5 Steps Towards Improving Management and Increasing Employee Retention

February 26, 2018

performance management meeting

People leave managers, not companies. Managers can make or break your company when it comes to employee retention, morale, growth, and productivity. According to a recent study, 56% of workers would rather have a great boss than a 10% pay raise. In a time when your competition is focusing on improving employee retention rates to lower turnover and boost profitability, it might be wise to focus on improving management to increase employee retention.

But just how can HR departments and business leaders help managers in other departments improve? We talked to the experts and this is what they said.

#1. Diagnose Your Management Issues

Before tackling management issues within your organization, diagnose them so you’ll know which ones to address first.

“There are a variety of ways that HR and Leadership Teams can help managers improve,” says Becky Thomas, president of coaching firm Be Greater Consulting. Thomas, who is also an adjunct professor in management and the Chair for the Mentorship Program at DePaul University, says it begins with a diagnosis. “If you were sick you would need to run a few tests to properly diagnose what was wrong. It’s no different in leadership. A discovery phase is necessary to take the pulse, if you will, of where everyone’s at.”

Next, Thomas says to set a clear goal and design programs to meet the internal needs of the organization. “The reason this approach is effective is because when the leadership development programs are based on internal feedback, they are more likely to see engagement among the teams,she says. This is where your HR department can really step up.

“Numerous studies show that people often leave a bad manager, not a bad job,” says Janet Zaretzky, author, executive business coach, and founder of The Zenith Business. Zaretzky, who is also a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, says human resources departments can intervene and turn an underperforming manager into a good leader. “Everyone has the capacity to be a great leader, and what’s often missing is the training,” she says.

Related Post: Is Your Performance Management Outdated?

#2. Train Managers to be Coaches

Many managers arrive at their roles through a promotion, yet they don’t receive the necessary training to prepare them for managing others.

“Make sure the manager understands her role and true purpose,” says Aleassa Schambers, director of marketing at Root Inc., a business which for the past 25 years has helped organizations navigate positive and cultural change management. Schambers says the managing others shouldn’t be a peripheral aspect of the role, but rather the main focus.

Schambers says to ensure the manager understands what the business is trying to achieve and to enable them to successfully connect their team to the strategy. “It’s not enough that they understand that strategy,” she says.”They have to continually be helping their team and each person on the team understand how their team and their individual role helps support that strategy.”

This means managers must learn leadership skills like relationship building, communication, coaching, and celebrating successes to really ignite team performance and deliver the best possible business outcomes.

According to Zaretzky, when managers and leaders focus on developing employees, it becomes a “co-creative process” that leads to a sense of pride, ownership, accountability, and accomplishment. “In this way, improving management results in increased loyalty to their jobs and to the company.”

#3. Invest in Communications Training

In the Ultimate Software Survey, 45% of managers say they’ve never taken part in formal management training. Yet this is one area where managers need the most support – but often top-tier leadership doesn’t realize it.

“One of the biggest challenges we see when it comes to improving management is that leaders typically don’t invest in building basic management skills,” says Schambers. “Even if a company invests in training it’s managers, they focus on the wrong skill sets. Much of the time, the training focuses on compliance training/HR policies, company processes or operations.”

In order to succeed, Zaretzky says managers need to develop the ability to draw out employees’ preferences and ideas while fostering an environment in which it feels safe to do so.

“This would include celebrating successes, a lack of retribution for speaking up or having ‘tough’ conversations. They must learn to really listen to employees fully, which is one of the most important, yet undeveloped skills,” she says. “To develop real listening skills, one needs to consider what is being said and ask questions to truly consider what the speaker (employee) is saying.”

#4. Teach Trust at the Management Level

No one enjoys being micromanaged, and when managers don’t trust employees to successfully do their jobs, everyone is unhappy. Improving management starts with improving trust.

In The Harvard Business Review, Paul J. Zak, director of the Center for Neuroscience Studies reports that 50% more workers at high-trust organizations planned to remain with their employers for the next year, compared to workers at low-trust organizations.

Talent development and human capital expert Rick Lozano says building trust as a leadership competency often gets overlooked in favor of hard skills.

“But there is nothing soft about trust,” says Lozano.”High-trust organizations have more engaged employees, produce results faster, and generally have managers that employees like and respect.”

To build organizational trust at the managerial level, Lozano says to tie all managerial developmental opportunities and training back to trust — and to be very specific about how managers can show trust to employees. “Most leadership models speak to trust one way another, but we need to be more explicit,” he says.

“Fix it budgets allocated to customer-facing employees [are] useable at their discretion to rectify situations with a no-questions-asked, no-approval-needed policy,” he says. “[And] flexibility around how and when work gets done. A focus not on hours, but on impact.”

Related Post: Harmful Micromanagement: How to Switch to an Autonomous Workplace

#5. Train Managers Face-To-Face

According to our experts, managers need training to improve management skills. And despite the move towards virtual training, webinars, and teleconferencing for professional development, managerial skills training is best delivered in an ongoing, face-to-face format.

“The most effective form of training I have seen in my practice is face-to-face,” says behavioral analyst and leadership coach Connelly Hayward.  “Engagement and retention are much higher than other learning formats.”

However, Hayward finds that too often companies “do a training and think their managers are equipped to lead. ‘One and done’ doesn’t cut it.”  

Hayward explains that because leadership and behavioral change is complex, it takes time to address. “Leadership competency and behavioral change both happen over time and require repeated interventions,” he says. “Companies that are willing to invest in ongoing leadership development at all levels — not just senior leadership — increase employee retention. These are the companies who become more innovative, resourceful, and profitable.”

Thomas also encourages face-to-face training across several sessions. “Online modules do not work for leadership,” she says.”There are too many personal variables.” Thomas says the best approach to delivering training for managers is to learn, connect and reflect. “You wouldn’t run a marathon and do nothing else the rest of the year and expect to be in shape,” she says. “Following the same rule, you wouldn’t do a 3-day leadership training once and then never work on it again. Don’t do that to your employees.”

Instead, Thomas suggests splitting up 15 hours of training spread out over the whole year. This allows each session to build upon the learning from the last session and gives participants the opportunity to share successes before new topics are introduced.

“This micro-learning approach gives you and your team the best results and ROI,” she says.

If your organization is serious about improving employee retention, it may be time to take a good look at how your organization supports, guides, and trains your managers. Improving management will not only boost employee retention but also positively impact your entire business.



Sarita Harbour is a business and personal finance writer who comes from a long line of business owners. When Sarita isn't writing, she's homeschooling her younger kids and encouraging her older children as they continue the entrepreneurial family tradition.

Category: HR Tips & Trends, Management, Talent

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