It’s the end of the weekend, and the Sunday scaries are starting to set in. You can’t relax, because you can only think about what’s waiting for you in the morning.
Your biggest source of stress? Helping your managers manage their teams. From what you can tell, teams are struggling to meet their deadlines, and when they do, their deliverables fall short of expectations.
Then, there’s the growing problem of “presenteeism.” Employees are physically showing up, but they aren’t as engaged and active as you need them to be.
At the same time, you’re worried about whether a few star employees are satisfied. Each team has one of them, and they’re the critical pieces holding things together, so if any of them decide to leave you know you, your managers, and your recruitment teams will be in a very stressful predicament.
Just three months ago, three of your top performers left to work for competitors, and all of their managers had no idea it was coming.
In fact, you and your recruiters are still dealing with the fallout. You can’t seem to find a candidate that can fill their shoes, and people are exhausted from picking up the slack.
All of this leads you to wonder: Do our teams have good managers?
Great managers reflect on their own performance as a leader
A team’s performance is a reflection of the manager’s own performance.
If a team seems dissatisfied or they’re not performing at the level they need to, then this is partly due to the manager’s effectiveness – whether the manager wants to admit it or not.
This makes receiving, understanding, and applying feedback an important part of a manager’s job and professional development.
The problem is that getting feedback for “the boss” is often difficult. You need feedback from people who might consider it risky to be critical about the person with the power to hire and fire.
The easiest way to get this feedback is to provide a safe, anonymous forum for sharing opinions.
In addition, this forum should be structured in a way that allows managers to measure trends.
For example, instead of only asking employees, “How do you feel about your manager?”, this forum should ask structured questions that ask employees to rate managers on everything from how well they give feedback to how clearly they communicate goals and expectations.
By asking these questions regularly, they can track their improvement over time.
If you’re interested in distributing your own management surveys, here are a few questions to consider asking.
Top Employee Survey Questions About Management:
- My direct manager keeps our team focused on clear priorities.
- My direct manager knows when to step in and assist.
- My direct manager helps me learn from mistakes.
- My direct manager is open to new ideas, and helps me follow through.
- My direct manager effectively navigates difficult conversations.
- My direct manager helps me understand potential career paths in our organization.
- My direct manager asks questions about how I might solve problems, rather than just giving advice.
- My direct manager makes time for one-on-one meetings with me.
- My direct manager strives to be a great leader.
- My direct manager has the technical expertise required to effectively manage me.
- My direct manager gives me actionable feedback on a regular basis.
- My direct manager helps me stay motivated to do my best work.
- My direct manager communicates clear goals for our team.
- My direct manager makes sure we have nothing blocking us from moving forward.
My direct manager keeps our team focused on clear priorities.
There are only so many hours in the day and so much energy an individual employee can give.
One of the key pillars of effective time management is prioritization.
In the workplace, people look to their leaders to define what the priorities are. They use this direction to manage their time and efforts.
In some companies, the priorities aren’t exactly clear. Everything is treated like it’s urgent, leading to frustration, stress, and in some cases, burnout.
If your managers receive low scores for this question, here are a few tips for setting better priorities:
Understand the larger goal or the “why”
Why is something so important?
Ask your managers to articulate that clearly both to themselves and to their teams.
For instance, if one manager is leading an effort to create a self-serve portal for customers, articulate why it’s important to have that. They could share that:
- Their call centre is inundated with calls requiring answers to simple questions
- Consumers want brands to provide more self-serve knowledge centres that they can refer to for simple queries before having to call in
Once the why is clear, managers can outline a game plan for the “how.”
This doesn’t mean that they should do the work for their teams.
Rather, it’s important to understand what they, as a manager, need to do to make this possible.
For example, employees are more than capable of reaching out to members of the product team, setting up interviews, and getting the details needed to create high-quality self-serve materials for customers.
On the other hand, they may need their manager to secure buy-in from the leader of the product management team.
If they’re trying to schedule interviews, but the product team’s leadership isn’t emphasizing the importance of helping out on this project, then it’s easy for them to keep hitting their head against the wall trying to schedule interviews, write copy, and get sign-off from product owners all on schedule.
Once your managers have decided that something is a priority, make sure they give that objective an adequate amount of attention and resources.
It’s incredibly frustrating for employees to hear that something’s urgent and requires them to work late, only to find that they don’t receive the right instructions, the right resources, or timely responses to their questions.
Keep other work demands in mind
A quick way to show a team you’re out of touch as a manager is to overload them with work without acknowledging the other items on their plate.
