Russ Laraway is the Chief People Officer for Qualtrics, a consultancy in management practices. His book When They Win, You Win provides tools to assess managers and help them succeed. In this interview by the First Round Review, Laraway talks about why good management matters and how companies often mistake worthy individual contributors for standout managers. He addresses attrition rates, what employees look for in a manager and how companies can better support those working in managerial roles. Laraway cuts through the jargon, offering quantitative assessment tools companies can use in the real world, in real time.
- The best performers are not automatically the best future managers.
- Executives can use the metric of employee engagement to assess a manager’s competence.
- Knowing their manager cares about them – and praises them – factors into employee retention rates.
- A “culture of grandiosity” assumes that “leadership is better than management.”
- The qualities that make a great individual employee are not the qualities that make a great manager.
The best performers are not automatically the best future managers.
Russ Laraway is the Chief People Officer at Qualtrics, which helps companies such as Twitter and Google train better managers. He cautions against the common practice of promoting top performers to managerial positions. He points out that your top salespeople, for example, are not automatically going to be the best managers; in fact, they are likely to be poor managers because they often have too much self-interest at stake to manage their previous colleagues and departments.
“It’s the person…charisma or not, that engages in the activities that help their team be successful, that people ultimately want to work for. And the people ultimately want to follow. And those behaviors are trainable. Everybody can learn. ”
In Laraway’s opinion, managers have been fed too much anecdotal theorizing about best practices. He is more interested in quantitative measurements that tie directly to a company’s bottom line.
How can an organization identify, promote or recruit worthy potential managers, train them well and make sure they succeed? To answer that question, Laraway provides simple frameworks that leaders can use to select the best managers. These frameworks examine the top qualities managers should possess.
Executives can use the metric of employee engagement to assess a manager’s competence.
Laraway suggests several ways managers can engage their employees meaningfully to prevent attrition.Since the early 1990s, companies have measured employee engagement by asking five questions designed to assess their staff members’ overall satisfaction. Their level of engagement is always a reaction to their managers, but their satisfaction also ties directly to their financial contribution to the company.
Using a rubric that connects manager performance to employee engagement, Laraway’s framework gives managers points for employee engagement. Each manager has a point quota to meet to show his or her contribution to employee engagement, which shapes a company’s success.
“There is only one thing every single one of us has in common at work and that’s that we want to be successful. ”
Choosing the right manager requires assessing candidates with great specificity. Laraway evaluates candidates’ leadership ability and values, focusing more on their instincts than their track record as contributors. He believes natural leaders don’t exist and and that charisma never guarantees success. Instead, Laraway says, anyone can develop sound managerial instincts. Standout managers must embody their company’s culture and values, but sometimes, counterintuitively, an outsider may prove a better cultural fit than an incumbent.
Knowing their manager cares about them – and praises them – factors into employee retention rates.
Laraway outlines several desirable management behaviors, but he finds the one employees value most is receiving praise. It must be specific, not simply a general, “well done.” People need to know their manager understands what they do and what value they contribute. Laraway recommends that managers offer a five to one ratio of praise to criticism.
“Specific praise for good work was the leadership behavior that had the most powerful relationship with engagement.”
Data analyzing retention rates show that receiving praise is a strong factor in an employee’s decision to stay in a job. Laraway surveyed employees to assess the likelihood they might leave their jobs, and 67% subsequently left. He found a strong correlation between their departures and their responses to various statements, including how much they agreed that, “My manager cares about me as a human being.” In a study that ran scenarios with 150 employees, the most common proof that a manager cared was that he or she invested time in their employees to help further their career.
A “culture of grandiosity” assumes that “leadership is better than management.”
No one applies for the job of “leader.” People assume that leadership is complex, but leaders should focus more on simply being engaged managers. Most jobs have a management component; it’s part of doing business. Leading people appears quite similar across organizations. Many companies believe their culture is unique, but it isn’t.
“I’ve been at three major tech companies. Each of them is absolutely convinced they have the most unique culture. And buddy I’m telling you, they’re not that different. ”
Managers can adapt their behaviors to be more successful. They can seek coaching and set a direction for their careers. Laraway’s assessment takes managers’ short-term and long-term trajectories into account. Companies that want their managers to improve must hire them with these trajectories in mind.
The qualities that make a great individual employee are not the qualities that make a great manager.
By his own estimation, Laraway has never been an individual contributor. He has always managed people, because that is what he does best. Individual contributors are not automatically the best candidates for the job of manager, but companies often promote them into management to reward their excellent work.
Companies take a risk if they fail to promote a strong contributor, because someone who feels stuck in place could decide to leave. This decision makes a difference, also, to the people the new manager will lead, because people want to work for someone who is a proven role model of success – yes, for a strong contributor, but only for one who learns how to manage.
“Being a manager, on day one, your interest has to be about literally everybody else, you can’t be successful till they are. You can’t win until your teammates win.”
Individual contributors become accustomed to being more involved in serving customers than in being team members. They have a lot of self-interest at stake. Managers must “deliver and align results” for their team and must nurture its successes. Strong individual contributors may deliver a small boost to morale, but then they must do the hard work of managing.
About the Podcast
Consultant Russ Laraway is the author of When They Win, You Win: Being a Great Manager is Simpler Than You Think. First Round Review is a publication of First Round Capital, a venture capital company that provides seed-stage funding to technology companies.