Measuring the Effectiveness of Leaders and Managers
In a complex and unpredictable world, very little is as complex as getting a bunch of humans to move in the same direction to accomplish a specific goal. Still, in twenty years I’ve seen people who consistently do it well. I’ve also seen people who completely botched it, destroying themselves in glorious fashion. But, most of the ineffective managers I’ve experienced were like teflon—nothing sticks to them. They know how to play the game, spin the right yarn, tell the right story. They know who to take to happy hour. They know how to sell themselves while selling others down the river.
This works because managers aren’t the ones actually responsible for writing the code or executing the tests. If there are bugs in the software, clearly it’s not the manager’s fault. He didn’t put them there. Instead, he gets a pat on the head and a “nice try” when things go south, because the results of ineffective management are very difficult to see from above. Leadership is definitely a tough job, but assessing the effectiveness of leaders can be even more difficult. A leader can make or break a team, an organization, or a company. So what can a company do to ensure that their leaders are effective?
An Accurate Assessment
We all have our own understanding of what a good leader is and how they should act. Unfortunately, opinions on this vary greatly. It’s all very subjective, isn’t it? Once you get past the obvious expectations like character, integrity, and fairness, it starts to get a little muddy. But, it doesn't have to be that subjective.
As a leader, my primary responsibility is to constantly improve the effectiveness of my team. This implies two key things. First, someone actually has to measure effectiveness somehow. If you can create a reasonable picture of the team’s effectiveness using a variety of key performance indicators (quality metrics, throughput, task completion, velocity, etc.) then you have something you can stand on for your decision making. You’re making decisions based on reality rather than a feeling or intuition. If everyone has access to this data (including the team), they can learn from it as well.
Second, what you're really looking for is improvement (or the lack of it). This means you’re not making decisions based on specific data points. Is the trend line moving up, showing improvement? Is what the manager is doing making a positive difference? Spikes (abnormalities in the trend line) will occur, and it’s definitely important to understand the root cause. What does the team say is the reason for the spike? What does the manager say? At the end of the day, everyone needs to learn from the experience. But spikes are not an indicator of ineffective leadership. Your focus should be on the trend.
One data point that's often ignored is the opinion of the team itself. If a person on the team is frustrated with a manager, that's not surprising. It could be an indication that there is a real issue with the manager, or it could be that this person doesn't like to be held accountable. If an entire team is frustrated with a manager, that seems concerning. People simply don't perform as well when they're irritated. Often these frustrations get dismissed, as if employees are expected to simply suck it up and stop complaining. It's a little like driving a car. if the car starts smoking, you should probably stop driving and pull it over. A team that's "smoking" isn't going anywhere fast anyway. You might as well stop and put the fire out. If you pull each team member into a room and ask them why there's smoke, you might be surprised to discover that all fingers are pointing in the same direction.
Obviously there are other things to consider when holding leaders accountable (HR violations, behavior, interactions with peers, interactions with the customer, etc.). But companies definitely struggle with holding leaders accountable for improving team performance. Ineffective leaders can severely cripple team morale and effectiveness. It’s critical to the success of the company that those leaders are identified as soon as possible so they can be replaced. There absolutely is a correlation between unhappiness and motivation in the workplace. Fear and anxiety do not produce high performing teams. Imagine what your company could do if teams were led effectively. Competitors beware.