If a manager dumps an urgent task on someone’s plate – without acknowledging the equally urgent project you asked them to work on two days ago – their employees may feel like they’re expected to complete both in the same amount of time.
Encourage your managers to keep an eye on how they’re allocating work and to give clear instructions about what can be put on the backburner, so their employees are not overloaded.
Have the tough conversation on behalf of your team
Often, managers impose unrealistic deadlines and overwhelming tasks on their team because they’ve failed to manage other stakeholders’ expectations. It’s a manager’s job to assess what their team does and does not have the capacity to manage.
Coach your managers on finding a way to tactfully explain to stakeholders what the limitations are and that they’re going to need to let go of something (extend a deadline, assign more resources) if their team’s schedule is too overloaded.
My direct manager knows when to step in and assist.
We often hear about micromanaging bosses, and the negative effect they have on their teams.
Micromanagement is one of the top three reasons employees quit.
But going too far in the other direction can also be harmful.
Some employees struggle with managers who don’t provide support at all.
In the moment, this can feel ill-intentioned, but often, it’s because managers either don’t know when to step in and assist or because they’re worried about being a micromanager and want to help their team learn and grow.
Adding this question to your management pulse surveys can help you learn whether your employees feel like their managers know when to step in and help.
If your managers receive a low score on this question, you can take one of two approaches.
You can ask them to have an open conversation with their teams and ask them when they feel they aren’t supported.
If you have managers that don’t have that kind of relationship with their team, you can distribute a follow-up survey that asks teams to express how and when they need support. It could be as simple as:
- scheduling weekly one-on-one meetings with their team
- honouring their weekly check-ins instead of constantly rescheduling them
- practicing self-awareness and keeping tabs on when their stress carries over into their interactions with their team
- taking note of whether they’re providing clear instructions to their team members
Remember that employees don’t always have the same information that managers do.
Managers have context about the organization’s goals, internal politics, budget, and more. Employees usually don’t.
Even if your managers can’t share every detail about the happenings of your company, be empathetic to the fact that employees have to do their jobs and plan their careers with incomplete information.
My direct manager helps me learn from mistakes.
Do your managers give your team the freedom to make and learn from their mistakes?
It’s understandable if they don’t. After all, mistakes cost time and money, and managers are the ones who have to take ownership of their team’s mistakes.
Nevertheless, great leaders know that the best way to grow and develop their teams – and do big and ambitious things – is to allow their teams to “mess up.”
The good news is that your managers can encourage their teams to make and learn mistakes without putting the company in jeopardy. It just takes a little practice.
Once your managers have accepted that mistakes are not always bad, they can look at the organization with new eyes.
They’ll notice that there are areas of their team’s responsibilities where there’s room for experimentation.
Often, these areas offer the most opportunities for innovation and growth as well. For instance, there should be a low tolerance for mistakes when it comes to handling customers’ sensitive financial information. There are specific processes in place to carry out tasks related to sensitive data.
While there may be room for improvement or innovation, this would need to be carried out in a very mindful way with buy-in from other members of your organization. Routinely making mistakes here would be a sign of carelessness or a broken process.
On the other hand, a manager may have an upcoming special project. Projects are separate from the team’s day-to-day work. They have a defined start and end.
An upcoming project may be something no one on your team has had to manage before such as a proposal, an event, or a new product launch. Here’s an opportunity for team members to learn through mistakes.
Perhaps an employee has never responded to an RFP before and they’re struggling to co-ordinate all of the different individuals responsible for contributing to the proposal.
Maybe they’ve never organized an event before and unintentionally pick a not-so-great vendor.
While these can be stressful mistakes, so long as they are not critical to business operations, they can be viewed as learning opportunities.
The next time a similar project comes up, they’ll know what to do.
My direct manager is open to new ideas, and helps me follow through.
When your managers have got several things on the go, it’s hard for them to find time to entertain new ideas. It’s especially hard if those ideas don’t have a defined business case or ROI.
But it’s worth blocking off time to listen to their teams’ ideas. Not only does this help employees feel like they are valued members of the team, this gives managers a chance to learn how they think, coach them, and even explore ideas that could have a huge impact on the business.
If you don’t have the bandwidth to entertain an idea a week, take a different approach.
Ask managers to look at their to do list and identify items they’ve consistently put on the backburner. They can pull these items out, clarify what they’re trying to do (e.g., Create a better process for fielding requests from other teams.) and ask their team to come up with ideas for addressing this issue.
