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Can Just Anyone Be A Top Performing Manager?


Short answer: No. Not a “top performing” manager.

People don’t like hearing this but despite what your doting relatives told you as a little kid or what some over-priced motivational book’s author screams from a stage, each of us has intrinsic limitations. We all know it. We just don’t like to admit it.

Can an old dog learn new tricks? Absolutely yes. Can an intrinsic non-manager learn to become a top performing manager? Absolutely not. Can they get by? Sure if ‘getting by’ is all the company wants. But not as a top performing manager … one who consistently gets results, who regularly overcomes obstacles, who is reliably emotionally intelligent enough to read people and then adjust, who predictably makes decisions despite the inter-office political implications, who invariably creates an environment of personal accountability, who always builds positive, engaging work relationships, and who delivers distinguished performance as a matter of routine.

To quote the most recent Gallup Survey on the State of the American Manager:

Virtually all companies try to fix bad managers with training. Nothing fixes a bad manager.

Nothing Fixes A Bad Manager

Gallup found that only 10% of the people they’ve surveyed possess the necessary intrinsic motivators, behavioral characteristics, emotional intelligence, and axiological values to be a top performing manager … naturally. Another 20% CAN get there IF the organization supports them with intensive training and coaching. And lest we forget:

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And that’s after studying 2.5 million manager led teams of 27 million people. If you have stronger research, please forward it to me.

Why do companies pick the wrong manager?

Because they use the wrong selection criteria.

  • Tradition – this is how we’ve always picked managers (using resumes, behavioral interviews, referrals, conversational interviews, reference checks, education, background checks, trusting someone’s “gut”)
  • Tenure – this person has been here the longest and is “ready” to be a manager
  • Accomplishments – they were successful in a previous role
  • Connections – no explanation needed (they play tennis or golf with the right people, married into the right family, members of the right club, , etc)
  • Political Implications – they’re safe to promote … there won’t be many political ramifications or “backtalk”

Tenure times Tradition plus Accomplishments times Connections all divided by the Political Implications of the hire. The lower the PI the easier it is to promote. Of course, the higher up the corporate ladder the hiring manager (aka decision maker) is currently, the lower the PI for his/her management candidate preference.

The result of using this formula?

Disengaged managers. When we put someone into a position for which they do not fit, they don’t have at least some natural talent for, or that they really didn’t deserve, they will not be engaged with that position in a manner that generates superior performance. They can love the job. They can be passionate about it. But over the course of time they will become disengaged because the job doesn’t match their intrinsic needs. Conflict will ensue.

Another result? Disengaged employees. Research shows that up to 70% of an employee’s disengagement level is due to their manager. And when managers themselves aren’t engaged with their work? You can’t expect their employees to be engaged either. Gallup’s research shows that 51% of managers are just dialing it in and another 14% are actively looking to do harm to the organization.

How SHOULD an organization select  managers?

Begin by carefully outlining what the job needs for superior performance in the role. Not every management position has the same exact requirements – some deal with the same people on a daily basis while some deal with lots of different people all day long. Some positions are more data and task driven while others are more people driven. Without knowing precisely what the JOB needs, you won’t be able to pinpoint the person that would perform it best, When you don’t know who you’re looking for, you’ll start looking for a Superhero. But I have bad news. Superheroes don’t exist.

A better way is to accurately benchmark the position’s three to five Key Accountabilities. No position should have more than six or seven Key Accountabilities – if it does, that position needs to be divided into TWO positions. Once you have the KA’s, it’s a simple matter of having subject matter experts use a series of assessments to create the ideal employee for the position and compare your candidates to that standard.

A Better Way To Select Managers

Start with a validated Job Matching System that sets the standard for a management position based on what the position needs rather than a vague list of job duties (aka the job description) or a hiring manager’s personal preferences. We call it a Job Benchmark and it starts by gathering those who know the job best and asking them to outline the Key Accountabilities of the position … essentially asking, “Why does this managerial job exist?”

Key Accountabilities

What are the Key Accountabilities required of the manager on the job? What does the job itself require, not what the big boss or the people doing the job think it requires. A Key Accountability is a specific task or set of tasks the manager must do on a daily basis to justify the position’s existence. You need to know the Key Accountabilities for each management position and rank them according to their importance in getting the job right.

Job Behaviors

What behaviors are required by the job for superior management performance? If the job could speak out loud it would say, “I need [X] to be done this particular way to be done right.” Not the way it’s being done now or how it’s always been done or how the employee would like to do the job – but how it should be done for maximum success.

Job Motivators

What are the attitudes and motivators are required by the job for superior performance? What values does the job reward? For example, if the job calls for someone with a strong resourceful attitude – someone driven to attain practical results and maximizes any investment of time, money or other resources – then only a person with those values will be happy in the job and do it the way it should be done.

A job may need someone with a highly collaborative attitude, or a principled attitude, or an instinctive attitude. The management candidates with those intrinsic attitudes will do the job better, more effectively, more passionately, and for longer than those without them.

The Candidate’s Motivators and Behavioral Styles

You’ll need to know each applicant’s behavioral tendencies, motivators, and attitudes in order to match them to the job. There’s no other way to know for sure that people will be superior performers in a particular management position prior to bringing them on board than to hire only those whose behavioral styles and motivators match those of the job itself. This is the most powerful hiring tool you can have if hiring top talent is a priority. You’ll also need an assessment that will give you a set of specific questions to ask any potential employee.

Motivating Your Employees

You have manuals for virtually every piece of equipment in your company. In order to attract, develop, and retain the best people, managers must have a “people manual” composed of validated assessments that will tell them exactly how to motivate, how to manage, and how to communicate effectively with each individual reporting to them. Our assessments take all the guesswork out of hiring and developing top talent so that employee empowerment becomes the crucial part of your retention process.

Once you take these steps, you’ll have a performance review process that includes employee evaluations based on the job’s Key Accountabilities, Behaviors, and Attitudes. If both you and the management employee know what’s expected in well defined terms, performance reviews are a snap.

How do you accomplish these steps?

First, benchmark the job itself, not the people in the job. Benchmarking the job  takes all the bias, American Idol type personality contests, ambiguity, and non job-related elements out of the hiring and managing process. Once the job benchmark is complete, then assess your employees and applicants for a comparison to the job assessments. The gaps become readily apparent for those who don’t match the job’s needs.

There’s no better way to get and keep the right people in management, than to take these steps to put the best people in your management positions.

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Want to learn more? First check out our website and then contact us ( and tell us how we can help you and your company bring out the best in your most important asset – your people.

Certified as a Professional Behavioral, Motivators, and Emotional Intelligence Analyst, Ron Haynes specializes in using the science of TTI’s TriMetrix HD to help companies select and develop their top management talent, create genuine Job Matching System solutions, and implement succession planning for key management positions.

He has recently developed an auditing process to help organizations more accurately calculate true cost of employee turnover. It’s staggeringly higher than you think.

Need a solution to your employee challenges? Contact him at or at 870-761-7881.

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