What makes a good manager?

Andrew Wrightin Training & Education

Oaklands AndrewWrightWhat makes a good manager? That's a question you may have often heard, and the answer depends on many issues, for example the team, the environment, the industry etc. A good leader in a military unit might have to work quickly under great pressure, and insist on absolute discipline to ensure his team survives the day.

However, a team leader in charge of a group of workers in the advertising industry will be totally different in character as his team.

Your responsibility as a manager to your team is:
- To develop people to high performance standards using outstanding people management practices
- To provide leadership that is inspiring and motivating

What do you mean by inspiring, I hear you ask?

Well, the Department of Trade and Industry have done a bit of research on this one (Inspirational Leadership DTI, 2006), and found that the best leaders do the following

1. Communicate the vision: share this with others so that they "catch" your excitement and want to contribute

2. Enthuse, grow and appreciate others. Be a good listener and be quick to trust others with responsibility. Delegate and celebrate the growth and success of others

3. Clarify and apply values: be inclusive, human and compassionate

4. Achieve success: find new ways of solving problems; see and set priorities, work towards these with determination and rigour; be energised by your work, naturally curious, love learning and be very teachable. Make time to reflect and know yourself well enough to be able to manage yourself

If we think about this, we can see these traits in people like Sir Richard Branson who have built huge organisations based on these values.

So, how are you going to do this?

1. Communicate performance standards (what you want to achieve and expect from your team) and objectives in a way that engages and can be understood by staff

2. Give regular feedback; encourage people to continuously develop and get better at what they do. This can be formal, such as in an appraisal, or ad hoc, such as giving praise when a job has been well done

3. Let people know when they have improved or performed above the expected level. This does not mean you have an employee of the month award (as some people hate that sort of thing), it simply means letting that person know that you think they have done well

Should you shoot the lame horse?

At some point in time, all staff will under perform. The issue is, what you should do about it.

People often dislike working with team members who are under performing; if you fail to address this, you will lose respect as a leader. However, the shoot first, ask questions later method is not the best to employ as a manager either, as you will be accused of being uncaring and a bully. By giving people the opportunity to improve, we are being fair to them.

Most staff realise that we have their interests at heart and can ultimately value the time we've spent in discussing improvements with them. Quite often, under performance can be a cry for help.

In addressing under performance you are contributing to the raising of standards and, in the longer term, the performance of your team should improve. In addition to this, your life is often made easier if you are tackling issues as they occur rather than leaving them to grow into a monster that is going to be hard to kill.

What happens if we do not support people to improve?

If we do not look at improving the teams abilities, we could make ineffective decisions regarding the delegation of tasks, i.e. give the wrong job to the wrong person. When this happens, morale in a team can suffer. This may leads to an escalation of problems and erosion of your management time in dealing with the issues.

A big mistake is to ignore the under performance in the hope that it will go away; it won't, it will just get worse as the team sees you are not going to deal with it and, so, begin to behave in the same way as the problem member of staff (e.g. well, if he lets him get away with it, I am going to do the same).

Dealing with under performance is also much easier if it's nipped quickly in the bud - if your team see you spot issues quickly, and deal with them effectively, they are less likely to try pushing the limits. Saving up the issues and then taking it all to your HR department is also a bad move, as this shows the team you are afraid to deal with it face to face and prefer to hide behind HR, and that you have been 'sneaky' in logging all the problems behind the person's back.

So, why don't we tackle poor performance?

There are a number of reasons:

1. The sensitivity of the other person; we worry we might offend them

2. Insufficient evidence; we never keep a record of the issues

3. Not having the skills to lead a "difficult" discussion

4. Worries that we might be blamed for 'bullying' staff

5. We don't like confrontation; sometimes the way we handle difficult situations or conflict gets in the way of our effectiveness, e.g. we start shouting, we find it hard to be objective etc.

Conflict-handling styles

Managing conflict relies on assertion and cooperation on both sides.

A good manager will try to be assertive but, at the same time, open to feedback and suggestions from the person on how the problem can be solved.

Characteristics of a 'Collaborative' style.

These managers will use collaborative style and the basics of this will be:

1. Stating clearly what improvement you need to see in the individual

2. Asking questions to get the individuals point of view

3. Listening carefully to what is said, even when you don't want to hear it

4. Summarising - this involves making a record of the facts and how the problem is going to be sorted

5. Making it clear that you will help them improve

6. Asking the other person for the solution, e.g. what can they do to improve? The best results will always be obtained if the individual buys into the way forward

Giving feedback

When it's time to give the feedback, its vital that you do it soon after the event, that you detail what the issue is, and are clear what you, as a manager, want to see change in the individual.

When giving feedback, think about the person you are giving it to. Some will like it straight to the point, some will need it wrapped up in sugar. However, always ensure the message is understood.

You could comment on the individual's whole job, not just the problem part. For example, if a normally good member of staff starts to under perform, you might handle the conversation like this; "You normally set up the course really well at weekends. I noted this week you forgot to rake the bunkers on the last five holes. Tell me, what was going through your mind? I'm interested in knowing why you did not operate to your normal high standards."

It also a good idea to comment on the impact, for example, "because you did not rake the bunkers, there were a lot of complaints today from the clubhouse. How can we avoid this happening again?"

Of course, you could just rant at the person for not raking the bunkers, but this will -

a. Not endear you to this person, who is normally a good member of staff

b. Will, most likely, not get you the real reason why they under performed and, therefore, will not not deal with the issue in a way that will avoid it happening againg in the future

How to carry out a formal performance management meeting

It is important that the individual and the team see you as a manager taking action when someone under performs. To get this right you should:

1. Ensure that you meet in a private; don't do it where others can hear

2. Explain what you have noted and say why it's a problem. Be assertive and confident (you are in the right, so why should you be anything else?)

3. Keep to the facts you've observed, do not use hearsay

4. State what you need to see, and then encourage them to come up with their own plan to deal with the problem

5. Ask questions to hear the person's viewpoint and explanation - there might be a very good reason for the under performance, e.g. family issues etc.

6. Offer to support the person in dealing with the problem; show them you are interested in helping them to move forward

7. Agree on the action that needs to be taken

8. Agree a date to review the issue

9. Record what you agreed and communicate this to the other person. Do this in writing (sending by email can be good evidence, but you will need to word the email very carefully so it cannot be misread, i.e. look like you are bullying someone etc.)

Carry out the review on the date you agreed (follow up the meeting) and give praise for any improvement and, if required, consider the next stage of action.

This is a critical part; give praise for any improvement made and encourage the person to continue along the agreed action plan. Have further discussions until the correct level of performance has been reached. If there is no improvement, consider the next step and speak to your own manager.

Dealing with accusations of bullying

Today, managers are always at risk of being accused of bullying, and the courts are full of cases where staff are suing employers. Most of the risks can be avoided by sticking to some simple rules:

1. Make sure you are not bullying in the first place! This means treating everyone the same. Having a go at one member of staff for lateness, when you let another go early to pick up the kids, could be seen as picking on an individual

2. Make an attempt to identify the nature or source of the poor performance

3. Give them a chance to put the issue right

4. Make sure you discuss it, and record issues clearly and accurately

5. Don't impose new standards without discussion on appropriate standards of performance or behaviour

6. Don't use ridicule, criticism, shouting, withholding of benefits, demotion, teasing or sarcasm, and be careful with emails!

Hopefully, you will now feel more confident at addressing issues of under performance among your team. However, one last word of warning. A team is only as good as the manager who leads it. You need to lead by example.

Lastly, a quote from Henry T Ford comes to mind "Don't find fault, find a remedy".

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