Great Teams Need Great Managers

A study of sales teams and the need for great sales managers has revealed what I consider a truth about all teams: great teams need great managers. A blog post on the Harvard Business Review by Zoltner, Sinha and Lorimer entitled To Build A Great Sales Team, You Need a Great Manager discussed the experience of the three authors in studying sales teams and trying to answer the question “If you had to decide between having a team of excellent salespeople with an average manager, or having a team of average salespeople with an excellent manager, which would you choose?”
Their choice was the latter and here is why. A team with an average manager will eventually work at the level of the manager, average. But a team of average sales people will be counseled, coached, motivated or replaced by an excellent manager. According to Zoltner et al., there are three areas that impact the quality of a manager. These are how their role is defined, how they are selected and how they are developed. And unfortunately businesses do a poor job in all three. Their research and experience dealt with sales management but I think it is applicable to managers in all areas. Let’s explore these three areas.
First is role definition. Many companies do a decent to good job in creating job descriptions for their employees (assuming they have them at all) but seldom do they then define the job description of a manager. Managers have varied responsibilities. They manage the business aspects of their departments, they may manage customer aspects of their department and of course they manage the people or employee aspects of the business. Zoltner et al. made the statement “Without role clarity, managers execute tasks that are urgent or within their comfort zone, rather than focusing on what’s most important for driving long-term performance.” I have seen that time after time, and quite often the part that suffers is the people part.
Second part is the selection. Companies often do a much better job selecting employees than they do selecting managers. Often managers are selected because they are the best performing employee in the department or they have been there the longest rather than being selected for their ability to handle the managerial aspects of the job. Many times putting your best performer in a managerial position is a recipe for disaster. It removes your better performer from what they do best and puts them into a role for which they are poorly suited.
The third part of the equation is development. In American business we often operate under the assumption that because we give someone the title of “manager” they will automatically be imbued with the skill sets necessary to be a good manager. Thus they get little training. I know, I have seen it time after time when I do managerial and supervisory training on such subjects as interviewing, performance evaluation, employment law, sexual harassment and more.
Managers and supervisors are where “the rubber meets the road” and can make or break a company. It is important for companies to do a better job in describing their role, selecting the best candidates, and training and supporting them once they are in the managerial role.

1 thought on “Great Teams Need Great Managers”

  1. Mike,
    Great post and I could not agree more with the points. In my current role I am helping our senior leadership team develop a succession plan and the amazing thing, but not surprising, is they still adhere to the traditional stance of tenure being a deciding factor in promotions or succession. We are currently defining the competencies needed in future leaders and changing the focus, albeit slowly, toward exactly what Zoltner, Sinha and Lorimer identify as the three pillars for successful managers. Timely information reinforcing what we are doing.

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