How to manage your managers

For a business owner, establishing loyalty, confidence, and trust between you and your management team means more than just hiring someone you like and letting them go to work. It’s key to provide opportunities for your managers to grow, and facilitate their happiness and productivity on the job. These efforts lead to better talent retention and an overall better work environment for everyone. Not to mention, the development of leadership on your team means you’re more able to comfortably delegate responsibility, leaving you more time for innovation.

Small business owners who have the workplace engagement of managers on their minds should consider the following strategies for promoting their growth as both employees and leaders.

Continuing Education for Managers

According to Gallup’s 2015 report, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, 60% of managers do not feel they’ve been given opportunities to learn and grow through work.1 When it comes to continuing education, business owners have a few options. You can offer in-house training, send managers to conferences, encourage the use of free online resources, or a combination of the three. In-house training is likely already a familiar avenue for developing your managers as leaders, but what about new industry technology, or specific new challenges managers face as the business grows, like if you’re looking to expand your company? Sending your managers to industry conferences not only allows them the chance to learn and grow, the knowledge they’ll return with can be invaluable to your company’s development. Similarly, there are many free online courses you can encourage your managers to take. Top-rated schools like the Sloan School of Management through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offer business management courses. Courses are also available through web portals like and The Open University.

Managers do not feel opportunities

What Inspires Engagement?

According to the Gallup report, a shockingly low number of managers self-identify as engaged on the jobonly 35%. A supervisor’s lack of motivation often creates a cascade effect. Employees who work for engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged themselves.2

You as an employer can promote intrinsic motivation in your managers by involving them in decision making processes and giving them time to air concerns about the impacts of new projects.

But, how does one feed the flame of managers who do not feel engaged? Managers reported to David Antonioni, an expert in leadership development training on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that “feeling respected is the most important motivator, followed by mutual trust with one’s manager. Many other top motivation factors are related to caring: participation in decisions that affect the manager’s own area, upper management’s awareness of their contributing managers’ job results, fairness in how people are rewarded, and feedback about work performance.”3

Managers_Diagram2_800px.pngFurthermore, a study by Tim Judge referenced in the Harvard Business Review reported only a 2% overlap between participants who claimed to be satisfied with their pay and participants who claimed to be satisfied with their jobs. Factors like the employees’ enjoyment of their work and the personalities of the employees themselves played a much stronger role in their satisfaction than their pay scale.4

Intrinsic Motivation

Workers in general are intrinsically motivated through four key factors, according to Kenneth Thomas of the Ivey Business Journal:

  • Committing to a meaningful purpose
  • Choosing the best way of fulfilling that purpose
  • Making sure that one is performing work activities competently
  • Making progress toward achieving the meaningful purpose.5

All these values specifically relate to self-management. First and foremost, employees want to feel their work is meaningful. From there, directing their own approach to the work and making progress through their own planning and effort will intrinsically motivate them. You as an employer can promote intrinsic motivation in your managers by involving them in decision making processes and giving them time to air concerns about the impacts of new projects. Consider their opinions as leaders about business decisions and the best practices for implementing new policies. Stay involved and communicative as they execute their own steps towards the goals you’ve mutually decided upon.

Extrinsic Motivation

Of course, trying to help your employees find intrinsic value in their work doesn’t mean that extrinsic motivation won’t come in handy. Rewarding things like continuing education, great leadership, solid engagement, and participation can also help to maintain high levels of engagement and motivation. Consider incentives like pay, vacation time, profit sharing, and benefits packages like 401(k) plans.

Developing managers into leaders through continuing education and an inclusive culture of respect will ideally lead to a scenario where business owners don’t have to do much managing of managers. Instead, you’ll be able to focus on leading them, and the teams that follow them, to new heights of success.