Leading vs. Managing – The pendulum swings

For many years we’ve been hearing from the HBR crowd that organizations have been overmanaged and underled. I was totally bought into this, and still support Emotional Intelligence and similar practices for leaders.  But recently it has occurred to me that we might really be overled and undermanaged.

When an individual contributor moves into a management role, they take on new responsibilities in addition to their technical expertise.  They now must hire, give feedback and coach, conduct performance reviews, delegate, make decisions for the group, etc.  These are basic skills/responsibilities required of every manager.  My observation is that most managers are failing at these fundamental tasks.

Senior leadership requires monthly/quarterly financial updates, and the entire organization dutifully complies – we would expect nothing less.   If “our people are our greatest resource” as so many claim, why do organizations live with one poorly done performance review per year?   Why don’t we expect monthly, or at least quarterly, people reviews?  Why do we allow the hiring/interview process to be so poorly managed?  Why don’t we do more post-mortems on decisions and delegations.

Furthermore, to what degree does HR, as a profession, enable this?  The HR community (of which I am a part) is always talking about “having a seat at the table” with the c-suite, to be part of the strategy-making process.   I realize that most HR departments are stretched to the breaking point these days, but how about we get the focus back on the fundamentals and get managers managing again.  How about we insist that we abandon the annual performance review process and move to a meaningful quarterly process and tie manager compensation to it being done well.  What might that be worth to an organization?

It’s time we swing the pendulum back the other way and get back to fundamentals – We need really good managers now.  Once they’ve proven their ability to manage well, we can think about their ability to inspire or whatever…

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