Employees may have ideas they’ve been sitting on. This gives them the freedom to contribute, it gives managers support with getting through their nice-to-dos, and if one of the ideas pan out, it has a positive impact on the entire team.
My direct manager effectively navigates difficult conversations.
Tough conversations at work are unavoidable. There are two main ways that managers struggle with them.
One mistake is taking the wrong tone by being confrontational, accusatory, or disrespectful.
Another is avoiding tough conversations altogether, which leaves teams feeling like issues aren’t resolved or that their colleagues aren’t held accountable.
Both courses of action are understandable. If you feel wronged, it’s easy to let your emotions get the best of you. If you have a lot on your plate, and you’re worried about making the situation worse, it’s tempting to avoid a confrontation altogether and hope the status quo remains tolerable.
Nevertheless, these approaches can lead to issues with team culture, small issues turning into big problems, and employee turnover.
If your managers score low on this question, how can you help them improve at handling difficult conversations?
Consider giving them the following tips:
- Know your desired outcome: What do you want to happen? Identify your objective and then remain focused on this, no matter how you feel or how the other person reacts. This focus will help you get your message across and avoid bringing in unrelated matters (e.g., “Oh, and you always do…”) that can turn a professional conversation personal.
- Focus on actions, not personality traits: When you’re talking about an issue, focus on what someone did or did not do, not who they are. If they didn’t meet a deadline, avoid making it about them, but rather about the time management best practices they didn’t follow.
- Practice active listening: Often when we speak with others, we’re not listening. Instead, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say next. When you’re having a difficult conversation, practice active listening and make sure you understand what the other person is saying, even if you disagree with their statements.
My direct manager helps me understand potential career paths in our organization.
Do your employees know what career paths are available to them within your organization?
Your best employees are likely interested in moving up the career ladder. If they don’t see these opportunities available internally, they’ll begin to look at other companies.
Today, employees switch jobs every 4.2 years, on average, and one of the main reasons is to advance their careers.
Replacing employees is expensive. Especially good employees. So it’s worth investing time in discussing potential career paths with your employees.
Ask your managers to explore the topic during one of your one-on-one meetings by asking questions like:
- Where do you see yourself, within this company, in 5 years?
- Do you feel like you have all the information and support needed to advance yourself within this company?
- Do you know what skills or designations you need to move into that dream role?
- Are there specific projects or opportunities you’re interested in working on?
Just having this conversation can give you the information you need to spot opportunities that are suitable for an employee.
My direct manager asks questions about how I might solve problems, rather than just giving advice.
This question gauges how well managers use questions as a coaching opportunity.
The best way to present a problem to your boss is to provide context and present potential solutions.
Too often, however, employees arrive with requests for help that show they haven’t spent much time thinking about how they can solve the problem themselves and learn.
This is why it’s useful for managers to ask their employees questions.
Have you tried this approach?
Did you look into what caused the problem?
Have you spoken to this person in that department?
Of course, your employees may not always appreciate why you’re doing this, so be sure to approach it not as an opportunity to be condescending but as a chance to show that you believe in their ability to problem solve.
My direct manager makes time for one-on-one meetings with me.
One-on-one meetings are an important part of building team relationships. Without them, there are few opportunities for employees to bring up issues.
They may not want to book time to speak to their managers about something or bounce ideas off you out of fear that they’re taking up time in their manager’s calendar or that they should be working on something else.
On the other hand, one-on-one meetings provide an opportunity for an agenda-less conversation about how they’re feeling in the job, what their challenges are, and what they need support with.
My direct manager strives to be a great leader.
Great leaders are continuously learning. They practice self-awareness and they’re curious about how their efforts impact their team, either negatively or positively.
For great leaders, feedback is not an assault on the ego but an opportunity to make the entire unit perform better.
If you see that your employees don’t think their managers strive to be a great leader, here are a few tips to share with your managers:
- Practice self-awareness: Ask yourself how your emotions affect your team. Do you tend to take out your stress on them? Do you tend to pass along your anxiety to them through micromanagement? Do you give unclear expectations and grow frustrated when they don’t instantly understand what you need? Identify these moments, so you can begin figuring out how to fix them.
- Show trust in your team: Give your team opportunities to learn and grow, while providing the guardrails they need to know one well-meaning mistake on their part will not tank the entire company. Good employees respond to trusting managers by working hard to preserve that trust through honesty and reliability.
- Seek feedback: Ask your team to share your thoughts with you, and let them know that while you may not agree with everything, you will take everything into consideration. If you sense they don’t feel comfortable doing this, give them a way to provide their thoughts confidentially.
