Superman can fly. Spiderman can cast webs. But neither can do both. If even fictional superheroes have limited powers, then why does a typical front-line manager job description sound as though only superhumans need apply?
The unrealistic job description aims to convey that front-line managers should be able to master a motley array of roles (e.g. coach, resource manager, talent developer, motivator, lead advocate, atmosphere barometer). The effect of such a job description on a manager, though, is not the positive outcome intended. Requiring 20+ competencies makes it hard if not impossible for managers to focus their efforts and to master all areas of their role. Without a keen focus, managers may find themselves flailing and missing their mark.
It’s no wonder, then, that the Harvard Business School recently explored the question of whether employees are “renting” their jobs rather than taking ownership of them. HBS professor James Hackett writes that an “owner” of a job is one who “takes responsibility for improving relationships, products, and processes as well as referring new employee candidates or customers.” Whereas a “renter” is one who is only involved with the organization to complete one or more transactions. If front-line managers are not able to master or, in other words, take ownership over their roles, they are simply renting time and space in an organization. The effect this has on the larger organization cannot be underestimated. Since front-line managers typically account for over half of an organization’s leaders, their performance affects all aspects of employee engagement, retention, and productivity.
So, is a quick edit of the manager job description all that is needed? It may not be that simple, but simplification is certainly one of the keys. When it comes to identifying just what is expected from front-line managers, companies are wise to look to the end game. To create effective front-line managers, consider targeting a compact set of concrete skills. Proven models exist, beginning with Fortune 500 companies like Google.
The right formula for a manager job description
From analyzing over 10,000 manager observations, Google boiled down that complexity to a list that they call “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Managers.” Google states that for you to be an effective front-line manager, in order of importance, you must:
- Be a good coach;
- Empower your team and don’t micromanage;
- Express interest in employee’s success and well-being;
- Be productive and results-oriented;
- Be a good communicator and listen to your team;
- Help your employees with career development
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team;
- Have key technical skills, so you can help advise the team.
As your company considers how best to support front-line managers, you may be tempted to launch another set of workshops or invest in different reference resources. If another superhero cape is the souvenir from these workshops, though, it’s time to take a step back. Revisiting the basic manager job description may be your most prudent move. Would you like an overview of the wider landscape you face in developing front-line management? Download our guide Four Ways To Close The Learning-Doing Gap For Front-Line Managers.