Let staff choose their own managers

Imagine one of your people comes to you and says: “I love my job. I love the work and want to continue doing what I do now. I love the people I work with. I am even happy with the amount I’m paid. But I can’t stand my manager. We’ve tried getting coaching to resolve our differences but it hasn’t worked. I want to keep doing the work I’m doing but with a different manager.”

At most companies, the likely outcome would be that the member of staff would end up leaving. At my company, Happy Ltd, it would take five minutes to resolve. We would simply agree a different manager, probably of that person’s choice. That’s right: At our company, everybody gets to choose their manager, and to change them if it doesn’t work out.

This is simple common sense. The point of management is surely to enable your people to be more effective. Imagine how much more productive your organisation could be if everybody had a manager they felt supported by, and that they felt challenged them to reach their potential.

Different approach

Happy is known in the UK for a different, people-based approach to management. I often say that our most radical belief is that people should be chosen to be managers on the basis of how good they are at managing. This ought to be a statement of the obvious, but too often people are promoted to managerial positions because of their core skills or length of service.

If you have a programmer who has been doing a great job and been in place for a long time, they are likely to be promoted to programming manager. Apparently, the fact that they are great at coding is bound to mean they will be great at supporting and coaching people.

Structure and skillsets

Changing this does require a different management structure. We believe there are two different skillsets involved in management. The first set consists of elements such as strategy and decision-making. The second is around support, challenge and coaching. Why is it assumed that the same people will be good at both?

An alternative is to separate the roles. Some people get to do the more strategic element, and some the more people-focused one, and some get to do both. This happens, for instance, at financial services provider Wesleyan Assurance, which has two promotion tracks: technical management and people management.

You choose whether you want to manage people or simply be promoted for your technical skills. The result is that all Wesleyan staff are managed by people who want to be people managers and are motivated to be great at it.

Happiness and success

A core belief is that people work best when they feel good about themselves. For those who agree with that statement, it follows that the main purpose of management should be to create an environment where people feel good about themselves, valued and motivated. If management really is focused on this, it can transform the organisation.

At restaurant chain Nandos, they analysed what factor best explained why some branches grew faster than others. They found the closest correlation with growing sales and profits was with staff satisfaction. Their response was to change the bonus system. They still wanted growth and profits, but they decided the way to achieve it was to give managers bonuses based on how happy the staff said they were.

Another example is supermarket chain Asda. It moved from near bankruptcy in 1990 to a highly profitable company today, rated the best company to work for in the UK by the Sunday Times. David Smith, former head of people at Asda, describes the key to the transformation as employee engagement.

Like those at Nandos, he has analysed what explains the difference in performance between their 362 stores and puts it down to how happy and engaged the staff are. “Give me a score of 94% on our staff engagement survey, and I guarantee your shop will show exponential growth in sales and profits,” he says.

What would your organisation be like if managers were chosen for their people skills, and the main focus of management was indeed to support your people and make them feel good?

By Henry Stewart, founder and chief executive of Happy Ltd, a multiple award-winning training company. Go to www.happy-people.co.uk

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