Why people who are great at their job can fail when they get promoted

There’s a saying that people don’t quit their job, they quit their boss. And poor management certainly has a lot to answer for in the UK workplace. A staggering 82 per cent of new managers in the UK are what the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) calls “accidental managers”, according to a YouGov survey commissioned among 4,500 workers and managers in June, which has recently been published.

Accidental managers are people that have moved up the corporate ladder with no formal training in management or leadership. To put it simply, they are not correctly trained or equipped to manage people. Among those workers who told the CMI’s researchers they had an ineffective manager, only one-third said they were motivated to do a good job and as many as half are considering leaving in the next 12 months.

As a first and obvious step to combat the curse of the accidental manager, companies shouldn’t appoint people to managerial roles unless they’ve had the appropriate training. Alongside this, they need a clear development plan before they start their new management role.

So what should this training look like? Would-be managers should be taught people skills, not just technical knowledge. As the CMI study suggests, managers would benefit from training in areas such as setting meeting objectives, creating a positive work environment and a culture of innovation. These are all things that can – and should – be taught to new managers.

Off on stress

Stress-related illness is among the leading causes of workplace absence, according to the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive. And one of the big factors that causes this stress is a lack of emotional intelligence shown by managers. This means having an understanding of your own emotions but also those of others. So, when companies decide to promote someone to a managerial role, they must consider that person’s people skills just as much as their technical skills.

But can you really teach emotional intelligence? I believe you can teach most people, but not everyone. In my experience, some managers have naturally good social and interpersonal skills, while others don’t have these skills but can be effectively trained in them.

But there will always be those people that just cannot be taught emotional intelligence. This category will include individuals with excellent technical skills – which is probably what made them stand out to their bosses in the first place. It’s understandable that company leaders don’t want to lose their best employees and so they promote them to give them more money and prestige within the organisation.

A good classroom teacher may only get paid more or gain more workplace experience if they go for a head teacher role, for example. But being a head teacher is very different from working in the classroom every day. One focuses on teaching students, the other tends to involve budgeting and, of course, managing people. This example plays out across many industries – from engineering to law enforcement.

An employee should be able to progress at work if they wish, to earn more money and experience. But if a great employee lacks people skills and is unlikely to benefit from training to improve in this area, they should instead be promoted into roles that don’t involve managing people. Existing managers need to ensure the kinds of roles exist that would allow people to receive more pay and prestige without having to take on people management responsibilities.

So, bosses must not be solely lured by technical prowess when picking new managers. They need to think about people skills too. Has this person really got what it takes on an emotional level to manage a group of people?

HR teams have a crucial role to play here. They should have up-to-date data on the performance of every manager from employee surveys. They can use this data to identify “bad managers”. Good HR teams will also spot early when labour turnover is high – this is an early warning sign, potentially of poor management.

But HR teams and organisations cannot depend on employees alone to help them identify accidental managers. We are living in difficult economic times. The cost of living crisis means job insecurity is high and employees will be very reluctant to call out poor management. So, exit interviews can also help because they inform managers as to exactly why employees are leaving.

Quitting your boss, not your job

The scale of the problem of the accidental manager and its wider effect on quality of life should not be underestimated.

The CMI’s survey also found that almost one-third of UK workers say they’ve quit a job because of a negative workplace culture, underlining the risks of managers failing to rein in toxic behaviour. Other factors that these workers cited as reasons for leaving a job included a negative relationship with a manager (28 per cent) and discrimination or harassment (12 per cent).

UK companies are facing ongoing productivity problems, alongside the growing issues with stress-related ill health. Competent and emotionally intelligent line managers – whether naturally gifted or trained – could be an essential part of any solution to the productivity puzzle by reducing employee stress and helping to create better work environments for everyone.

Cary Cooper is a professor of organisational psychology and health at the University of Manchester.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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