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The Qualities Managers Need in Order to Succeed

So you’re a front-line employee looking to move into a supervisory role. Surprising new research suggests that certain traits you emphasize in an interview that might land you the promotion could ultimately make you an ineffective manager – qualities like creativity, a propensity to plan ahead, and the ability to multitask.

The most recent quarterly Workplace Performance Report from Evolv, a company that uses big data analytics to help companies identify workforce efficiencies, has found that managers who rank high on the innovation and creativity scale in personality assessments have a harder time retaining employees. Multitasking managers and long-term planners also had lower employee retention rates.

Compared to planners, “reactive” managers who readily adapt to changing business conditions retain employees longer, says Nathan West, director of analytical products for Evolv, based in San Francisco.

The findings build on previous analyses that suggest highly organized trainers aren’t as effective as very communicative trainers, and that managers influence employee performance and tenure more than any other factor. In fact, employees with the best managers are six times more likely to remain on the job. Employees with good managers also provide better customer service, achieve higher sales figures and are generally more productive.
Given that good managers are so critical to employee retention and success, Evolv focused the Q4 2013 report on “behavioral traits to see which lead to better or worse retention,” West says. “It’s not always intuitive.”

According to the report, “Traits like innovation are often prized in executives, but the study suggests it isn’t a valuable trait in operational managers, as it leads to employees who remain on the job for shorter periods of time.”

The report looked only at people who manage “customer-facing” or “front-line” employees, West says, so these counterintuitive findings may not hold true for higher-ranking managers.

Further research is needed to reveal the “why” behind the findings because big data “can easily show correlation, but causation is harder,” West says.

One possible hypothesis is that creative folks “may want to change the system and do something unique and off the beaten path,” which makes transition difficult when employees report to a new manager expecting a “seamless and frictionless” experience, West explains.

Creative people “sometimes have a tendency to be wrapped up in their own minds,” says Tom Thomson, a talent acquisition consultant not involved in the study. “They can be dreamers who don’t team well with others.”

Based on his observations and experience in staffing, Thomson says that many seemingly “good” qualities can become liabilities when taken too far, including self-confidence bordering on egotism.

Decisiveness “can be good or it can be negative, if the person is making decisions before getting feedback or input from direct reports,” says Thomson, managing director of the Franklin, Tenn., office of Sanford Rose Associates, a network of independently owned executive search firms.

Citing research from his partner organization, The Gabriel Institute, Thomson says managerial traits that are consistently positive from one person to the next include “coherence” – defined as being “neither rigid nor diffuse” – as well as empathy and self-awareness.

While Evolv’s analyses often uncover counterintuitive results, recent reports also reinforce long-held beliefs. For example, more experienced and better educated managers tend to fare better. More experienced managers have better customer satisfaction scores and better performance overall, and having a technical degree, bachelor’s degree or higher correlates with higher employee retention rates. Managers with either a high school education or an associate’s degree have shorter employee tenures.

Managerial traits that positively impact employee retention include an aptitude for teaching. Adaptability also makes a difference. According to the report, “Managers that live in the moment and readily adapt to changing business conditions retain employees longer than managers that strategize and plan for the future.”

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