Why “Working Managers” Don’t Always Work

As a Certified EOS Implementer®, I work with all kinds of businesses, from the financial industry to construction. And they all have the same goal in mind: To gain efficiency and Traction®. During my sessions with clients, I commonly hear leaders express a desire to keep a lean team. While this sounds fiscally responsible, it often forces them into having what I call “working managers.”  Let me explain why working managers don’t always work for the greater good of the organization.

Why Working Managers Exist

Working managers have leadership responsibilities and manage people, but they also have direct responsibility for delivering the company’s products and services. In that scenario, the “leadership” part of their role nearly always gets pushed aside.

Over the years, clients have given a variety of reasons why they need working managers. Some claim they haven’t grown “big enough” yet or just always do “whatever it takes” to get the job done. They haven’t needed leaders before, so it makes sense to them to just add a few people responsibilities to someone’s job.

Managing people is hard. Effective leaders need to devote time to providing support and accountability to their people for optimal team health and performance. When leaders also serve as “doers” in the organization, they can’t devote that necessary energy to their teams. Instead, they spend 80% of their time working at the lowest level of their assigned duties.

While EOS® proves incredibly effective in helping companies reach their business goals, it also helps identify issues that get in their way. More often than not, companies find that having working managers is the root cause of many business issues.

When Lean Is TOO Lean

Yes, businesses should feel good about creating a lean and productive team. But an organization’s structure may not work when the team is too lean. In this case, too many working managers have a growing list of frontline responsibilities.

How do you know if your team is too lean? Watch for some of these telltale signs:

  1. Lack of clarity or confusion about roles and responsibilities
    The blur between leading and doing makes it harder for leaders to delegate tasks. Many feel they should still complete certain responsibilities as part of their frontline work. This also makes it harder for their team to anticipate who should complete a task.
  2. Ineffective issues management
    We ask leadership teams to take Clarity Breaks™ and off-site quarterly meetings to work on the business. They cannot effectively identify and solve issues while working in the business. Asking someone to do the work and lead others creates an impossible scenario.
  3. Employee engagement suffers and turnover increases
    What happens when a leader cannot devote time to employee development? Engagement suffers, morale plummets, and before long you start to see team attrition.

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Good News! These 3 EOS Tools Can Help

Sometimes a business simply cannot increase head count to complete the work. Many small businesses feel this pinch. When working managers are critical to a company’s success, I suggest business leaders use these three go-to EOS tools:

The Accountability Chart

This tool helps clarify roles on a leadership team and throughout the organization. It helps leaders break down the right structure to achieve business goals before assigning anyone to any of the seats.

The People Analyzer

Using this tool and setting a bar helps establish a clear understanding of the organization’s expectations for team members. By using this tool, managers can better hold themselves and their people accountable to the organization’s values. The People Analyzer helps leaders quickly identify and respond to potential problems.

Delegate and Elevate

This tool helps a leader divide their current tasks into a four-quadrant grid. The goal is to identify tasks they currently do that they aren’t good at or don’t like. Wherever possible, delegating these lower quadrant tasks to someone else can help free up more time.

I’ve found these tools effective in helping leaders identify areas of opportunity and in planning to improve the situation. Ultimately, this gives leaders a clear path forward to growing their businesses and gaining traction while supporting healthy team cultures. You’ll find both of these tools and many more in the EOS Toolbox™.

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