The struggle to retain employees is real – too real, right now. From large companies to small businesses and across every industry, companies are faced with the specter of unfilled seats … and the fear that more positions could go that route at any moment. Empty seats can be the result of a number of factors including benefit packages, family changes, and career development. Yet one of the largest causes for employee retention problems often goes unrecognized: undeveloped leadership skills at the manager level.
Think back over your career or the careers of your friends and family members. What is the impact of a great manager on job satisfaction? The answer is obvious: a great boss has a tremendous influence on a person’s decision to stay in a position and give it 100%. Conversely, what is the impact of a less-than-effective manager? Job dissatisfaction, poor motivation, lower performance … and, often, an active search for another job.
Given this observation, if you are a business owner or C-suite executive troubled by employee gaps, it is worthwhile to make a careful assessment of your managers. Here is the key question you want to answer: “Do my managers have the skills they need to lead people effectively?”
It is important to emphasize that there is no value judgment going on here. Leadership is a skill and skills are learned behaviors. Vince Lombardi famously asserted that “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” The most common reason a manager may lack leadership skills is because he or she was promoted due to technical expertise but was not given training on how to lead people. Your aim as a business owner or C-suite executive, therefore, is to identify where you and your managers need to put in hard effort to achieve that incredibly worthwhile goal of developing great leadership skills.
4 Tactics to Assess Leadership Skills
Here are four practical ways to assess where your managers’ leadership skills are at:
1. Dialogue with your managers. People usually know if they lack the skills they need to do their job well, so be upfront and ask your managers, “Do you feel that you have the skills you need to lead your team well?” Chances are good that you will get reliable, honest feedback – particularly if you set up the conversation in terms of helping the manager succeed as a leader. Listen to their self-identified development needs and follow through with getting them the training, coaching, or mentoring they need to strengthen their leadership skills. Be sure to make this a regularly-held conversation so you can continue to equip your managers to meet each new challenge as it arises.
2. Ask questions during exit interviews. It is always disappointing when good people leave the company, but take advantage of exit interviews to ask direct questions as to why they chose to leave. Specifically ask their opinion of their manager’s leadership skills. For example, did they feel that their manager was a good communicator? Did he or she set clear expectations? Were team meetings collaborative and inclusive? Did they get regular feedback on their performance?
3. Hold targeted focus groups. Group discussions can help break down barriers, so consider holding focus groups to talk about what your employees perceive they need from management in order to do their jobs well. Then, create and communicate an action plan that meets those needs.
4. Conduct employee surveys. Surveys – particularly when anonymity is guaranteed – can shine a light on your managers’ strong suits and developmental needs. This is helpful in the short-term, but the greater value is in the long-term if you conduct surveys semi-annually or annually and compare year-on-year results to identify trends, strategize action items, and track progress.
Boost Retention … and Much More
Developing leadership skills at the manager level is a excellent way to boost employee retention. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. When you invest this way in your managers, they themselves are much more likely to remain with your company – so you enhance retention at multiple levels across your organization. This is in addition to the fact that as your managers’ performance improves, your employees’ performance will also improve … and that is great for business outcomes all around.
As you focus on leadership development, you gain the tools to promote from within your organization and equip new leaders to deliver high-value results. When you do decide to make an external hire, that new hire seamlessly enters into your leadership development process to ensure a good fit and quality performance.
In today’s job market, it can be difficult to find people to fill empty seats if employees leave. The best solution is to prevent the gaps from opening up. While some factors that contribute to employee retention are not under your control, one of the largest factors is. By doubling down on leadership development, you will give both your employees and your managers a powerful incentive to stay, build a robust internal leadership growth model, and set your company up for success – an outstanding triple win!
Need help equipping your managers to succeed as leaders? Contact me today.
I will be glad to help you create a sustainable leadership development model
that boosts retention and performance across your organization.