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The Case for AMA Management Certification

By Steve Rumery

It is time to implement a certification process for managers. Why, you ask? Because currently there are about 24 million managers, supervisors, and administrators in the U.S. workforce, according to Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini in their 2016 Harvard Business Review article, “Excess Management Is Costing the U.S. $3 Trillion Per Year.” That works out to about one manager for every five employees, or 17.6 percent of the workforce and 30 percent of the total compensation distributed. On their own, managers influence a huge chunk of the economy.

And these managers make a profound impact on the performance and vitality of organizations. In its The Manager (Gallup Press, 2019), co-authors Jim Clifton and Jim Harter describe their research on the affect of good (and bad) managers on employees, which suggests that upward of 70 percent of the variability of performance between teams is explained by the performance of managers and supervisors. Managers, through their actions, enable employees to produce the products and services that we want and need.

Unfortunately, this research also suggests that managers could have a great deal more impact than they currently do. Clifton and Harter say that, “Most current team leaders do not have the natural tendencies for managing people.” Gallup research in State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders (2015) suggests this striking issue is likely due to the practice of promoting employees based on strong performance in an individual contributor role, not because they have the right set of knowledge, skills, abilities, or other characteristics to be a great manager.

Another factor is that many individual contributors who ascend to management roles retain some of their original individual contributor roles and responsibilities. In these cases, employees are being tasked to play two separate roles at once, sometimes called being a “player-coach.” However, the individual often only focuses on the role they do best—the individual contributor one. A 2006 study of player-coaches by the Boston Consulting Group’s Elizabeth Kaufman, Yves Morieux, and Chuck Scullion suggests that a proliferation of player-coaches can do real harm to organizations, contributing to “corporate bloat and inefficiency.”

So why is now the time to start certifying managers? One reason is that there is an urgent need to clarify the role of manager across organizations and to standardize it, with real impact on the bottom line. In its The Manager, Clifton and Harter estimate that the cost of lost productivity due to inefficient management is around $1 trillion annually, or about 5 percent of the GDP. It is time to certify managers because building a validated certification process can serve to codify the role of manager and improve the overall effectiveness of managers globally.

Another reason to start certifying managers is that managers and organizations simply want such a process. Research conducted by American Management Association (AMA) clearly identified an unmet need for a certification process. The study involved about 770 managers and employers and results showed broad support for certification. For example, 84 percent of employers indicated that, given the choice, they would encourage current employees to pursue an AMA management certification. About three in four employers also indicated that having managers in their organization certified by AMA would lead to increased efficiency and better management in their organization and would be of value to it.

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