Why promoting for the right qualities is crucial

Managers with the most effective traits hold the key to an engaged workforce.
By Teri Saylor

Editor's note: This article is based on a Journal of Accountancy podcast featuring Nate Dvorak.

Motivation, work style, initiative, collaboration, and thought processes all come together in great managers, according to Nate Dvorak, a workplace researcher and client adviser with Gallup.

"These five qualities or traits are built around a common ability to connect people and build strong relationships," he said. These traits, Gallup research has found, are shared by the most effective managers across a wide variety of organizations, both large and small.

Managers with effective work styles can influence and enable their teams to set goals and achieve excellent results, Dvorak said. Those who demonstrate initiative can influence individuals to push through adversity to accomplish their goals. Managers with good collaboration skills can build committed teams with deep and personal connections, and those with effective thought processes are able to take an analytical approach to strategic decision-making.

Not all managers possess these traits. Studies looking at employee engagement in the United States, for example, show that only about one-third of employees are engaged in their work. Gallup research has found an individual's manager has the largest impact on their level of engagement. "So, there's clearly some room to grow when we think about creating a great workplace and finding managers that are able to do that," he said.

However, organizations can learn to promote the people who do have those traits and train the ones who need more help. Here's Dvorak's best advice on how organizations can cultivate top-performing managers in order to create higher-performing organizations:

Promote people for the right reasons. People often get promoted to management roles because of their tenure within their organization and their strong performance as an individual contributor. But neither of those reasons is a great indicator of an employee's eventual success as a manager, Dvorak said. It takes thoughtful, intentional effort and communication to get out of the habit of promoting employees because of tenure or performance, and to shift to an environment where employees are promoted into management roles because the organization has some indications that management is a great fit with a person's natural talents.

"This is a hard shift for some organizations to make, and it takes time," Dvorak said.

Hire for management talent. Cultivating future managers starts during the hiring process, according to Dvorak. Organizations should assess job candidates to "figure out who may have the talent to be a manager three or five years down the road, so they're building up their pool of future managers even at those first, frontline stages of hiring," he said.

Strive to create upward mobility for employees. Organizations should be thoughtful and proactive about creating opportunities for those not on a management track as well as for those with innate management skills, Dvorak said. He pointed out that, at some organizations, employees with managerial talent can take the management track to move up, while those who prefer to remain individual contributors get onto a nonmanagement track that still leads to taking on more responsibility, adopting higher job titles, and making more money.

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at

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