How well managers do their jobs is a topic that has received quite a bit of attention over the years. Essays, scholarly articles and full length books have been devoted to the subject, discussing everything from strategies for improving performance to specific managerial styles. But manager effectiveness is a vague concept and has been conceptualized in very different ways.

What does the research have to say and what factors influence the effectiveness of a manager?

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Manager Effectiveness: The Research

Effective ManagersTM research is focused on measuring the effectiveness of managers in organizations and understanding the key drivers that impact effectiveness. By effectiveness, we are referring to the amount of a manager’s time that is spent doing work that is adding unique value to their organization. Interestingly, existing research on manager effectiveness does not exist – we have not been able to find any academic studies quantifying manager effectiveness.

Opinions, however, have been easier to find. For instance, Dr. Gerald Kraines, President and CEO of the Levinson Institute at Harvard University has written that managers spend 50 to 60 percent of their time doing things they weren’t hired to do.

Elliot Jacques, world renowned psychologist, researcher and author has written that organizations are only achieving 20 to 30 percent of their potential.

My own experience as a manager in organizations and as a management consultant to a wide variety of sizes and types of organizations supports these opinions.

So what does this mean?

Our organizational systems are failing us! Something is systematically getting in the way of people being as effective as they can be in their work. And it matters! Helping managers to be more effective in their work can make a difference to organization performance. There is no question. This translates into organizations getting more and better results.

The Role of Accountability and Authority

Managers are accountable for the most important relationships in the organization. According to Leigh Branham, in The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, 70 percent of employees leave a job for reasons related to factors that are directly controllable by their managers. The Gallup Organization has found that work groups that are ineffectively managed are 50 percent less productive and 44 percent less profitable.

What are these organizational systems that are failing us? It could be any number of them in any particular organization. But the one that gets scant attention, and often isn’t even recognized by the CEO, is the organization’s accountability and authority frameworkIn other words, when there is clarity with respect to accountability and authority between a manager and the manager’s direct reports, from the CEO right down to the front line, all employees are more satisfied, engaged and productive.

Manager effectiveness has everything to do with the effectiveness of delegation: What exactly am I, as your manager, delegating to you? For what will I call you to account? What levels of quality and quantity do I expect? What is the time frame? What authority am I delegating to ensure you have the right amount of authority to accomplish that for which you are accountable? What resources am I delegating to you to accomplish this, in terms of budget, people and equipment? And so on.

Each manager is a link in a chain of delegated accountability and authority that flows down the organization; each one a subset of those above it. Part of the research then, is in understanding which drivers prevent this from happening, or happening as well as it should.

Accountability Versus Responsibility

A final note. You are not alone if you use the terms accountability and responsibility interchangeably. Many dictionaries treat these two terms as synonyms. So do most people. But there is a clear distinction. In my view:

Accountability is an obligation for which one can be held to account for one’s results and one’s actions by a specified other. There are three aspects:

  1. There is an obligation.
  2. The obligation is for both results and actions; and
  3. There is a specified other.

The aspect of a specified other is critical. Accountability cannot exist solely within one’s self. In the organizational context, this must describe the relationship between a manager and a direct report.

  • Responsibility is a personally held belief. While you may feel responsible for doing something, you may not be accountable for actually doing it. It’s your value system or personally held beliefs that cause you to act. Responsibility is held within one’s self – it does not require a specified other.

Manager effectiveness is a complex topic that can be explored in a number of different ways. There isn’t much in the current managerial literature to draw from. Effective Managers™ is at work to identify specific variables and factors that impact the effectiveness of managers in the organizational context, with accountability and authority at the top of the list. Stay tuned!