It seems to be a “no brainer” that better mid level managers and supervisors will, by the way they lead their people, yield better results. Yet this relationship has been very little researched, formally and academically.
A study published in August, however, does shed some light on this. It is available through the (U.S.) National Bureau of Economic Research and is entitled “The Value of Bosses.” The research was done on a large company that featured many “technology based service jobs,” for example, retail clerks, movie theater workers, airline agents, and call center workers.
The researchers came up with two findings, plus a suggestion based on these findings.
- Replacing a supervisor who is in the lowest 10% (decile) of supervisors, in terms of skills, with one from the highest 10%, has a major impact on the supervised unit’s results. It raises the team’s output by about the same amount as would be generated by adding an additional employee to a nine-member team.
- How the best bosses impact their team’s performance is primarily through teaching their employees better ways to do their work–better work methods and skills.
This second finding surprises me, because it suggests that the teaching role is more important than other supervisory activities such as modeling integrity, inspiring and motivating, recognizing and rewarding good work, and communicating high performance expectations. So, I will be looking for future studies to flesh out the influence of these other factors.
Finally, the recommendation they make is an intriguing one: assign your better workers to your better managers. The idea is that the impact of a good boss will be better leveraged when working his or her magic on more fertile ground. Makes sense to me. The question to consider, however, is whether potentially lower production as a result of lesser managers leading weaker employees will more than (negatively) offset the better results.
What’s most significant about research like this one is that an objective business case is being assembled for investing in the development of mid-level and front-line management staff.