Skip to main content

Measure how you manage: using data to adapt your management style

Richard Tso

December 1, 2016

Do you remember your favorite manager and the qualities she possessed to both motivate and inspire you at work? When you first stepped into a management role, what aspects of her style did you adopt to lead your teams to success?

Bad managers can cost businesses millions of dollars each year as a result of mismanagement and employee attrition since they account for at least 70 percent variance in employee engagement scores across business units. Additionally, employee happiness and engagement at work is closely correlated with the perception of managers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of management occupations is projected to grow 6 percent between 2014 to 2024, although research published by Gallup found that 82 percent of the time companies fail to hire the candidate with the right talent for the job. So why are great managers so rare and how can you use intelligent analytics to become a better manager?

Having an optimal ratio of managers to individual contributors is vital for organizations to succeed – having too many managers makes a company more bureaucratic and slower to adapt, having too few decreases efficiency and employee focus through decentralized leadership. Businesses that find the right balance and hire managers based on talent will thrive and gain a significant competitive advantage.

How Management Unlocks Employee Performance

Microsoft Workplace Analytics (formerly VoloMetrix) spent the last 5 years researching workplace behaviors across more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies and found that across their portfolio of clients, managers spend an average of 18 hours a week in meetings, nearly double the time of individual contributors. Additionally, managers are sending and receiving a total of 220 emails per week on average while individual contributors are sending and receiving about 113.

The figures above represent averages across all companies researched and job titles of manager and above are considered functional managers. They found values increased progressively with level of management — directors spent about 13 hours per week in email, vice presidents spent 16 hours and one executive vice president was spending more than 37 hours per week in email.

This reveals a startling disconnect between the high expectations of those in managerial roles and the amount of time they have available to actually lead others while producing high-value work. This information is also beneficial in that it provides a general baseline for assessing how global organizations, including your own, can identify ways to improve how time is spent toward management activities.

As a manager where do you fall on this spectrum? Do you find your time in meetings prevents you from being available for your employees? Are you constantly double-booked, indicating you may not have enough time to dedicate towards management activities?

Using Data to Reveal Your Leadership Style

New tools like workplace analytics and people analytics software are helping organizations better understand the qualities of top performers and what makes strong managers. The behaviors of top managers can be examined through understanding the number of one-on-one meetings with direct reports, frequency and length of those meetings and by analyzing the aggregate email collaboration patterns between teams.

For example, our research within top-performing sales teams at a leading technology company found that effective managers were those with a light-touch, checking in on a bi-weekly basis rather than weekly. Top sales performers are innately self-motivated and preferred to work independently and ask questions of managers only when needed.

Managers wishing to better understand their effectiveness typically rely on performance evaluations from their supervisors, but workplace analytics are providing a way for managers to alter their behaviors on a weekly basis as needed. For example, personal time-usage dashboards may reveal you spent 10 hours in meetings with your direct reports last week while your historical average is about 2-3 hours per week. Your team is on deadline which explains the increase but as you plan for next week, you could target a range of about 3-4 hours of meetings with direct reports so you allow them enough focus time to complete work before the deadline.

As another example, imagine that your team has witnessed a high-degree of employee turnover in the last year, about 3 people have left your 7-person team. Your supervisor wants you to make changes in how you manage but you don’t know where to start. You can examine historical metrics around the time spent with direct reports and find you were meeting multiple times per week and sending an average of 30 emails per week to the people who ended up leaving the company. Moving forward you decide to take a less hands-on approach and set new benchmarks to provide more freedom to your employees.

Changing Your Behavior Takes Commitment and a Bit of Humility

Do you know your leadership style? Does it change over time and how does it change when you are stressed or are on deadline? Or are you a micro-manager that schedules too many one-on-one meeting with your direct reports or you schedule too many meetings with redundant layers of management? Is your calendar constantly double-booked, an indication that you don’t have time for your employees? These are the questions organizational leaders are answering through data, much like a fitbit for work.

And as you know, it isn’t always easy for managers to hear about areas for professional improvement. In fact, it can be downright disheartening to learn that you aren’t being an effective leader for your teammates. But it shouldn’t be your employees’ responsibility to tell you when you aren’t. Given this it’s even more imperative to arm yourself with objective analytics that provide a baseline understanding for personal improvement.

For those with a growth-mindset who are open to learning new tricks, new workplace analytics solutions are a powerful tool, shining a light on how your management behavior impacts your teams. We all make mistakes and have areas where we can improve. Knowing this and taking action is what separates the good managers from the great.

Richard Tso

Richard L. Tso is the managing editor of Microsoft Workplace Insights at Microsoft. Integrated in a team of data scientists, he is responsible for unearthing compelling stories about data, organizational behavior, employee engagement and business performance. He is a regular contributing writer for the Huffington Post, WIRED magazine and Medium.