Being a manager is a tough job.  Not only are they accountable for their own work but also for the outputs of their team.  Sure, such accountability is part and parcel of a manager’s role; however a commonly expressed concern of managers is that while they are held accountable for the results of their team they feel that they don’t have the commensurate managerial authorities.  For some managers this leads to frustration, disengagement and even despair at being able to perform their job competently.  Let’s explore this in more detail.

Scenario 1 - “I have employees appointed to my team without having any input in to it”.

Does this scenario ring true in any organisations for which you have worked?

The manager’s manager:  “Hey I just wanted a quick word with you. Our General Manager has a niece who has just completed her master’s degree in philosophy and he asked me if she could join your team and learn the ropes”.

Manager:  “Well I don’t have any vacancies in my team right now and I am not sure how someone’s philosophy qualifications are really the right fit for an IT team – it’s very specialised work you know”.

The manager’s manager: “Oh no she is apparently a very fast learner and willing to learn from the ground up.  We will find the budget for you.   She starts next Monday”.

So the manager will be held accountable for the performance of this unqualified employee whom they had no part in recruiting.  Imagine the challenge for the manager should they in the future have to provide negative feedback to the GM’s niece if she isn’t performing!

An open and fair recruitment and selection processes for every vacancy is essential to building and sustaining trust in an organisation.  People remember and recite examples of organisational nepotism for a very long time after the fact.  A manager must have the authority to veto the appointment to the team of an unsuitable candidate if they are to be held accountable for their performance.

Scenario 2 - “I have a consistently underperforming team member and it is impossible to remove them from their role due to all the HR rules and regulations”.

I started out my career as a manager in the public sector, so I feel the manager’s pain in this scenario. 

I remember one “problem” employee who reported to me when I was a fledgling manager.  My perception was that he was lacking motivation and was not delivering much output.  Trying to manage this person's performance effectively took up a disproportionately large amount of my time compared with the rest of the team.  However, as it turns out, the team member wasn’t the problem - I was.  I hadn’t clearly defined their role, I hadn’t spent enough time assessing their development needs and coaching them, and I hadn’t engaged with them well as one human being to another.

In this instance, the ‘difficulty’ in removing an employee from their role for ‘underperformance’ was in fact the catalyst for improving my effectiveness as a manager and helping this person perform to a good standard – it actually helped me to deliver on managerial accountabilities because there was no easy way out.

However, managers need to be reassured that where they do follow due process and do the hard yards in trying to improve underperformance that they have the authority to initiate that person’s removal from the role.  There is no more disheartened manager than one who has seemingly tried all avenues to help an employee improve their performance, to no avail, but then is not supported in exiting them from their role.

Scenario 3 - “I have no input into the salary reviews for my team members”.

Several years ago I visited a fairly remote site of a company and was speaking with the site manager who said something along the following lines:  “I have no idea how our remuneration process works.  I knew that salary review time was approaching but I was shocked when a letter arrived for each employee at this site with details of their salary increase.  The other managers and I had no input into the salary reviews”.

The manager had absolutely no authority when it came to providing monetary rewards to employees and certainly was unable to explain to people why they received the salary adjustments which they did, putting him in a very difficult position as a leader – lacking authority and unable to ensure that the best performers were being rewarded accordingly.

At the other end of the spectrum are those managers who state that they should be able to determine the salary of their team members without any constraints whatsoever.

There needs to be a happy medium here.  Managers need the authority to recommend the rewards that their team members receive, however particularly in large organisations, it needs to be within the bounds of a remuneration framework, otherwise chaos ensues through cost blowouts and the inevitable and morale sapping salary disparities which emerge.

The Upshot

Managers do have an important and often challenging job.  It is appropriate that they should be held accountable for the outputs of their team however they need to have matching managerial authorities in order to be able to deliver on the accountabilities. 

Organisations need to ensure that their managers genuinely have the authority to:

  • Veto the appointment of an unsuitable team member;
  • Initiate the removal of an employee from their role through due process;
  • Recommend the rewards in relation to a team member’s performance, within remuneration guidelines; and
  • Assign tasks to their team members*.

Managers need to not only be informed that they have these managerial authorities but importantly they must genuinely believe it to be the case so that they will exercise the authorities if and when needed.

Managers also need to be prepared to accept the hard work and challenges that their role presents and work within due process to ensure fair and ethical treatment of people – authority requires checks and balances.

So, do your managers feel that they have the appropriate authorities to lead their teams?  The relatively simple act of making explicit a manager’s authorities can quickly improve their engagement and performance.


* Note:  The concept of minimum managerial authorities derives from the work of Elliott Jaques.

AuthorMichael Sleap