centric, and more comprehensive.

Managers and employees can work together to discover and improve work-role fit via job crafting, an exercise that helps employees redefine their job around their top values, strengths and passions. Job crafting is a leading, research-backed exercise developed by Justin Berg from Stanford, Jane Dutton from the University of Michigan and Amy Wrzesniewski from Yale. Wrzesniewski explains that jobs are rarely designed to match the talents, preferences, and aspirations of the individual and that job crafting can have a substantial impact on engagement and job satisfaction.

Every manager can help their team members identify their top strengths, values and passions and bend the role (don’t worry, it won’t break!) to align with those strengths and also push the company mission forward in a stronger way than before.

3. CEOs, look at the entire system to improve management and employee health

Unfortunately when problems arise at work, most managers and leaders blame the individual over the system. This approach can lead to serious organizational health issues. Research shows that 94% of individual performance outcomes are attributable to the system an employee works in. 94 percent!

Great organizational systems are designed at the top and reinforced in the middle through managers. The same goes for bad systems, meaning that good managers working in bad systems will be limited by the systems they’re in.

Successful CEO’s know that all of their employees, including managers, are only as good as the system in which they work. It’s important for leaders to be intentional about their system, because having a healthy heart (management team) is not enough.

Here are several questions leaders can ask to diagnose the health of their system:

  • Is there a clear mission, vision and values?

  • Are organizational goals & priorities clear and transparent or hidden?

  • Does your employee reward systems create a culture of collaboration or competition?

  • Is your workforce distributed? If so, do you have technology in place to increase communication, collaboration and connection?

  • Do people feel psychologically safe to ask questions, admit failure, and get help from their colleagues?

Research shows that skin and blood cells can be reprogrammed into heart cells. And some heart disease can be healed with physical stimulation. The same is true for management–as long as the natural talents are there, skilled employees can be developed into managers. And with the right amount of attention from leadership on the entire system, good managers can be provided with the conditions to become great. With a healthy heart your entire company can not only survive, but become more dynamic and successful.

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