When we work with people who struggle to be great leaders, a root cause we sometimes identify is a lack of belief that managing others is as important as their other responsibilities. These individuals all too often say the right things and tend to understand (at least at an intellectual level) that managing people requires their time and attention; but their actions seldom reflect what they espouse.

Research conducted by McKinsey and Company* on the role of frontline managers concludes that “across industries, managers spend 30 to 60% of their time on administrative work and meetings, and 10 to 50% on non-managerial tasks (travelling, participating in training, conducting special projects, or undertaking direct customer service or sales themselves). They only spend 10 to 40% of their time actually managing frontline employees.”

Even then, managers are not truly coaching their employees. McKinsey and Company surveys show that managers tend to spend between 5 to 10% of their time – as little as 10 minutes a day – coaching and engaging their teams.

* Unlocking the potential of frontline managers. McKinsey Quarterly. August 2009

What then is the standard that should be strived for? McKinsey says that at best-practice companies, managers allocate 60 to 70% of their time managing employees, much of it in high-quality individual coaching.

How can this standard be achieved? Part of the solution lies in an organization’s ability to clearly define what they expect from their managers. The standard needs to be as specific as possible and it should be communicated and reinforced consistently. Sometimes it also becomes necessary to redesign some of the work that these managers do, so that they have the time and space to live up to the expectations.

In other words, finding meaningful ways to support their leaders as they strive to meet the new expectation must hold an important place for all top leaders.

Nic Tsangarakis, Principal