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Why Your Managers Will Fail (And How to Failure-Proof Your Company)

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

Written by CultureCon 2022 Sponsor and Presenter, LifeLabs Learning


The harsh reality: failure is more likely than success

The majority of your managers will fail. Even though they want to do a really good job, most of them will not. Even though your organization will rely on managers more than ever this year, they will often let you down.

On a micro-level, the impact of failed management is painful: high attrition, low performance, disengagement, conflict, and lost time. On a macro-level, poor management is a crisis, costing roughly $7 trillion globally every year (Wigert and Harter, 2017). Here’s the bright side: manager failure is preventable.

The massive opportunity: a workplace revolution

At LifeLabs Learning, we’ve studied and taught over 200,000 managers at more than 1,700 companies across the globe. We’ve had an unusual front row seat to the most common manager ‘fail points’ and learned the fastest ways to avoid them. So what has led to this crisis and how can we solve it?

The great news is that preventing management failure doesn’t simply reduce harm. It creates a rapid company-wide transformation. Companies that have great managers see the payoff in performance, retention, and engagement and participate in shaping the future of work. It should not be the norm that managers are exhausted by their work and that employees dread working with their managers. A growing number of people today have the unprecedented opportunity to unlock the full potential of their talents and passions through their work. Managers can be the obstacle to this workplace revolution or they can be the catalyst.

The four manager fail points and how to prevent them

While there are many imperfections in management, we’ve identified four predictable manager fail points across all company sizes, geographies, and industries. We’ll briefly summarize each one to help you diagnose whether they exist at your company. Then we’ll share practical steps you can take right away to failure-proof your organization and unleash the positive powers that effective managers can have.

1. Role Blur

The most foundational problem causing manager failure is ‘role blur.’ Companies, managers, and employees have different implicit definitions and expectations of what a manager is.

Imagine if the same were true for other high-impact roles like surgeons or pilots. It is nearly impossible for managers to be effective when they don’t know what success means.

The fix:

  1. Define what ‘manager’ means at your company. For example: “The purpose of our managers is to be our multipliers. It’s a role that exists to help people achieve more than they could have done on their own. The manager role is designed to accelerate results and do so in a way that each person finds personally rewarding.”

  2. Create and circulate job descriptions. Outline expected responsibilities. For example: holding weekly 1-1s, sharing developmental feedback, articulating team priorities. Be sure this description is visible to all employees for mutual accountability, and circulate it before people take on the manager role.

  3. Establish success metrics. Include measurable performance indicators in the role description. For example: percent of team members meeting their success metrics, completion rate of manager responsibilities, team member role and goal clarity, team member perception of inclusion.

2. Capacity Debt

The next nearly ubiquitous but preventable management fail point is ‘capacity debt.’ Not only do most managers lack the physical time to accomplish the responsibilities of their role, this lack of time forces them to make tradeoffs that result in even greater time scarcity in the future. For example, managers who lack time to develop their team pay for it with “interest” when their team members become disengaged or quit because they don’t feel they are growing.