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Why Your Managers Aren't Managing Effectively (Hint: It's Not Their Fault)

Dwight Mihalicz

There are a variety of factors at play that obstruct manager effectiveness. For our research purposes, we identified the key dimension: accountability. In this context, accountability is “an obligation for which one can be held to account for one’s results and actions by a specified other.” The phrase specified other is important. To be accountable, there must be someone else involved to hold the manager to account. Thus, a self-held belief cannot be accountability, but is rather a responsibility.

Our research shows that accountability is very highly correlated with manager effectiveness. Accountability is at the heart of managerial leadership. It is important that employees have a clear understanding of what they are being held accountable for and how their outcomes will contribute to the success of their organization. If they are not aware of this, how do they determine what their most value added work should be, and where they should focus their efforts? When they need to make decisions, how can they be assured that they are making decisions that are consistent with what their managers would want?

Accountability Measures

Accountability can be thought of as having two dimensions. First, what is the clarity of the accountability and authority that has been delegated to managers? For instance,if I am a manager, am I clear about not only what my manager is holding me accountable for, but also the authority I have for doing my work?

We call this the Clarity of Accountability dimension. As an organizational measure, this means thinking about how well the organization can translate accountability for output from the strategic plan, through the CEO, down to each individual manager in the organization. This measure correlates highly with a managers’ perceived self-effectiveness.

The second dimension of accountability is Felt Accountability. This concept has been written about in literature and refers to the degree to which an individual feels he or she is accountable. It could be related to being accountable to a manager for work, or it could be other things that are not real accountabilities, but feel like accountabilities. Examples of Felt Accountability include:

  • relationships with customers
  • relationships with peers
  • project work
  • self-held beliefs

In all of these situations, these are not real accountabilities because people are not held to account by a specified other that has the authority to hold them to account. Nevertheless, they can be quite distracting if managers do not take them into account when setting the context for doing work. Felt Accountability is a personal, self-held belief – and, interestingly, scores much higher than Clarity of Accountability.

This reinforces my feelings that people care about their work and want to do well. People feel accountable. The question is whether they feel accountable for the right things. This is the manager’s job – to be clear about those things for which they will hold their subordinates to account.

Other Effectiveness Measures

A series of other measures are correlated with Accountability in organizations. These are important to understand, as they provide the insight into root causes that can constrain or improve accountability in the workplace.

Workflow
The extent to which managers perceive work flowing smoothly across the organization.

Finding Overview: Less than 40% of managers surveyed felt that work flowed smoothly across their organizations.

Organizational Learning
The extent to which individuals in the organization learn from others, share, experiment and transfer knowledge.

Finding Overview: High degrees of organizational learning were correlated with high accountability.

Role Conflict
The degree of conflict that managers experience in their day to day work.

Finding Overview: Role conflict was high; almost half of managers agreed with statements that described conflict situations.

Corporate Systems
Providing support to managers for doing their work.

Finding Overview: Managers almost universally felt that corporate systems do not provide the appropriate amount of support, and that they are skewed toward the organization as a whole rather than designed to support managers in their work.

Manager’s Manager Capability
The extent to which managers feel that their manager is capable.

Finding Overview: High manager’s manager capability was correlated to high accountability.

Interdependence
How much managers depend on other managers in parts of the organization to do their work.

Finding Overview: Interdependence is an indicator of a state of being of the organization. High interdependence indicates that managers rely highly on managers in other parts of the organization for success in their work.

Team and Organizational Effectiveness
The effectiveness of both teams and the organization as a whole.

Finding Overview: Low accountability is also correlated with diminished team and organizational effectiveness.

The Findings

Overall, research revealed that managers carry a feeling of accountability for a variety of different things. While they are directly accountable for “getting things done,” clarity of accountability is simply not there. Senior managers are not doing an adequate job of being clear about what they’re holding their subordinate managers accountable for. In the absence of total clarity, direct-report managers are pulled in several different directions by peers, stakeholders and customers, and are distracted from the real work that is required for both effectiveness at the team and organizational levels.

Managers do feel accountability, but the real question is whether or not senior managers do a sufficient job at setting clarity of accountability so that subordinate managers are accountable for the right work. If they are not, this is one explanation for why they fail to get work done.


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