The role of manager has gotten a bad rap. Here's how to reignite interest in that position.

According to a CareerBuilder survey of over 3,600 workers, most people don't want to be managers. Of the subset who are interested in rising to management, they make up slightly over one-third of organizations (34%). This slim percentage does not provide enough innate appetite from individual contributors to fill company's need for aspiring managers.

Why is this? Companies have created a job called "manager," which has a very poor reputation. And it makes sense. Here's an everyday understanding of what a manager's job is: You approve stuff, you remind people of the stuff they need to do that you need to approve, you tell people what to do, and then you tell them how they're doing it wrong.

Despite the article headlines of how much we all want feedback, we really don't want to give it or get it. Pile on the always-moving nature of work today and you've got a major disconnect between the job description and the real world.

We need to redefine and reengineer the role of "manager" to reflect the dramatic, pandemic-accelerated changes that have taken place in the world of work. There are three shifts that necessitate this rethinking.

  1. Fluctuating working models. Just a few short months ago, hybrid was the new kid in town. And now it's the norm. Our leaders need specific processes to be able to support their team members no matter where they sit.
  2. Speed of work. Work no longer happens in year-long increments. The word "annual" has all but disappeared from the business conversation. People leaders need to keep up with the lightning-fast speed at which work is going.
  3. Dynamic work. We've been conditioned to think that work happens in teams as they are reflected on the org chart. While the org chart represents home base, employees today often move from team to team contributing to many teams at the same time. People leaders need to have visibility to their team members' breadth of work, not just what's happening on the org-chart team.

These shifts, along with others, should be compelling organizations to redesign the role and practices of people leaders. Organizations, and HR in particular, need to simplify the role, shift assumptions around the maturity of the workforce, and amplify performance.

Simplify roles

During the pandemic, HR departments have pushed many tasks onto managers. Some transfer may be appropriate, but people leaders are not a substitute for HR expertise. HR should be analyzing the work that they've assigned to managers and ensuring that that's where it belongs. If we expect people leaders to fulfill the role of guiding our most important assets, then we need to create time and emotional space for them to do that, not overload them with administrative work. Fill your HR team with experts that your managers can count on to help with the hard stuff like difficult conversations, documenting poor performance, and supporting employees through difficult times. Hopefully these tricky situations don't happen often (which is most likely why training managers to be able to handle them doesn't stick). HR will become the trusted advisor they've always wanted to be.

Treat your people like adults

Start with a full trust bucket. You've hired an organization of adults; treat them that way. Unless legally required, you may not need to give permission to go to a doctor's appointment or monitor what application employees are using. Of course, there will be exceptions, but don't design your workplace norms around the exceptions. Create a separate exception process with triggers that bring in a more robust approach when needed, but otherwise, assume maturity.

Emphasize great work

This may be the whole point of having leaders in the first place. People leaders should be more like the favorite teacher who saw your best (rather than the principal's office you dreaded dragging yourself into). Leaders have direct line of sight to helping employees do more and better work. In this new hybrid, dynamic, fast-moving world of work, leaders need to be as agile as their environment. This translates into light-touch, frequent connections with employees, rather than infrequent burdensome conversations. It means less documentation, intentional focus on an employee's strengths, and a renewed respect for the part they play in the success of the organization.

The role of a people leader is hard, partly because HR has made it difficult, and partly because people are complicated and nuanced individuals. It's time that we rethink and redesign the most important role in the company to be able to succeed and contribute in the new world of work.

This article originally published on FastCompany; republished with permission.

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