Earlier this year I explored the accuracy of the heuristic that people tend to leave bad bosses. It was based on a study that suggested that the picture is rather more nuanced, and that the relationship between manager and employee was a big influence on the employees next job.
In other words, if you have a good relationship with your boss, you’re more likely to get a good job next, and naturally are more likely to feel positively towards their former company.
The value of a good boss
The importance of a good boss was underlined by a second study, conducted by a Harvard team.
“Bosses may get lucky and have subordinates who can do their job well—or, in other settings, they can get really unlucky and have one person who poisons the whole bunch,” the researchers say.
The researchers attempted to isolate the impact a boss has on their team in a tech-based services company. The managers in this company were rotated frequently so that employees had a new boss every couple of months. By monitoring employee data, they were thus able to test the impact of the bosses on performance.
“There was tremendous variety in the productivity of workers doing the same task compared to other workers who looked similar at the start,” the authors say.
Interestingly however, there was a clear pattern of fluctuation depending on who was managing certain individuals, suggesting a clear impact of the manager on their performance.
The quality of each manager was assessed by looking at the performance of employees on a given day, whether that was core tasks or ancillary tasks such as time spent with customers.
When the numbers were crunched, it was found that replacing a poor boss (one in the bottom 10%), with a good one (from the top 10%), would be as effective in boosting performance as adding an extra employee to a 9 person team.
“That’s because the effect of a boss is multiplicative,” the authors say. “If you have a better boss on a team, you get more out of each individual worker.”
So how should companies respond to this? The answer might not be as simple as giving more employees the best bosses as this may result in diminishing returns. After all, their success may come by virtue of spending quality time with their team, which would be diminished if they were given more employees to care for.
It does however underline the important role managers can play in the success, or otherwise, of an organization, and therefore the crucial role in both hiring good bosses, and in giving them the support they need in order to succeed.