The Price We Pay for Bad Managers

“Currently, 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work … (while) the vast majority (70%) are not …” — Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report
This statistic sent a shockwave through the business community when it was first published. But the Gallup report actually begins with another and equally important insight that deserves our attention. Gallup’s Chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton, opens the report by telling America’s business leaders: “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.”
Clifton estimates that bad managers are costing the U.S. an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually through the active disengagement they create.
Why are there so many bad managers, and why are they doing so much damage? A 2013 article in U.S. News and World Report offered seven noteworthy reasons. Here are the top three:
1.     Managers were promoted into management roles because they were good at something else. As the article points out, “Management is often just the next rung on the ladder, but the skills needed to succeed at management are very different from the ones that got them this far.”
2.     They get little or no training in how to manage well. New managers often receive precious little guidance on “how to take on their crucial new role and are left to just figure it out as they go along.”
3.     Managing well is hard. It requires an understanding of challenging concepts such as “how to set goals that are the right mix of realistic and ambitious; how to give feedback that’s clear, specific and actionable; how to stay involved without being overly hands-on; (and) how to hold people to high standards without being a tyrant,” among others.
Clearly, with losses of $450 billion to $550 billion a year, we need to choose our managers with greater care. Managing others is demanding and it requires a whole host of people and business skills that must be deftly exercised. If we’re going to give our managers every chance to succeed, they need better training and more coaching in the art of leading others.

Employers spent an estimated $62+ billion on training in the U.S. alone last year. But I’d be willing to bet that a relatively small portion of that went into training our managers to be better managers. It’s time we started making and taking that investment seriously.