In the course of writing this blog, I’ve come across some (admittedly designed as clickbait) headlines about management and leadership that really depress me. For example: “82 Percent Of Managerial Hires Are The Wrong One.” Ditto: “95 Percent Of Managers Don’t Understand Motivation.” Also: “60 Percent Of Managers View Respecting Their Employees As Something They Don’t Have Time For.” It’s all kind of a joke at some level; it does make me step back and think, “Well, the employee-manager relationship is inherently doomed.”
Here’s some new stuff from Forbes on managers knowing the strengths of their employees. It opens with these stats, based on the 2015 Strengths At Work Survey: only 34 percent of managers can name the strengths of their direct reports, and only 32 percent have had a conversation with their direct reports about their strengths in the past three months. So basically, line up 10 managers. 3/10 will understand the strengths of their people. I fully realize that most managers think products and processes are more valuable than people, but this is still an insane stat. You work with people and expect deliverables from them, and yet you can’t ID their strengths? (And weaknesses?) Pull your head out of your ass and away from your Outlook calendar for a second, good sir or madam. Your people can actually be an advantage.
The latter stat — the one about 32 percent having a discussion about strengths — doesn’t actually surprise me, because I think everyone has known for a long time that the performance review (as currently constructed) is kind of a joke and should probably be blown up.
Brief personal interlude: at the end of college, I used to tell my friends all the time that if you want to be socially relevant in a college setting, you need to interact with people and “play to their strengths, but play away from their weaknesses.” I used to get mocked for this statement all the time. In reality, there might be a kernel of truth to it.
There are a few more positive stats you can throw at this concept — for example, per Gallup, managers who focus on their employee’s strengths are 86% more likely to achieve above-average performance as opposed to managers who don’t. 71% of employees who believe managers can name their strengths report feeling more energized and engaged by their work; that goes back to this idea about purpose at work, which is very hard to achieve and companies often get wrong but should be something that an employee can justifiably expect from their employer.
Overall, this doesn’t surprise me. My current manager could probably name 3-5 strengths of mine, and that’s good — but before that, I don’t think I’ve had a manager who could name even 1-2 for several years. For example, I largely try to define myself (when I can) as a writer. While I’ve written a lot of things for a lot of people by now, most of the actual job titles I’ve had involve marketing or managing webpages for companies; I often write in those roles, but it’s not the primary aspect listed or in the job title. I’ve had a ton of managers (half-a-dozen if not more) who ask me to write something, I do it, and then they say, “Oh, you can write?” They had no idea because it’s very much a Breakfast Club thing: “You see us how you want to see us… the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions…” That’s because the hiring process sucks a dong, and headcount legitimately gets in the way of thinking strategically about a new hire.
Still, the bottom line: take some time and invest in a relationship with your employees. You don’t have to be best friends, no. (Many people fear this idea.) You can go around and talk to them and learn their ideas and passions and strengths, though. I know you’re busy, but it’s a small thing that can make a huge difference.