The ultimate guide to growing great managers and avoiding burnout

If managing people is not for the faint of heart, then managing managers is truly only for the very brave! When it’s your own company it feels that much more life and death-ish.  If you are the senior leader or owner of a small to medium size business, then at some point you have or will cross the (terrifying) chasm from overload to delegation by hiring one or more managers to help you. If you are like most leaders, you might feel like you traded one set of problems (not being able to complete all the work yourself) for a whole new set of issues and like most high-achieving people, dealing with getting things accomplished through others brings a whole new set of pain points (or growth opportunities, if you will). That’s why it’s critical that you are able to take the emotion out and develop a reliable way to assess the skillset of your manager and create a development plan.

Granted, there are ten million (or so) books, articles, theses, opinions, on what makes an effective manager and about twenty million more on leadership. It can be overwhelming trying to decipher, let alone implement, any given plan. I have worked with enough organizations and have seen enough repetition in certain problems, concerns and solutions that I am confident in recommending a basic template to help just about anyone get started, but this will be most applicable to privately held, first generation companies who are out of the start-up stage and getting ready to prepare for growth. Out of necessity this is written in generalities but I hope can give you a good starting point in helping develop your people in order to prepare your company for greatness.

Essentially, you want to develop your manager profile, and I would recommend you do this before hiring your first manager to allow you to be as objective as possible about the ideal, knowing you will be required to compromise. As an evaluation tool, this will be an evolving document, so don’t imbue it with more specificity than is realistic.  You would never complete an evaluation based on one observation of a manager. You will need to spend time with your managers or even talk to their subordinates to arrive at a fairly accurate assessment of where they are thriving and where you need to invest some time with them. The idea is not to make everyone the same – diversity is good for your management team. Rather, you need to make sure all your managers understand your expectations and that they are given the information they need to carry out your expectations, in their own style, to the best of their abilities.

The manager profile should encompass three areas: Culture/Leadership, Management/Administrative and Technical Proficiency.  Within each category, you then create 5-7 objective statements that your ideal leader will DO on a regular basis. The idea will be to score your managers to determine where they are performing well and where they need work.

Cultural/Leadership plays a huge component in executing your vision for your company and is typically the most difficult to identify and measure. What do you want it to be like to work there? Do you want people to feel loved and appreciated for their efforts, or for their accomplishments? Do you want an edgy, competitive feel or a relaxed, affirming one? There are not really any wrong answers here other than no vision at all. There are highly successful companies with all sorts of different cultures but you can bet that the truly successful ones have managers that are aligned with that vision. An aggressive, achievement-oriented manager will crash and burn in a relaxed environment and vice versa. Once you have identified your cultural vision, it is relatively easy to identify how you want your managers to lead. How should they interact with employees? How often? What kind of reinforcement should they give? How much information about company performance should they communicate? How do they develop and promote employees?

Sample Assessment Questions:

              Manager understands and communicates the 5-year plan of the company

              Manager communicates the employees’ place in the ‘big picture’ regularly

              Manager communicates appreciation for employee accomplishments

Management/Administrative skills are the easiest to measure and because of this there is sometimes an over-reliance on these skills to the exclusion of others. Here, you’re looking at things like how well company policies are communicated, adhered to and enforced. Does the manager turn in their variance reports in a timely manner? Their employee reviews? Do they follow the guidelines in the employee handbook and make sure their employees do too? This is also where you would look at things like department efficiency or output. In other words, are they making sure the things under their purview are getting done appropriately? It is possible to have someone score very well in this aspect but very poorly in the cultural aspect, which can have grave implications for employee engagement and retention down the road. On the other hand, if someone has the hearts and minds of the people but no ability to provide the products and services your business is commissioned to provide, you won’t be able to keep your lights on.

Sample Assessment Questions

              Manager completes employee performance reviews in a timely manner

              Manager ensures performance problems are documented according to company          policy

              Manager’s department is performing at or better than forecast (revenue and/or profitability)


Finally, there is Technical Proficiency. It is arguable how technically sound a manager needs to be in the ‘thing’ he or she is managing. A basic rule of thumb seems to be that the higher up the ‘ladder’ you are, the less important it is that you know how to make the widgets. I agree – theoretically. I agreed more before I had to manage a team who was responsible for doing tasks that I didn’t know how to do AT ALL. Until I became proficient in what it was they were supposed to do I was not really able to identify problems…and there happened to be a LOT of problems as it turned out. My experience, as well as a couple decades’ worth of management training and coaching has led me to believe that it is important that a manager know enough about what he/she is managing to identify poor performance and to identify coaching and training. I think the degree to which technical proficiency is required is a sliding scale; if you are managing line level employees then you usually need to be as skilled as they are. If you are two or three levels away then a more basic proficiency will serve. With my clients who have 100 or less employees it usually is helpful if the managers are as technical proficient as possible.

Sample Assessment Questions:

              Manager is able to perform the basic functions of his/her subordinates

              Manager is able to identify root cause of performance problems

              Manager is able to identify legitimate training needs in employees

By putting together a management profile encompassing these areas, ensuring the most weight is placed on your current largest areas of concern, you will be able to transition a huge source of anxiety for yourself into a source of pride and joy. This is one exercise that I unhesitatingly recommend to all business owners and it never ceases to reap rewards.  Keep in mind, this is just foundational. There are all sorts of useful metrics you can begin to layer in to get to the next level but if you master the basics you will be amazed at what you will accomplish. 

By Carrie Maldonado

Carrie Maldonado, is an organizational development consultant, author, and speaker. Carrie's eclectic mix of professional interests include writing, speaking, coaching, and consulting on topics ranging from organizational behavior management to spiritual transformation in and out of the workplace. Carrie lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her patient and long-suffering husband and their three children.

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