Managers from Hell and Agile Transformation

larry apke, whiteboard, agile

“Here’s something they’ll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job — bigger than all of the rest — is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits — nothing.”

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO, Gallup – State of the American Workplace

A few months back I stumbled onto some research done by Gallup on employee engagement quoted from above. I would like to say that their findings were shocking, but having been an Agile Coach at many large organizations, I find the statistics (and conclusions based on the statistics) to track quite close to my own experiences.

For example, Gallup found that only 30% of all employees in the United States are “engaged and inspired at work” and about 20% are what have been defined as “actively disengaged” employees who “aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.” The remaining 1 out 2 workers are defined as “not engaged” and “essentially ‘checked out.’ They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.”

And take a wild guess what the number one indicator of employee engagement is. You got it – their manager. In another article, Gallup estimates that “companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time” (Why Great Managers Are So Rare). In other words, next time you are in a meeting with five managers, it is safe to assume that only one (maybe two) were the result of good hiring decisions. If you are a good manager meeting with other managers chances are good that everyone you are speaking with was the result of a poor hiring decision!

The fact that management hiring decisions are so poor should be of some comfort to you the next time you are passed over for the management job you know you can do well, but is little comfort to active agile coaches like myself who are actively trying to help a company get agile and stay agile. On the other hand, knowing this goes a long way in explaining why most companies have so much trouble with the transformation.

Without the support of managers, lasting agile transformation will not occur. The fact that the bulk of your managers are poor leaders just makes it that much harder. Gallup estimates that only 1 in 5 current managers have the abilities to “naturally engage team members and customers, retain top performers, and sustain a culture of high productivity.” Agile is all about engagement. It demands leaders who can engage developers.

So you say you want to be agile? Why don’t you start with hiring better managers? Stop relying on third-party vendors to find your talent. Grow your talent. Recruit your own talent. Find CIOs, VPs, Directors, Managers, Coaches who understand agile, can truly lead agile teams and engage developers.

Go ahead. I’ll be waiting for your call. Of course, it may be a long wait.

One Reply to “Managers from Hell and Agile Transformation”

  1. Larry, I agree with you on how important a manager is for employee satisfaction. In the book the One Minute Manager Ken Blanchard talks about the leadership style of “Leave alone zap!”, where many managers leave their team members alone and don’t observe or engage their teams and then they lose motivation. I have seen this style in countless occasions in my fifteen years in Information Technology.
    Nice article!

    Tom Henricksen
    http://myitcareercoach.com/

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