Amid Critical Talent Shortage, Being a Good Boss Matters - Modern Distribution Management

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Amid Critical Talent Shortage, Being a Good Boss Matters

Distributors cant afford to lose good people because they are not satisfied with upper management.

As a young manager, my boss shared with me his theory that when you ask someone how their job is going, the answer you get is how they feel about their boss. As we enter the 18th straight month of unemployment rates of 4% or lower, distributors should consider reviewing their retention policies and practices. 

There is a saying that people don’t quit a job, they quit a boss. That is debatable. What is not debatable, however, is that managers, in large part, set the tone of a department, an organization or a team. If we accept that view, then it follows that understanding what makes a great leader is the logical first step in addressing turnover. 

The Work Institute reports that about 25% of the American workforce will leave their jobs within 12 months. That is 42 million people. Their research shows that there are five key factors driving this: 

  1. career development, 
  2. work-life balance, 
  3. manager behavior, 
  4. well-being, and 
  5. compensation and benefits. 

Understanding that many of us lead with company policy constraints, the last two factors may be difficult to address. However, career development, work-life balance and manager behavior are opportunities to improve the environment and retention rates. 

Google completed a 10-year study to not only determine what made a “good” manager at Google but also what impact a manager really had on the success of the team. Good news for those of us in the managerial ranks: We matter! Google found that teams with strong leaders scored higher in engagement and productivity measures. I know when some people hear “Google” they picture nap pods, treadmill desks and hammock chairs. The information presented below is solid leadership guidance that can help in any culture. 

So, what did they find were the important characteristics of a manager?

  • Be a coach, not a problem solver. Let the team work through the problem-solving process. Support and contribute at the right time but be patient and let the team own the result.
  • Don’t micromanage. Support the team. Provide the resources they need. Set the expectations on deliverables. Let the team drive the work and develop the solutions.
  • Develops a team environment and demonstrates concern for the team at a personal level. The team needs to feel comfortable making suggestions and taking risks. My thought here is to focus on the strategy not the results. A sound strategy will yield positive results. It goes back to coaching. 
  • Productive and results oriented. Managers need to hold the team accountable for results and themselves accountable for setting goals, providing the structure and resources to deliver. Put the team in a position to succeed. 
  • Listen and share information. In my opinion, the basis here is to build trust. There is no better tool to build trust than being transparent and sharing what you can when you can. Make the team feel trusted and you will be trusted. 
  • Discuss performance and support career goals. Again: openness, concern and support. A pretty consistent theme. 
  • Paint the picture. Communicate the vision and the part each team member plays in reaching that vision.
  • Understand the complexity of the work. You may not be the subject-matter expert in all the functions in the department(s) you lead but invest time to understand what everyone you are responsible for does and what their challenges are, while building relationships along the way.
  • Be collaborative. Many people lead with an us-versus-them mentality. This limits the team and the manager’s growth to be part of the larger organization
  • Be comfortable making decisions. Go back to focusing on the strategy and the process, making sure everyone effected by your decisions understands the reasoning that went into your final conclusion. 

The positive economy and the aging demographics of the workforce are factors underscoring the significance of the need for managers to pull all levers to attract, retain, develop and promote the next level of leaders in their companies. The Google report in particular presents an opportunity to set an expectation for your managers that will create a positive environment to dive satisfied, high-performing teams. 

Dave Haley began his career working for tailored clothing manufacture Hart Schaffner and Marx in multiple roles, completing his 16-year career as plant manager. His next roles were at Compaq and subsequently Hewlett Packard where he assumed responsibility for East Coast business-to-business distribution. Haley has successfully led a diverse set of distribution models across several industries including imaging equipment, parts and supplies, basic apparel, and security products, and industrial distribution. Reach him at

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