Managers giving managers feedback on managing: How well is this done?
This is the latest in a series of posts that identify where managers get feedback on being a manager. I’ve explored quitting employees, attrition rates and management surveys, and I’ve come to the conclusion that none of these give specific and immediate feedback to the managers on how they manage. OK, so how about the manager’s manager? That surely is a place where managers get feedback on how they are doing, right? After all, this blog discusses — nay obsesses over — how it is a manager’s role to provide feedback to their employees on how they are doing in their job. It logically follows that a manager who manages a manager should give feedback on how well their employee is doing as a manager.
Well, let’s see how likely this is to occur
1. Managers tend to reinforce the behaviors that got them promoted
First, in the current designs for where managers come from, I’ve identified that managers rarely become managers because of their management skills. They come from other areas of expertise and expressions of greatness, such as education, top performers, and technical expertise. Or, perhaps, it is a personality trait, such as being more vocal or just having had the moxie to ask for the promotion to manager. In all of these types of managers, I wouldn’t expect the manager to really focus on “how to be a great manager” in providing performance feedback. Instead:
–The MBA Manager will tell his managers how it is important to learn MBA-related knowledge (not people management).
-The top performer will tell her managers how it is important to become more of a top performer in the domain area, such as marketing, accounting or software development, that is being overseen (and not people management).
–The technical expert will tell his manager how it is important to gain more technical depth (and not learn more about people management).
–The loud person who got promoted will talk about how it is important to assert yourself and get yourself heard (and not learn the functional skill of people management).
. . .and so on. . .
So whatever it was that got the person hired as a manager in the first place will likely be the central area of coaching to that manager. This creates an ongoing string of practices that have little to do with best practices in people management and a lot to do with the backgrounds of the personalities involved. So as I make the argument that managers come from organic, accidental sources, I also make the argument that managers reinforce to their managers the organic, accidental behaviors associated with that organic, accidental source.
Actual people management practices, such as performance management, may never even come into play, and if they do, the manager of manager will most likely make up what she thinks the right thing to do is, and coach on this made-up practice, which could involve many mistakes.
OK, so these are the situations where managers became managers based on reasons other than their ability to manage. Let’s look at cases where someone became a manager based on their managerial experience or have received training.
2. Managers who got the job based on their prior people and team management experience
In the case of managers being hired because of their prior management experience, their ability to manage comes into play in the hiring decision. So it stands to reason that this kind of manager would be able to provide performance feedback on being a manager. OK, but if you look closely at this example, how is this manager not different from the other sources of managers discussed in point 1 above? This manager likely got promoted to being a manager for their education, top performance, or technical expertise, then moved to another organization as an “experienced manager.” So it is actually a replication of the group of managers in point 1. This manager is going to give management feedback similar to the, er, “creative” managers discussed above, except perhaps with more authority that their made-up practice is the correct practice.
Of course, these “made up” practices may, indeed, be the right practices, and this does happen all the time. A special shout-out to the great managers out there! But should this occur, this is by chance rather than by design.
3. The properly trained manager
Finally, there is the manager who has actually gone through a proper management development program, and has actually learned some best practices of being a people and team manager. Hurray! Indeed, this person is more likely to coach and provide feedback to her managers that align to actual management practices, such as performance management, not yelling and using behavior-based language. Yes, indeed, this manager is a treasure.
However, as previously discussed in this blog, this properly trained manager can easily lose those precious proper management practices the moment she walks out of the training class. This is because the methods taught in class
a) Have to be “de-abstracted” from the training class and applied to the real world (not easy)
b) Over time she is likely to forget or modify these practices (very likely)
c) Greater influences encouraging behaviors not related to the content of the class may be more persuasive than the content of the class (happens all the time – like when the managers described in points 1 and 2 are rewarded and promoted)
So, even the manager who at one point learned good management practices does not have a high likelihood of reinforcing the correct practices. In fact, they may even be the opposite of the correct practices if they are remembered and applied incorrectly or are under greater influences that push in the opposite direction of good people management practices.
4. Feedback is likely to be about non-people and team management stuff
What is most likely to occur instead of feedback on how to be a better people manager is feedback on all the other stuff that is happening in the organization. Are the projects going well? Are the targets being met? Are you handling the politics? Are you making the right impression? Where’s that proposal! Where’s that thing I asked you for this morning!
Instead of good performance feedback on how to be a good manager, the manager of manager is likely to be focused on things other than this minor issue of how the team is being managed. So alas, the manager really doesn’t get any reinforcement on what the right behaviors are for managing the team.
She’ll just have to wing it!
So I have just looked at how likely managers are likely to receive feedback to their management skills. Managers of managers ought to be the right ones to do this, but I’m not sure that this happens much at all. If it does, there is a high likelihood the managers and managers provide feedback that is “off the cuff” and not necessarily related to good people management practices. So don’t expect managers of managers to help managers to get better. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to believe that they are the ones making managers worse. After all, if you became a manager through organic, diverse methods, you are likely to encourage your managers to manage in organic, diverse methods.
The emerging field of management design is aimed at ending this reliance of managers, and managers of managers, to have to guess what the right thing is and then do it and instead provide designs that reinforce the correct management behaviors over time. Keep reading this blog for more discussion in this area.
Do the “manager of managers” you know provide performance feedback to their managers on their people management skills? Or does it tend to be on something else?