Early in my career as a management psychologist I had the good fortune to learn the importance of hiring the right manager. I was helping a major retailer transform the way it did business. Anyone who has participated in a large-scale change initiative knows how difficult it is to turn a company around. There are all kinds of barriers — inertia, fear, turf battles, company politics, the list goes on and on.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons from that project. One important insight was that the key player in this kind of change process is the store manager. More than the front-line workers and more than the corporate honchos, the store manager has the presence, the customer contact, and the clout to make change happen — or not. When we focused our change efforts on the store managers, the effect was very powerful.

Flash forward a few years and I was consulting with a chain of hotels. As I visited different sites, I noticed striking differences in customer service, efficiency, and even cleanliness from one location to another. And once again, I found that the key was the hotel manager. He or she set the tone for the site, and no branding or corporate initiative was going to override that.

How hiring the right manager gets you 75% of the way to success

All this came to mind when reading a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (note: it’s behind a paywall). In recent years, the U.S. economy has grown more slowly than in the past, and a lot of economists have been trying to figure out why. A recent survey by Gallup of over 2 million employees seems to have identified at least part of the answer.

The survey found that a company’s productivity depended to a high degree on the quality of its managers. The effect was huge. As the article said, “If it’s a superior team you’re after, hiring the right manager is nearly three-fourths of the battle.”

That’s partly because good managers drive higher levels of employee engagement, which drives better results. In my opinion, it’s also because, to put it simply, they’re just better managers. They know how to delegate. They know how to hire the right person for the job and how to move people into the right roles. They know when to push and when to back off. And they know how to inspire their people and make them feel important.

What to look for when promoting or hiring a manager

How do you find those outstanding managers? They may not be your superstar performers. They’re generally not big personalities who call attention to themselves. They’re more like coaches than bosses.

Look for the people who are respected by their peers. Find the folks that others turn to for advice. Focus on the people who can be effective voices for change, both because they are open to innovations and because others listen to their point of view. And be super careful not to limit your search to people who look like the managers you already have. You may well overlook some of your top potential managerial talent.

Choosing the right managers to run your business and giving them the scope to do their jobs may well be the key to accelerating your company’s growth trajectory. If you’d like to know more about criteria for hiring outstanding managers and how to develop them into highly effective leaders, contact us at ggolden@gailgoldenconsulting.com

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