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8 Min Read

9 Tips to Improve Manager Effectiveness and Build a Positive Work Environment

Nicole Klemp

For the second year in a row, Gartner reports that leader and manager development is the #1 priority for HR leaders. Gartner’s survey about the top HR priorities in 2024 uncovered that 76% of HR leaders say their managers are overwhelmed by the growth of their job responsibilities, and 73% say leaders and managers aren’t equipped to lead change.

Considering the crucial importance of manager effectiveness—it influences nearly every aspect of the work experience and is a top driver of employee engagement, performance, and retention—it’s a little disheartening that so many managers still struggle to perform.

Keep reading for nine tips on how to improve manager effectiveness and develop an organization of impactful leaders. 

1. Identify the competencies of effective managers

It’s hard to gauge how well your managers are performing without some kind of baseline for what great managers look like in your organization. 

While manager effectiveness can look different in different organizations, the following behaviors and competencies are fairly universal:

  1. Business acumen: Effective managers analyze complex situations, anticipate future trends and possibilities, and develop plans that account for various factors across the business.
  2. Goal-setting: Effective managers prioritize work and define measurable objectives that an individual or organization wants to achieve. 
  3. Enabling productivity: Effective managers provide resources and tools and remove blockers to help individuals work efficiently and effectively toward achieving their goals.
  4. Giving and receiving feedback: Effective managers know how to give their employees constructive feedback. They also aren’t afraid to ask for (and act on) feedback on their own performance and leadership.
  5. Influencing others: Effective managers can influence people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. They’re aware of their team members’ values and needs and use this knowledge to drive organizational impact.
  6. Supporting career growth: Effective managers mentor, train, and coach individuals to develop the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to achieve their career goals. 
  7. Building strong teams: Effective managers create a collaborative, high-achieving team environment in which members are committed to a common purpose.
  8. Self-development: Effective managers lead by example. They keep themselves organized, focused, and productive while also managing their teams at a high level. 

2. Track manager effectiveness metrics 

Once you can define the qualities and actions of an effective leader, you need data to measure manager effectiveness. Manager data can help you track the quality of work and confirm specific areas that need attention. 

By taking a data-driven approach and tracking the following six metrics associated with manager effectiveness, you can tackle enablement with business outcomes in mind:

  1. Engagement scores by team
  2. Team goal completion percentage
  3. Check-in completion rate
  4. 1-on-1 frequency
  5. Feedback quality
  6. Turnover rates by team

3. Set clear expectations from the start

Managers and their direct reports need role clarity, clear expectations, and to know how their performance will be measured. For HR leaders, this might mean working with managers to document roles and responsibilities and think through the professional development initiatives you need to have in place to accelerate behavior change. 

Invest in software solutions for activities like one-on-ones, employee engagement surveys, and goal setting, and set the expectations that these are part of your company culture and the responsibility of every manager. The goal is for these tasks and activities to become habits ingrained into the normal flow of work for all people leaders and employees. 

4. Lead with empathy and inclusion

Even in some organizations that prioritize DEI, many people still feel they don’t truly belong at their workplace or that they can’t be their authentic selves at work. 

According to SHRM, a Jobsage survey found that while most employees value authenticity, 7 in 10 feel they must adopt a different personality at work. 

HR leaders must prioritize psychological safety in the workplace and work with managers to create an environment where all people feel they can belong. Incorporate inclusivity training into your manager development program to ensure people leaders have the education they need to create safer, more inclusive teams.

5. Welcome feedback and be an active listener

Employees need managers who check in with them regularly on their progress toward goals and address any challenges they may be having. They offer constructive feedback, guidance, and support to their teams. They also talk to individuals about their career goals and explore new opportunities for growth and development.

HR leaders can help drive a culture of feedback by making regular manager check-ins with direct reports an expected part of managers’ responsibilities. (As mentioned above, you should be tracking check-in completion rates to ensure they’re actually happening.) Just be sure managers are enabled with the right tools and training to give and receive feedback in a productive way.

6. Prioritize employee wellness and self-care

Study after study proves that employees are more likely to deliver optimal performance and productivity at work when they’re more mentally and emotionally healthy. Encouraging self-care and supporting employees in practicing self-care at work can help you build more engaged, high-performing teams.

Employees look up to their leaders to set the example of how to conduct themselves at work. So, when leaders bring their authentic selves to work each day and make authenticity the norm, it fosters a psychologically safe space for employees.

Managers should demonstrate the value of health and wellness and give employees the time to focus on self-care. HR leaders can champion initiatives and benefits that offer structural support for employees and make self-care more accessible. 

7. Recognize and celebrate employee wins

A study by Great Place to Work found that a genuine “thank you” from a leader can ignite a 69% increase in the likelihood of employees bringing extra effort to work. It’s critical that employees (especially high performers) are recognized by their managers in appropriate and timely ways. 

By recognizing team members for a job well done, managers can encourage more gratitude and positivity on their teams and create a culture of recognition where employees feel valued and appreciated.

Here are a few tips for building an effective employee recognition program:

  1. Communicate regularly. While the right cadence will vary for different organizations, “regularly” means more often than once a year during a performance review.
  2. Tailor praise to the recipient. Find out how each employee prefers to be recognized and respect their wishes as much as possible. What works well for one team member may not be appreciated by another.
  3. Make recognition specific and personalized. Be specific when calling out someone for a job well done. Just saying someone is “a rockstar” is too vague. Say what that person did well and motivate others to do the same.
  4. Be genuine & authentic. Don’t praise someone when it’s not warranted. Give recognition when you genuinely feel it’s deserved, without any hidden agenda or ulterior motive.

8. Invest in employees’ long-term growth

When managers build trust with their direct reports and show an interest in helping them grow in their careers, their teams perform at a higher level. In our 2023 Manager Effectiveness Survey, 67% of employees reported working harder for a manager who cares about their growth as a professional. 

Career planning conversations between managers and their direct reports can improve employees’ performance in their current roles and prepare them to take on increased responsibilities in the organization. Managers should be talking with their direct reports about their career vision and helping them develop the skills they need to tackle new challenges.

9. Invest in management training and coaching

One 15Five study found that 65% of managers feel underprepared and struggle to perform in their roles. Many managers today don’t have the necessary skills or emotional IQ to drive engagement and performance and may struggle to navigate the cultural changes happening in the workplace. 

Without support or investment in their growth as leaders, ineffective managers can negatively impact their teams and the organization as a whole. Invest in holistic training and coaching that builds up managers’ emotional intelligence and communication skills and gives them the tools to lead more engaged, productive teams.

Learn more in the Manager Enablement Playbook 

When it comes to manager effectiveness, where should you focus your time and budget? How can you distinguish between an effective manager and an ineffective one? And how can you replicate the success of good management at scale?

We created a guide to help you answer those questions and give you tips and tools for measuring key talent metrics, improving manager effectiveness, and creating a continuous learning environment for your managers.

Get the playbook >