February 28, 2017

How to Manage Your Team Like a Superhero


When it comes to recruiting top talent, employee engagement and employee experience are more important than ever before. We live in a highly technological age where opinions and feedback are readily solicited and delivered in the blink of an eye. Social media has made it easy and effective for employees to discuss all aspects their organizations – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Research shows that 33 percent of millennials would refrain from accepting a job offer from a company with poor employee reviews, and these days, employees are only too happy to critique their workplaces. With this in mind, it is easy to understand why employee experience has been listed as one of 2017’s most pressing business concerns.

Luckily, it is possible to change your performance management system to ensure your employees are happy, engaged, and more productive than ever before.

And believe it or not, you may be able to draw some inspiration from the heroes and villains of popular culture. Take a look at the infographic below, and then scroll down for a closer examination of what they did right, what they did wrong, and how they can teach you to be a supermanager:

Management Lessons

High Employee Turnover Can Spell Disaster for a Company

When employee turnover is high, morale is likely to suffer tremendously. Many of your employees will be in near constant states of worry, fearing they will be the next to receive a pink slip. High turnover has also been linked to lower levels of employee engagemen. Furthermore, once a company develops a reputation for high turnover, this can seriously damage its future recruitment efforts. This is something we can learn from our first case study, the Joker.

Batman’s ultimate nemesis is known for leading ragtag teams of underhanded criminals toward a united goal. The problem is that his team is in a constant state of flux. Whenever one of his underlings displeases him, they are “let go” – as evidenced rather graphically in The Dark Knight.

This is the calling card of a poor manager. It can take as long as two years to fully train an employee to optimal productivity. If employers genuinely want to see a return on investment, they need to be dedicated to communication, training, and performance management. If the Joker had put effort into resolving employee issues rather than simply showing people the door, he would likely have a far stronger team behind him — and much better odds of defeating Batman.

Career Development Should Be a Priority

Increasingly, recruitment is focused on attracting and retaining millennials. That makes sense, given that they are predicted to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. In order to attract the best of the millennials, recruiters must first know what they want. Evidence suggests what they want are jobs that also serve as development opportunities. Millennials don’t want to remain stagnant in one position for too long. If it is clear they aren’t growing or advancing within your organization, they will seek opportunities elsewhere.

Career development was clearly a passion for Yoda. Yoda played a part in the training and development of a significant number of Jedi in the Star Wars galaxy, including Luke Skywalker, Count Dooku, Mace Windu, and Kit Fisto, to name just a few.

Yoda knew that if you invested effort and time into people, you would ultimately benefit from skilled, valuable, and engaged teammates. Yoda’s investment in his protégés also acted as a great recruiting tool, because everyone was aware that if you chose to become a Jedi, you’d seriously increase your skills and abilities.

Of course, in one notable instance, Yoda’s investments failed to pay off, and his apprentice was recruited by the competition (more on him later), but you can’t win them all. Generally, business leaders have a lot to learn from Yoda’s approach to development.

Set Clear Goals and Expectations

vaderEmployees can’t excel or perform their functions properly if they don’t know what is specifically expected of them. According to a Gallup poll, this is a serious issue: Only 50 percent of employees say they strongly agree that they know what is expected of them. To address this particular problem, employees and managers should collaborate on SMART objectives. Note that employees should be given the ultimate say on their own goals; people are far more likely to be passionate about goals they set for themselves.

Adequate goal-setting was clearly not a priority for Darth Vader. Vader should have engaged in regular performance discussions with his employees. If he had done so, he could have clarified objectives and given his employees context for their own goals based on overall organizational aims. Instead, Vader chose a haphazard approach to goal-setting. His employees were never given specific, achievable goals, yet they were required to meet his lofty expectations. This is a recipe for disaster and perhaps contributed to Vader’s demise.

It should also be noted that Darth Vader opted to use fear as a motivational technique. We can see this in his frequent use of the force choke on employees who disappointed him, which we wouldn’t recommend doing in your own check-ins. It has been shown time and again that fear is a poor motivator. Fear-based management makes employees reluctant to approach their managers when pressing issues arise. Ultimately, the organization will pay the price for that.

Managers should remember that honest discussion and frequent communication are preferable to scare tactics and will produce better results.

Delegate Responsibility and Be Flexible

Taking a step back and letting go of the reins can be difficult for managers, but delegation is a skill that all supermanagers should learn. You can’t be in full control at all times; delegating tasks shows your employees that you trust their abilities and are invested in their futures at the company.

When delegating, it’s important to recognize that employees might perform the tasks you give them differently from the way you would – and that is okay! As long as an employee performs to standard and hits their targets, you can give them the flexibility and independence they are seeking. In return, you’ll receive higher engagement and retention rates – definitely worth it!

We can see the power of delegation in the conduct of Batman, the rare example of a legendary superhero and a well-respected businessman in one package. A man of many talents, Bruce Wayne is able to succeed because he knows how to delegate responsibility where appropriate. If Bruce was insistent on micromanaging processes within Wayne Enterprises and questioning employee decisions at every turn, he would have no time to clean up the streets of Gotham.

Be Visible and Approachable to Your Employees

hobbitonThe era of the unapproachable, distant, authoritarian manager is over. Manager-employee interaction is more important now than ever before; in fact, it accounts for 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores. In other words, managers have massive impacts on how engaged their employees are. Employees want to see their managers around the office, they want to be familiar with them, and they want frequent discussions. This isn’t too much to ask, and it can seriously boost performance.

The perfect example of a faceless, absent manager comes in the form of Lord Sauron from Lord of the Rings. Though he kept an intimidating, watchful eye over proceedings, he was simply never there for his employees. If those on his team needed to discuss pressing issues, objectives, or development opportunities, they had no way of communicating with him. This is terrible for engagement levels. If only Sauron had made time for his employees, he may have enjoyed more success.

Leading organizations are aware of the importance of regular employee communication. It doesn’t matter if communication is electronic, over the phone, or in person. Frequent performance discussions are essential for the success of any forward-thinking business. Companies such as General Electric, Microsoft, and Accenture have eliminated annual performance appraisals and replaced them with weekly or biweekly performance check-ins. These meetings keep employees and managers aligned on tasks and goals, and they also afford managers an opportunity to recognize and reward excellent performance.

Never Forget the Importance of Your Employees

Research has shown that each person has an innate need to belong. We want to feel like we are integral and valued members of our groups – including the organizations we work for. We want to be part of big, functioning teams, rather than separate cogs in big machines. Great leaders are those who can unite teams along these lines, and doing so has serious benefits. Companies that prioritize teamwork are more engaged, and engaged organizations enjoy double the success rate of companies with low engagement. They also experience lower turnover and absenteeism.

Gandalf the Grey knew the importance of teamwork. After all, we’re talking about a man who united a team of diverse, conflicting creatures who ultimately saved Middle Earth. Gandalf knew that the Fellowship was not about him, and yet they could not have succeeded without him and his managerial powers. He took the time to relate to each character, unite them, and motivate them, which meant they could pull together to achieve their goal.

If there’s one thing we have learned from superhero movies, it is that the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose. We now know that this is because of their management styles. By learning from the successes of the heroes and the failures of the villains, we can all become supermanagers that highly skilled candidates would kill to work for.

Stuart Hearn is CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system.

Read more in Management Styles

Stuart Hearn has 20 years of experience in the HR sector. He cofounded plusHR, a leading UK HR consultancy, and previously worked as international HR director for Sony Music Publishing. Stuart is currently CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system.