Undermanagement can be difficult to identify. After all, everyone at work is surrounded by metrics and meetings all the time. It may seem like management is ever-present. But what is missing in most workplaces is the human element of management: managers providing direct reports with the guidance, direction, support and coaching that they need to succeed.
The reality is that it keeps getting harder to manage people. The vast majority of managers are still struggling to provide employees with the high-structure, high-substance coaching they need. When managers fail to provide that structured leadership, person-to-person, it exacerbates the very factors that make it hard to manage people in the first place. As a result, too many managers are stuck in a vicious cycle of undermanagement. But most don’t even realize it.
The undermanagement epidemic persists. And it is hiding in plain sight in nearly every workplace.
It’s always been hard to manage people. Managers have always been stuck in the middle between the employer and the employee, trying to negotiate their competing needs and expectations. But today, managers are telling us that it is harder than ever before.
Why? There are five powerful trends in the workplace today making it harder than ever to manage people:
The intensity, complexity, and pace of work is increasing – for everyone. Regardless of position or title, continuous improvement is now the norm. In order to maintain a competitive advantage, ongoing skill building and mastery is a requirement.
Hiring and retention challenges mean most organizations are understaffed in key departments, placing additional pressure on employees and managers in those departments. Organizations that disproportionately rely on new, young employees are also more likely to struggle with skill training and wisdom transfer.
As organizations have removed unnecessary layers of management, the managers who are left are responsible for larger and larger teams. There is an increased likelihood that managers are responsible for employees working in remote locations, or on different schedules.
Managers are under more pressure to increase productivity and quality from their teams. Today, that means getting more work out of fewer employees, while utilizing fewer resources.
More work is handled in interdependent working relationships and cross-functional teams. Managers and their employees are responsible for managing more relationships and moving parts than ever before. Most employees are answering to short-term project leaders in addition to their primary manager.
In nearly every one of the thousands of cases we’ve studied, there is a straightforward solution: a commitment to learning and practicing the fundamentals of leadership. That means regularly scheduled, high-substance, high-structure one-on-one meetings between managers and their direct reports, so that leaders can stay on top of what’s happening and help their employees plan and prioritize for the best outcome.
We’ve watched how consistently practicing the fundamentals of management has dramatically improved the effectiveness and bottom-line results of managers at all levels, in organizations of all shapes and sizes.