My direct manager has the technical expertise required to effectively manage me.
In many organizations, people become managers by being a top performer in their given field whether its sales, IT, or finance.
In reality, management is about more than being an all-star individual contributor. There are technical skills that help people become great managers.
If your pulse survey comes back with low scores for this question, ask your managers to evaluate how much of these technical skills they possess and to make the time to work on them:
- Digital skills: Do you have a working knowledge of what your team does? While this may sound obvious, there are instances in which people lead teams working with tools and systems that they’re not entirely familiar with.
- Communication skills: Do you know how to effectively convey a message to your team? There’s a lot of “noise” (e.g., stress, hunger, technology) that gets in the way of effective communication, so it’s helpful to recognize them and get your message across better.
- Decision making: Do you tend to agonize over decisions, leave your team hanging, and change your mind multiple times with little justification? All of these factors can create frustration and confusion for your team as well as wasted time. If you struggle with decision making, take a course in how to gather information, weigh your options, and make decisions in the face of ambiguity.
Other useful skills include creativity, leadership, motivation, and conflict resolution.
Spend some time reading about the traits that the best managers share in common and pick a few to work on.
My direct manager gives me actionable feedback on a regular basis.
When you give feedback, is it critical and unhelpful or constructive and actionable?
When you’re delivering feedback, it’s important to focus on what can improve. The best feedback states the problem, what was lacking, and what’s needed in the future.
It also provides action items for how someone can get to where they need to be.
Most people do not intentionally come up short. They come up short because they’re lacking the skills or clarity to deliver.
For instance, if someone struggles to keep the team informed, your managers could outline what the impact of this is (e.g., people can’t move forward with their work because they’re waiting on said employee’s inputs) and outline techniques the employee can use to improve, such as learning about internal communications.
My direct manager helps me stay motivated to do my best work.
Sometimes, work isn’t fun. A manager that knows how to keep their employees motivated and the team’s morale up can make a difference.
When you’re also feeling the stress, this can be a big ask, but it can also save you time and energy down the road by preventing your employees – especially your best ones – from leaving during a period of frustration.
A few ways your managers can keep their employees’ morale up are to:
- Mean it when you promote work-life balance: Go beyond platitudes to show actual trust and support. For instance, if someone needs to be offline for a couple of hours to go to an appointment or help their kids, avoid the guilt or questioning. This adds unnecessary anxiety. It can also lead to resentment from people who’ve delivered time and again. It also makes sense from a business point of view. It’s easier to give people the time they need than to find new people.
- Show your appreciation: Don’t forget to say thank you or shout out extra effort even when you’re up to your elbows in work. This is when shows of gratitude and appreciation can go a long way.
- Plan opportunities to interact outside of work: Plan opportunities for your team to bond outside of the office. Try to organize these during the day, when possible, so employees don’t feel obligated to stick around during their personal time.
My direct manager communicates clear goals for our team.
Advise your managers to help their entire team pull in the same direction by articulating clear goals and provide context by linking business, team, and individual goals to each other.
They can start by outlining what the business is prioritizing. Then, they can describe what the team’s contribution to meeting this business goal will be.
Once the team-level goal is clear, managers can create goals for each team member. They can encourage team members to develop their own goals and flesh them out during their one-to-one sessions.
If possible, create a group incentive for meeting a team goal (e.g., a team dinner) and individual goals for meeting specific goals (e.g., a bonus).
My direct manager makes sure we have nothing blocking us from moving forward.
Sometimes, managers need to let their team solve problems on their own, and other times they need to step in and remove obstacles from their path, so they can focus on their work.
When managers fail to recognize the obstacles they need to eliminate, it can become frustrating for employees who feel like they’re being set up to fail. Examples of obstacles managers would do best to remove include:
- Toxic work environment: If managers spot toxic or discriminatory behaviour, or they’re made aware of complaints, it’s up to them to protect the team’s culture as its manager.
- Unhelpful teams: If a manager’s employees have to rely on another team to get items they need to do their job and they’re experiencing resistance, managers must take the time to speak with that team’s manager to figure out if there’s a better way for their teams to work together.
Unclear goals and expectations: It’s up to managers to set the course for their team. Make sure they know – and communicate – which direction everyone’s pulling in.
Use an employee survey software to stay in the loop
Sparkbay’s employee survey software makes it easy for organizations to survey employees about management.
Our tool makes it easy for organizations to distribute surveys and track data while keeping all employees’ responses anonymous.
If you're interested in learning how Sparkbay can help you survey employees about management, you can click here for a demo.