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We’ve uncovered three reasons managers may have unrealistic expectations about their teams’ capabilities and discovered specific tactics they can use to get everyone in sync and moving forward.
Reason 1: They’re Overconfident
Everyone is inherently biased to view their own work as favorable. Psychologists call this phenomenon illusory superiority. Because we tend to view our own abilities as better than they actually are, managers’ self-reported metrics are unlikely to paint a truly accurate picture of a team’s true performance.
Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University professor of economics, conducted a decade-long study on management involving 15,000 organizations across 30 countries. The results are pretty clear: Bad managers don’t know they’re bad.
Good managers realize they have this bias and work diligently to overcome it. They solicit the opinions of their workforce often and try to take in multiple perspectives, while poor managers are unjustifiably certain of their erroneous beliefs.
Confidence is often mistaken for competence. The managers who need to improve their methods the most may believe they are doing great and convince higher-ups of this as well. It’s a dangerous mindset that alienates teams and poses serious dangers for a company.
Developing self-awareness is the first step to address this problem. Managers must recognize their inherent bias and acknowledge their views may be skewed.
“To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” – Confucius
Once we understand our perceptions may be flawed, it’s time to solicit the perspectives of our team. Create regular opportunities for candid discussions with your employees where they know they can be honest and won’t be blamed for having an unpopular opinion. Psychological safety is a hallmark of a high-performing team and an effective manager, according to a study by Google.
The second step is to increase the amount and quality of data available to your management team. Define key metrics and indicators of success as an organization, and review this data regularly. Increased visibility about what is being measured and how everyone is doing (management included) builds trust and a shared understanding.
Reason 2: They’re Too Far Removed from the Work
As people rise to management positions, their focus shifts from performing tasks directly to solving people-focused problems. Meeting with upper execs, building reports, and other responsibilities that come with a management title distance managers from their teams’ day-to-day activities. Some organizations have far too few strata layers in their management, which further blinds managers to their teams’ daily challenges.
When upper-level management doesn’t understand what the lower layers are doing, unfair expectations are formed and teams are set up to fail. This problem is made worse when feedback flows down to workers but not up to management. Without 360-degree feedback, poor management continues unchallenged while serious problems brew.
It’s critical for managers to truly understand their team’s work, even if they are not directly involved in the work. Retaining this knowledge is the only way to develop one of the most important management qualities: empathy. Fully appreciating the work and the way your employees feel enables you to properly manage their workload and prevent burnout.
To start developing this understanding, document all processes and workflows with your team. Get your hands dirty and occasionally participate in the work, or chat directly with your team about specific projects or tasks.
It’s important for managers to maintain a bird’s eye view, but don’t be afraid to zoom in as well. Above all else: Be present. Managers who “walk the talk” inspire the trust and confidence of their teams and experience greater success overall.
Finally, while many management skills are learned through experience, professional training rapidly increases manager effectiveness. Institute 360-degree reviews where teams give management feedback. This practice helps shed light on and synchronize teams around key challenges and opportunities for improvement.
Reason 3: They Don’t Feel the Pressure of Competition
Things stagnate when parts of the organization don’t feel the competition nipping at their heels. Managers of teams that repeatedly perform the same tasks may feel they have a “well-oiled machine,” but workers on the frontlines probably see things differently. Your team may have ideas for process improvements or know of competitor advances and trends that could be major threats or opportunities.
In today’s digital world, industry disruption could be right around the corner. Knowledge has a half-life. Technology continues to advance at an exponential pace. When managers become disconnected from work itself, they lose sight of the effort it takes to stay ahead of the curve.
One of the best ways to improve management is to increase competition, according to Nicholas Bloom from Stanford. A healthy amount of competition pushes everyone in the organization to improve their focus and increase their creativity.
Learning from others both inside and outside your industry helps managers tackle old problems in new ways. This includes your team—ask them what trends or advancements they’re excited about and which parts of your process slow them down and should be streamlined.
Rowing Toward Stronger Leadership
We call delivering at this high-level Operational Excellence, and it requires alignment between every member of your organization. Workers need to know how what they do impacts the whole, how it fits with the work of others, and how everything adds up. Managers need to know exactly what their teams are capable of and what their strengths and weaknesses are to deliver consistent results.
Manager and team alignment fosters happier employees, higher employee retention, and increased performance.