Managing People

What Makes a Great Manager? Lattice’s CPO Council Weighs In

May 30, 2024
June 5, 2024
Kelsey Donohue
Lattice Team

Recently, we took a close look at the deep well of people data within the Lattice platform to see what insights we could glean from recent trends in anonymized engagement scores, career goals, team structures, and more. 

One trend stood out: Managers are juggling a lot. The average number of direct reports each manager is responsible for – known as a ‘span of control’ – rose from 4.3 to 5.2 between 2020 and 2022. 

On average, managers are leading larger teams since 2020.

There is also evidence that managers’ roles are being directly impacted by a lot of the organizational changes we have seen in the last year: Lattice product data showed that the average number of employees with manager changes has doubled since 2020, which points to a lot of disruption for individual contributors and managers alike.

External data supports this picture of managers under pressure. A 2023 survey of UK workers by Lattice and YouGov found that half of middle managers indicated they were burned out. According to Harvard Business Review, the average manager has reported spending about 210 hours – close to five weeks – completing performance reviews every year. 

At Lattice, we understand how important managers are to maintaining a positive, high-performance culture. We also know how difficult it is to find – and train – great leaders. We went to Lattice’s CPO Council to get their first-hand perspective on leaders they have worked with in the course of their careers, some of the challenges managers face today, and the skills that can turn a struggling manager into an excellent one. 

Managers matter – so dedicate time and resources to developing them.

Gianna Driver, chief human resources officer at Exabeam, laid out why managers are so important – but reminds us that great leadership comes from experience and growth. “We know from data that manager effectiveness is critically important to all success metrics in an organization — engagement, productivity, innovation, etc. But the path to good management is a journey. We are different managers at different stages of our careers, and within different organizations.” 

That’s why Driver emphasizes the importance of manager development and getting creative with how you grow and empower your organization’s leaders. “Many organizations attempt to develop managers by putting them through L&D-run courses. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but winning organizations of the future will also value the importance of technology and its power to enable managers to transform, synthesize large volumes of data, and create inclusive, psychologically safe team environments,” Driver told us. “Excitingly, there are AI-powered tech solutions (like Lattice) that augment the efficiency and effectiveness of manager development programs, allowing leaders to be more strategic and have a more human-centric approach.” 

Soft skills remain key to great leadership. 

The importance of emotional intelligence in management is well understood. It was no surprise that Lattice’s platform data pointed to soft skills – like communication and problem-solving – as top priorities for employees looking to grow in their careers. These skills become even more important when a significant part of your job becomes managing others. 

This is why some new managers who are incredibly strong in other areas may find they need to quickly develop their skills in new directions when they take on team leadership. 

“I worked with an excellent manager who came from a very command & control focused, technical environment before she stepped into her first people manager role,” Regina Ross, chief people & culture officer at Khan Academy, told us. “She was incredibly technically astute but realized quickly that she would need to adapt her style to a new team. I watched her build her new leadership style around some of the foundational elements of good managers: Forming authentic personal connections with employees, learning what motivates them, and showing vulnerability herself so that her team was able to get to know her as a person.”

Taking the time to build up these soft skills really paid off, and in time, this manager became a guiding force for other leaders at the company. “In a clear indication of the quality of her leadership, we showcased this manager’s efforts to shift her leadership style and engage her team by selecting her as one of the manager facilitators of a new training program we launched across the entire network ‘Performance Management 101: Leading & Engaging Employees Through Conversations.’”

Want to build a similar program at your company? Read how Lattice created a best-in-class manager training course.

Micromanagement is not the answer. 

A trap a lot of newer managers fall into is micromanaging their teams in an effort to have complete control over their direct reports’ progress and outputs. More often than not, this approach backfires. 

“I worked with one leader in particular who was so talented, and yet no one on the team wanted to work for her. We were seeing some regrettable attrition on her team and negative feedback in engagement survey results. Although this leader was whip-smart and outcomes-oriented, she hadn’t had an example of what good management looked like – because let’s be real, it’s rare! And because she didn’t have strong examples, she was struggling to model it herself,” Valentina Gissin, chief people officer at Garner Health, shared. “She ended up managing her people the way she'd been managed: On a short leash, with close scrutiny applied to all activities. She was asking to be copied on every email, watched every step of every process she owned, and always interceded when it wasn't going the way she'd expected.”

With some focused development on management best practices, however, this leader went on to lead a team with some of the highest engagement at the company. “I coached her on the difference between managing and micromanaging, and what this meant for different levels and styles of leaders. We also worked on how to design organizations for ownership and autonomy, how to align expectations with your subordinate leaders, how to diagnose breaks in a way that feels nurturing and supporting vs putting people on trial, and other fundamentals focused on how to manage from a coaching mentality.”

Great managers lean on other leaders. 

Managers should never have to work – or grow – in a vacuum. Seeking other leaders to learn from will give new managers a much stronger chance of developing the skills and best practices that lead to great leadership. 

“Mentorship is so critical to manager success. I remember we hired a supervisor at one of our distribution centers – during the day, he worked at our facility, and in the evenings he drove for Uber to help support his family of 5. It became clear his success as a leader was being hindered by a lack of confidence, a dialect issue, and a general (and incorrect!) feeling of inferiority,” Natalie Breece, chief people and diversity officer at thredUP told us. “We hired a speech coach and partnered him with a member of our leadership team for 1:1 mentorship. This targeted support paid off and built him into the leader we knew he could be – soon he was promoted to building General Manager, and he was able to support his family without taking on extra jobs.”

On the flip side, a manager’s growth can be hindered if they don’t have the best examples to learn from. Melanie Naranjo, vice president of people at Ethena, shared: “When I started my own personal journey with management, I started out overly nit-picky and critical of everything; I focused on constructive feedback without balancing it with positive reinforcement. One of the reasons these fundamentals were so challenging for me was that my own manager at the time wasn’t modeling these behaviors. I wasn’t receiving any constructive feedback, which left me feeling like I was missing out on growth opportunities – and even worse, it made me feel disconnected from my manager, believing she didn’t care enough to pay attention and give me the feedback I needed to grow.” 

What turned it around for her? Training that allowed her to learn from other leaders. “I finally learned how to embrace a better leadership style after going through my first management training and seeing firsthand how other managers approached management, learning best practices for maintaining balanced feedback, and better understanding how to make even the most constructive feedback motivational,” Naranjo said.

At Lattice, we are committed to helping you build a high-performing culture – and empower your managers to be the best leaders they can be. Learn more about these features by visiting the Lattice Product Updates hub or contacting your Relationship Manager.

Not a Lattice customer? Request a demo to discover how Lattice's new and existing features can help uplevel your company's HR strategy. 

Looking for more perspective from our CPO Council Leaders on just why managers are so important to an organization’s success? Check out the CPO Council Trend Talk below – where they share why managers matter, and how organizations can set them up for success.