How Do You Help Managers Manage Better? Make Them Accountable

56By Alice Waagen, PhD
President, Workforce Learning

My friend Mary had an experience not long ago that may sound familiar. A hardworking, energetic worker, she got a call to meet her boss in his office because he wanted to promote her to management.

“Starting tomorrow,” the boss said, “you will oversee your department of 10 people. This means a new job title for you and a raise in pay — but you will still need to maintain your current workload.”

How am I going to do that? thought Mary. She managed to tough it out for a few weeks — but when her boss checked in to see how things were going, she admitted to being overwhelmed. She asked if perhaps she could take a management training course, for she believed her inability to deal with the increased workload was due to her lack of skills and knowledge in how to manage others.

Her boss wasn’t too keen on this idea, however. “Mary, none of us ever had management training. You just figure it out as you go. Also, I need to turn in your performance review next week so I need an update on all your projects.”

Mary’s struggle illustrates the points I made in a previous newsletter article, “Recipe for Building Leaders.” For managers to succeed, they need time to learn to manage. And then, once they do, they need to be held accountable for their results — not just the tangible results of successful management, such as consistently meeting team deadlines, but also intangible ones such as good morale.

The importance of accountability

To be accountable is to bear the consequences for the success or failure of an assignment. Most organizations track accountability by crafting objectives that measure and evaluate work. Here are a few behaviors to look at when assessing a manager’s effectiveness:

Good communication
1. A good manager establishes and maintains effective communication at all levels: upward, laterally and downward.
2. She regularly and consistently communicates information downward to the work team.
3. She involves her staff in making key decisions affecting the team.

Performance management
1. A good manager creates short- and long-term goals for all staff.
2. She sets realistic standards and targets to measure progress to plan.
3. She provides specific, objective feedback on an ongoing basis, informing, enlightening and helping staff members improve their performance.

How can we actually measure and evaluate to these standards?

1. Look for telltale signs of bad management, such as missed deadlines or unusually high absenteeism or turnover. Chances are, if you do not see these key signs, the manager is doing a pretty good job.
2. Walk around and talk with the manager’s direct reports. Are employees engaged and involved? Are they excited by their work? Do they appear to have a clear idea of the specific tasks or projects they need to accomplish and why?
3. Interview employees. Ask them when was the last time they talked with their manager? Probe whether or not they are happy on the job. Their responses will provide terrific feedback.

The bottom line
I can’t stress enough the importance of accountability in the management equation. Until you hold people accountable for this critical job function, the job of managing the staff will simply not get done. And when managers don’t manage, the organization will not get the results it would if the staff had clear direction and strong guidance.

ABOUT Alice Waagen’s Workforce Learning

Workforce Learning LLC is a leadership development company that provides managers and C-level executives with the skills and knowledge they need to build a more productive work environment. Since founding the company in 1997, owner Alice Waagen, PhD, has developed highly effective leadership programs and coaching workshops that teach the people in charge how to motivate and inspire employees. “Research shows that the single reason most organizations fail to thrive is a lack of strong people skills among those at the top,” Alice says. “We work to ensure organizations are healthy from the top down, and ultimately if an organization has happy, energized, effective employees they find it reflected in the bottom line.” For more information, visit