Managers today face unprecedented challenges. With rapidly evolving technologies, business models, and worker expectations, managers must adapt and take on wide-ranging responsibilities to help their teams succeed. However, many struggle with the complexities of the role. A recent survey found that 54% of managers experience work-related stress and fatigue. Additionally, only half of employees believe their manager can effectively support the team. Clearly, there is room for improvement when it comes to equipping managers for success.
A new study from Gartner points to a critical starting point - putting the right people into management roles in the first place. Rather than promoting based on individual performance, organizations need a rigorous, anonymous selection process where people opt into management. With the right pipeline, managers are twice as likely to find the role manageable and lead higher-performing teams. By reimagining how managers are selected and developed, organizations can build a robust pipeline ready to step up when needed.
The Evolving Role of Management
Today’s managers navigate a vastly more complex role than in decades past. They are expected to support workers’ needs for flexibility and autonomy while also driving productivity and strategy implementation. Managers must make quick decisions with limited information. They need both hard skills like data analysis and soft skills like emotional intelligence. On top of it all, they deal with trying to motivate and engage team members who may be geographically dispersed or have differing work styles.
With these increasing demands, it’s no wonder managers report struggling. The data shows 54% suffer from work-related stress and fatigue. Additionally, only 50% of employees say their manager can effectively help the team succeed. Expectations have expanded faster than managers have been equipped with new skills and support systems.
Rethinking the Manager Selection Process
To better prepare the next generation of managers, organizations need to rethink how managers get promoted in the first place. Historically, many have been promoted based on their individual performance as standout employees. However, the skills that make someone an excellent individual contributor don’t necessarily translate to being an excellent manager.
According to Gartner’s research, organizations need a more rigorous and anonymous selection process for management roles. Instead of managers nominating their favorites, any employee who’s interested should be able to opt in and apply. An anonymous review of applications can help surface overlooked but promising candidates. Equipping candidates with realistic previews of the role’s challenges can help them self-assess their fit. Structured interviews, assessments, and competency demonstrations can reveal who’s best prepared to take on the role’s diverse responsibilities.
This kind of process does more than find the most qualified candidates - it builds a robust, diverse pipeline of managers. When people opt into management, rather than being pushed into it, they’re more engaged in developing leadership capabilities before formally taking on the role. This ultimately leads to higher-caliber managers who feel empowered in their work.
Preparing Managers to Succeed
With the right rigorous selection process, organizations will have a pipeline of qualified candidates for management positions. But putting someone in the role is just the first step. Organizations must also equip new managers with the skills, mindsets, and support systems to thrive.
Ongoing training is crucial, given how quickly business conditions change. Managers should regularly refresh their knowledge of technologies, regulations, and trends impacting their teams’ work. Soft skills development is also important, including emotional intelligence, communication, relationship-building, and coaching skills. Organizations can use a combination of formal training programs, mentorships, peer groups, and real-time coaching to help managers continuously develop.
There also needs to be support systems to avoid manager burnout. New managers should have leadership check-ins to troubleshoot challenges and prevent feelings of isolation. Workloads and spans of control should be reasonable to prevent fatigue. Promoting work-life balance and modeling healthy behaviors from the top-down is also important. When managers feel supported on and off the job, they pass that on to team members.
Rethinking What Makes a Successful Manager
Finally, organizations need to redefine what success looks like for 21st century managers. Rather than promoting based on specific business outcomes, evaluate them based on leadership capabilities displayed, team member engagement, and diversity and inclusion gains. Provide ways for managers to give upward feedback to help senior leaders become more supportive.
Most importantly, destigmatize stepping down from management if it turns out not to be the right fit. Letting managers voluntarily go back to individual contributor roles shows it's a position requiring unique skills, not a higher status role. This empowers the right managers to step up while letting others return to non-managerial paths.
Reimagining the managerial pipeline requires comprehensive, long-term change management. However, the payoffs make it worthwhile. Organizations that implement rigorous, opt-in selection processes, robust development programs, and supportive systems will be rewarded with more engaged, higher-performing managers. In turn, their managers will be better equipped to lead teams to success amidst constant change.
While managers face challenges today, they are not insurmountable. By rethinking how we hire, train, and support the next generation of managers, organizations can ensure they have what it takes to lead in the 21st century. Managerial success is critical to organizational success. The time for reimagining the managerial pipeline is now.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.