To Be a Better Manager, Excel at Three Attributes

Becoming an employee-centric manager (ECM) takes awareness, development, and practice.

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What does it take to be a better manager? While there are eight fundamental attributes my research has uncovered which employees most want in their manager, three of these attributes play an outsized role in employee ratings of the manager’s overall performance. A manager’s performance rating is highest when they excel at listening to and recognizing employees and making good decisions. More about this later – let’s first give the full definition of the employee-centric manager.

An employee-centric manager (ECM) shows support and understanding to employees, provides them with recognition for a job well done, treats them with dignity and respect, communicates clear performance expectations, and rewards employee performance with fair compensation and training and development opportunities. An ECM is also skilled in problem-solving and decision-making and consistently demonstrates the personal values of being fair and just and honest and trustworthy.

ECMs enjoy tremendous advantages. Research has consistently shown that their team members describe their employee experience much more favorably and have notably higher levels of employee engagement. In addition, teams managed by ECMs have better team chemistry and outstanding team performance.

Here is what top-rated ECMS do.

Listening to employees

ECMs listen to employees, are considerate and friendly, pay attention to employees’ needs and difficulties, show empathy, and develop healthy overall relationships with employees.

Best practices in becoming a better listener include:

  1. Getting to know employees sufficiently well that you understand their current capabilities, training and development needs, and goals.
  2. When listening to employees describe their concerns, respond in a way that shows you are genuine and supportive; in other words, show empathy.
  3. Making employee job satisfaction a priority by understanding that job satisfaction is determined by comparing what employees want in a job and what they see as their current reality.

Employees described in their own words how a manager becomes a good listener. They stated good listeners value the opinions of frontline workers because they are often the best informed. They treat interactions with employees as necessary, not discounting them by being distracted or multitasking. They respond with patience to questions and requests and give employees, especially newer or less experienced employees, the guidance they need. And they take advantage of employee ideas and suggestions for how to improve workflow.

Recognizing employees

ECMs are great at thanking employees for working hard and overcoming unusual obstacles in getting the work done. An exciting thing about recognition is that it costs a manager nothing. All it takes is an awareness of its importance and the time and effort needed to make it happen. Recognition refers to complimenting and praising good work, giving employees credit for good ideas, and acknowledging their loyalty to the job and the organization.

Best practices in becoming better at recognition include:

  1. Being timely with your recognition because real-time recognition has the most genuine and longest-lasting impact.
  2. Showing appreciation for the level of expertise employees have developed in their time on the job and recognizing the passion and energy they bring to their work.
  3. Tailoring recognition to the individual employee. This requires learning how each person likes to be recognized (e.g.,, publicly versus privately) and personalizing the recognition accordingly.

Employees told me that managers who are good at providing recognition show appreciation for the good work and positive attitudes of employees consistently. They regularly recognize deserving employees, not just when they fear they are about to leave. They put deserving employees in the spotlight for their managers. They explain why they are giving recognition to an employee, which sends the message to others about what type of performance is highly valued. In addition, it shows they are aware of who does what on their teams so that when recognition is warranted, it goes to the truly deserving.

Being a competent decision-maker and problem-solver

Employees want to work for managers who are experts in problem-solving and decision-making. They want managers who can make good decisions quickly and who can solve problems with appropriate and workable solutions. They want their managers to remove roadblocks that get in the way of getting the work done. In effect, employees want managers who understand the responsibility they have to employees and are competent in clearing the path to job success.

Best practices in becoming better at problem-solving and decision-making include:

  1. Making decisions based on data and other reliable information.
  2. Making decisions in a timely way knowing unnecessary stalling on a decision has a ripple effect on workloads and project plans.
  3. Involving employees in decision-making since they are the ones most likely to understand the pros and cons of alternative approaches.

Employees described in their own words how a manager skilled at problem-solving and decision-making operates. They offer experience-based solutions when employees come up empty-handed in addressing a problem. They help employees keep their emotions in check by acting calmly when faced with a crisis and focusing team energy on developing solutions. They realize that their approach to problem-solving and decision-making sets a pattern that other team members will follow. And they de-escalate volatile interpersonal conflicts with poise by validating differing perspectives, sharing new information as needed, and helping all parties understand the importance of maintaining long-term working relationships.

Unfortunately, not all managers are employee-centric. In fact, in the eyes of employees, at least 15-20 percent of people managers today are ineffective in their roles. One reason is that they don’t understand what employees most want from them. Further, many managers have an inflated view of their own performance, routinely rating themselves significantly higher than their employees. Finally, a recent survey indicated that over 70 percent of managers either have received no people management training at all or it was capped at only four hours.

The advantages of being an ECM are significant. But becoming one takes awareness, development, and practice. And it is easier to become an ECM in an organization that values and rewards managers who display these attributes. That is where employees want to work.

DR. JACK WILEY has more than 30 years of experience studying what employees most want and what organizational design factors best promote employee engagement, performance confidence and business success. He is the president & CEO of Jack Wiley Consulting, LLC, and Employee Centricity LLC. In addition to his business ventures, he’s the chief scientific officer at Engage2Excel. He is the author of The Employee Centric Manager and RESPECT: Delivering Results by Giving Employees What They Really Want. In 2014, Dr. Wiley was awarded the prestigious Professional Practice award by the Society of Industrial-Organizational Psychology, a lifetime achievement award for outstanding contributions to the practice of industrial-organizational psychology. In addition to being elected to Fellow status in SIOP, he is also a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.