How many employees does it take to require a manager?
Three — one to manage the other two.
Sounds like a bad joke, right? We laugh about the tendencies of managers to micromanage and serve in a seemingly useless role. But many companies continue to force people into the management role as soon as they start growing their number of employees.
Before long, they are wondering what went wrong.
They make calls to consultants like me saying, “We’re having trouble with management. We need a better organizational chart. Managers can’t get people to do their jobs. We need a way to hold them accountable.”
Here’s what went wrong: They put managers in charge of people.
The idea that managers should manage people is a myth. In our industry, managers should manage processes. When they do, we find managers much more helpful to the productivity of the business as a whole.
Here’s why we keep making this mistake and how to get back on track:
Why We Think Managers Should Manage People (When They Shouldn’t)
If management should be more about processes than people, why don’t we all operate that way?
Blame it on our culture.
We were raised in a culture that believes managers should be in charge of people. In North America, particularly in the US, we were brought up in a manufacturing society. Forty years ago, our economy was based on manufacturing. Today, most of our economy is based on services.
While our country has made an economic shift, our mindset is still catching up. Our role models in business, including our mentors, bosses, parents, and grandparents, have traditions rooted in a hierarchical organizational structure (also known as “top-down management”). Because we’ve been trained with this mentality, the idea persists that we need managers to oversee people.
This mindset also continues because we mistakenly believe that micromanaging prevents mistakes.
We’re control-freaks. As owners, we assume that micromanaging employees creates better results. Then, when we’re too busy to do it anymore, we hire someone else to micromanage everyone for us. We even give them a title: manager. In our industry, managers are the surrogate micromanager. If something goes wrong, we look for who wasn’t micromanaging properly.
Managing people also serves as a means of self-validation. Because we grew up in a society of top-down management, we sometimes judge our own career success by the number of people we manage. As people seek after management roles as a means to quantify their success, they further perpetuate the myth.
Why Managers Should Manage Processes (not people)
In reality, very few people are good at managing or leading others. In fact, in terms of people-management skills, I find more bad managers than good ones. When we can find skilled leaders, we need to put them in leading positions — not management positions. Assign them as crew chief or show manager.
However, even if someone isn’t able to lead people effectively, they can likely learn to manage a process effectively. Managing the process is the primary task. If you’ve heard any of my webinars about wearing too many hats, you know that managers who manage people are taking on too much — that’s a lot of micromanaging to undertake.
But if managers manage a process, they can also monitor productivity, set priorities, and evaluate process effectiveness.
When a manager focuses on process, they can do what’s necessary to make it more successful. Often, that means removing obstacles for employees who follow the process. This can be accomplished by providing resources, training, or teaching in whatever ways will better the process itself.
To do this well, managers also need to be process users. Particularly in our service-based industry, designating managers over processes they also use themselves is a formula for success. It’s much easier to identify and enact change if the manager is using the process too.
How to Move to a Process-Management Mentality
When owners see a breakdown in management, they typically know their org charts need to change. They just don’t know how. For management to work effectively, organizational charts need to reflect process responsibilities, not hierarchies.
If I’ve given a manager processes to follow and people to support, the org chart needs to reflect that. If managers are in charge of a key process, the org chart will indicate the manager for each process and the people who work within that process. For any given process, my boss is the person who owns that process. But if I’m working on a different process tomorrow, I’ll have a different boss.
This works even more effectively if you have a process for change.
If I own a process and am managing it and removing obstacles for employees, I will identify aspects that don’t work or could work better. I’ll need to make changes — and make them quickly. If I have a process for change, I’ve opened up my company to be more receptive to continual process improvement.
Effective management comes when we give managers ownership for specific processes, not specific people.
Let’s lose the old manufacturing mindset of top-down management and focus on taking responsibility for the way things run, not the way people work. If you do, you’ll likely find people work better — they’re not being micromanaged, they’re free to work within their skill set, and your managers are free to give them the support they need to make the process a success.