Is it easier or any way better to promote managers from within your organization than to hire candidates from outside?
Virtually every company has faced this question at some point. It’s a critical topic with potentially serious financial and legal implications. And it’s perhaps now more important than ever given the abysmal rates of manager performance and employee disengagement across industries, and how stretched many organization are for resources.
Fortunately, I have an answer—fresh from our recent Manager Development Best Practices webinar. Early on the presentation, attorney Stephen J. Roppolo offered some insight into the question. He also spoke about the basic compliance and management skills any organization should look for in its managers.
Here’s what Steve had to say*:
* Note that the following has been edited for clarity and does not constitute legal advice whatsoever.
These days, I often see employers pacing real emphasis on stretching resources to cover as much as possible. You see it with management: you’ve got managers who are doing production work or sales, for instance—you’ll have the person not only doing sales but also managing other people as a sales manager. That’s terrific in that it can be very efficient and you can have somebody who can both bring management skills and cover some actual production work.
Often, however, the problem is that the people selected to be working managers are just the people who do that job the best without any insight as to whether they’re motivating people, managing compliance, or meeting their other roles and responsibilities.
This points to a big difference in terms of hiring and developing managers, whether we’re talking about somebody coming being promoted from within the organization or somebody hiring from outside. In either case, you need to make sure you’ve got somebody who knows the operation and understands how to make the trains run on time, but also is really good at managing people.
It’s not always easier to promote from within.
The problem with assuming a “worker bee” already possesses the requisite management skills is that common sense only gets you so far when managing people and complying with employment law. Much of what we see in the area of employment law isn’t intuitive. Managers need to be prepared. They need to be skilled at understanding the issues presented. They have to be able to spot issues and they have to be open to dealing with their employees and listening to them so that they understand not just what’s happening, but how it’s impacting their teams.
The legal side of this is particularly important. Think about the kinds of employment issues that managers deal with. A manager might come across issues that would involve the Fair Labor Standards Act. It might be a workplace harassment question, where the manager needs to identify when the no-harassment policy is implicated by behavior they’ve observed.
What many employers don’t realize is that managers really are the eyes and ears of the organization. If they don’t relate to you what’s going on out there on the shop floor, you may never know whether there are disgruntled employees that might potentially present litigation risk. You might not even know there’s union organizing. If you don’t have that information from your managers, you’re not going to get it from anybody. It’s important to know from a manager’s perspective what people are doing out there. The manager needs to be able to provide actionable feedback to leadership. This ensures the entire workforce is organized in a way that is productive but is also compliant.
A sexual harassment incident is an example of a situation in which your managers can get you in trouble—because they essentially are the company. Managers can bind the organization. Not only is it important for them to know and be able to observe when violations of the no-harassment policy occur, but also violations of the law. If they neglect or mishandle this responsibility, their behavior can create liability for the company.
Sexual harassment law also treats managers differently than regular employees. If a manager is involved in sexually harassing behavior and they then take a tangible employment action—such as discipline—the action could be found to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The organization could face significant liability as a result. Even if upper management might have not have known what that manager himself was up to, as long as he engaged in that misconduct, he could create liability with no possibility of an affirmative defense. If that happens, you’re liable. This is why it’s important to make sure supervisors understand the law so they don’t walk into a minefield and create liability for the company.
For more guidance on manager hiring and development, be sure to check out our recent blog series on the topic. You can also watch Manager Development Best Practices any time, on demand.