Managers in Limbo

Transformation of organisational culture

In Summary

•Employees now span four generations, each with its own attitude

•Being a supervisor is  a great opportunity to learn small team dynamics

There’s a lot written about leadership today, and I’m guilty of adding to it. A healthy discussion. Increased awareness of the impact of empathy on business leadership is one of the most recent benefits.

But much of my day-to-day work is with managers, and I must say they are having a tough time. Most managers first became supervisors without any preparation. This meant that one moment they were colleagues, and the next they were expected to find a way to influence the actions of others. Worse than that, they were suddenly accountable for performance other than their own. Karibu kwa pressure!

Being a supervisor is actually a great opportunity to learn small team dynamics. To form an understanding of the hopes and fears; likes and dislikes; strengths and weaknesses of a small group of individuals. To develop empathy and become persuasive; to handle conflicts. And most importantly to know how to gather ideas and when to decide on a course of action. But it’s not an opportunity if you are unprepared.

So, some of our supervisors move on to become junior managers. Often just because they are time-served, but mainly because a gap appears in the organogram. I frequently hear ‘So-and-so left, so I got promoted’. Often that is done on a probationary basis (to mitigate the risk to HR) and usually that is forgotten until the next performance review. During that critical time, what resources can a young manager access?

Well, she can observe more senior managers and try to mimic them. But if she doesn’t know what to look for, she’ll simply be replicating unproductive behaviours. She can be sent on a course which, once completed, gives her certificate. She can read management books from America, a place with a work environment so alien she’d be as well reading a guidebook to Mars.

Three or four years on, a junior manager may move up the hierarchy still not knowing much about team dynamics, interpersonal skills or the cues of leadership. Ten years later, he or she could be running a business … and you could be their customer!

To compound the problem, the world has changed and will continue to change. COVID has accelerated digital transformation - the tech side more than the much-needed behaviour change. Social media has exposed businesses and individuals to external scrutiny. Customers are powerful. Employees now span four generations, each with its own attitude.

The truth is, many African managers are stuck in limbo: long served but with niche skills or junior and unguided. In the transformation of organisational culture, we are now making them the focus of our attention.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside