New Blanchard Survey Explores Top Manager Challenges
“We’ve seen many changes and power shifts in the employment space over the past two years that have put a great deal of pressure on managers,” says Jay Campbell, chief product officer at The Ken Blanchard Companies.
“That was the genesis of the Manager Challenges Survey we just completed. We strongly suspected that new work realities such as the increasing pace of change, the shift to hybrid work arrangements, and heightened turnover have been adding to an already long list of managerial challenges. We wanted to get a sense of what the impact has been and how today’s managers are coping. More than 800 managers shared their experiences with us.”
In preparation for an August 10 webinar where he will formally share results, Campbell has been identifying major themes in the data.
“It’s not getting any easier to be a people manager these days. Survey results reveal specific barriers, challenges, and needs these managers have.”
Campbell says that at a high level, there is a shared sense among survey respondents that managers these days have too many goals, too many priorities, and too many responsibilities. Combine this with the chronic challenges managers have been facing for decades such as insufficient resources, dated systems, and inefficient processes, and the reality of what today’s managers are dealing with becomes clear. The role of a manager is more fragmented than ever before.
“The new data on fragmentation is particularly concerning. Managers are working an average of nearly 50 hours per week, with senior managers working even more. The same thing is true with tenure: the longer people have been in management and the more people they have reporting to them, the more hours they are putting in.
“We are noticing mixed signals—both positive and negative reactions—around whether managers feel sufficiently tooled up for their work. On the positive side, managers feel trusted to get the job done and many feel they are compensated reasonably. But when it comes to things like staffing levels, clear goals, and priorities, there is a problem. The data reveals a picture of managers as frenetic souls juggling too many responsibilities.
“An important and insightful question we asked was ‘Do you sometimes wonder whether being a people manager is worth it?’ —to which 60% of middle managers responded yes.
“We also see some variation in the parts of management where they feel most effective. On the positive side, managers feel effective in helping people get their tasks done. On the negative side, they’re less effective when it comes to getting their own work done.”
This contributes to a phenomenon Campbell refers to as “managerial shiatsu.”
“We asked if today’s managers feel stretched between trying to balance the needs of their organisation and the needs of their people. The response is troubling. Managers report they are being held accountable from above to meet organisational goals at the same time they are trying to be accountable to their people to ensure they don't burn out. And when you add the pressure these managers are under to complete their own tasks, you get a three-way stretch that would make any shiatsu patient squirm.
“Today’s managers recognise they can do better. Almost half of respondents point to knowledge and experience gaps as issues that limit their performance as a manager. This expertise, of course, can be gained slowly over time or through training and learning experiences.”
Another disconcerting trend is the need for support and clarity from above, says Campbell.
“The verbatim responses share a colorful set of appeals for better treatment from senior leaders and executives. More clarity, better prioritisation, explicit vision, and other insights would help over-burdened managers make tradeoffs. Managers are not well served by what one respondent termed ‘weak signals from above.’
“Looking through our servant leadership lens, the data shows some positive results. These managers care about their people’s success. They prioritise helping their people over completing their own tasks. While fragmentation and pressures limit the amount of time they can spend coaching people, they are doing what they can. There seems to be room for growth here.
“Overall, this study paints a picture of today’s managers as a dedicated, hard-working group that suffers from overwork and fragmentation. Managers are widely seen as the critical link that connects strategy and execution and either drives or sabotages productivity and employee engagement. Is this group being stretched to the breaking point? The future will tell.”
About the authors:
David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.