According to Gallup Business Journal’s January 2016 post, “The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis,” since 2000, when the organization began tracking employee engagement in the United States, less than one-third of U.S. employees have been engaged in their jobs and workplaces.
One of the most popular theories for why engagement levels remain low has to do with the quality of management within the organization. We’ve all heard the phrase, “People leave managers, not companies.” And most who study employee engagement data would probably agree that bad management plays a significant role in stifling employee engagement, often to the point where employees decide to take their talents elsewhere.
As a result of this belief, an entire industry of management training and development has exploded to fix the management problem. If you’ve been in a supervisory role for longer than a few months, chances are you’ve been subjected to any number of efforts to improve your management skills. “We must fix management” seems to have become the mantra of the employee engagement movement.
Despite all the time and attention paid to improving management, engagement results remain unchanged. It seems we are stuck in a cycle of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Maybe we’ve been looking at this all wrong. What if it’s not bad management that’s killing engagement? What if it’s management itself that’s hurting employee engagement?
The changing view of traditional management
Since most companies operate using a traditional, hierarchical management structure, the mere suggestion that management might not be necessary is hard to fathom. But it’s hard to ignore the mounting evidence that this old model just isn’t cutting it anymore.
It’s also clear that transitioning to a culture of self-managed teams isn’t as simple as just eliminating anyone with a manager title. Unleashing the power of self-management requires replacing traditional management with a structure and system (something like Agile) to support this new way of working.
Here are some observations about the changing (diminishing) importance of management:
Hierarchy and structure are not synonyms. Hierarchy is a structure, and it may very well be what’s choking out both engagement and performance in many organizations. But simply collapsing that scaffolding does little more than replace one frustration with another. People crave the clarity and structure that help them work more effectively.
Self-managed teams only work when there’s a strong personal accountability by each team member. In self-managed teams, there’s no place to hide and no supervisor to bail you out when you fail. If you aren’t pulling your weight, it will be obvious to your team members. It’s not going to be for everyone. Moving to an environment like this will cause some turnover and put additional pressure on your recruiting process to find people who will thrive in this system.
Managers aren’t bad—it’s how they’ve been taught to manage that’s bad. Any manager could (and should) study how the role of the Scrum Master works in Agile. There’s nothing preventing any manager from adopting this method of managing in nearly any work team. It does require some very substantial changes in thinking about how decisions are made and what the relationship between the employee and the manager looks like. It can no longer be treated as a subordinate-supervisor dynamic, but rather an equal partnership between two people with different roles to play.
With AMA’s resources, you can develop the leadership skills you need to inspire team members and generate results.