From the Eye of the Storm

Mediating Decisions, Facilitating Solutions, Sustaining Prosperity

9 Things Your Peer Managers Probably Aren’t Doing

Video Clip from the Movie ‘Office Space’

‘Office Space’

I regularly see organizations promote high performing employees into management positions, without determining if ‘management’ is a good fit for the individual or the employees. After years of training efforts and disappointing results, many of these individuals are relieved of their duties or they choose to leave. This has never made much sense to me for two reasons:

1) It removes an outstanding performer from a position where they are making a valuable contribution.

2) It sets up an inexperienced, untrained non-manager for failure.

Using this approach, the 6-time NBA Champion Chicago Bulls of the 90’s should have promoted 5-time MVP Michael Jordan to President of Basketball Operations when it became obvious that he was the best player in the galaxy. Of course, if this had happened, it’s doubtful that 6 championships would have materialized and the MVP awards would have gone to other players. This approach would have resulted in a lose, lose situation. Any doubt in my theory should be removed by reviewing Jordan’s record as President of Basketball Operations with the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats since his retirement. Fortunately, the Bulls didn’t promote Jordan and we were able to enjoy one of the best teams in NBA history. By the way, the coach of the Bulls, future Hall of Famer Phil Jackson, who just bagged his record setting 10th NBA championship, was an average player at best (12 seasons, 6.7 points/game, 4.3 rebound/game). Many times, the best managers initially show up on the scene as average non-manager performers.

So, are you a manager who is interested in separating yourself from your peers? If so, here are 9 things you can do to establish your uniqueness and ultimately success as a manager.

1. Read a book on coaching. I recommend¬†Leading with the Heart: Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life. Being a successful manager is similar to being a successful coach. It requires establishing great teamwork, but most managers have never experienced being a participant on a successful team, and thereby, have no reference point for what behaviors and actions should be prevalent. Most new managers immediately become micro-managers or spend all of their time trying to please everyone, both of which are counterproductive to creating a team atmosphere. Without this understanding, failure is inevitable.

2. Recite the purpose, values and mission of the company verbatim from memory. Assuming that these exist, it’s rare to hear managers associate decisions with the ongoing direction of the company. Managers who can explain decisions because they are based on the established foundation of the company are accepted as credible, responsible, trustworthy and admirable, even when decisions are unpopular. If for some reason, you can’t connect any decision to the purpose, values and vision of the company, then maybe it’s a decision that shouldn’t be made. Always check yourself to ensure that you are not just ‘passing the buck’.

3. Create and maintain one (and only one) chart that reports quality, costs and productivity by month. Effective managers should always know how to articulate quality, costs, and productivity as it relates to the department function. This also gives managers the ability to monitor how decisions concerning people affect the business. Keep this chart handy and never be afraid to use it with senior managers who are forcing decisions that may have a negative impact on the business. It’s easier to say ‘I told you so’ than to explain why you supported a decision that negatively impacted the bottom line.

4. Dedicate at least 15 minutes a month of one-on-one time to each individual in your department. Blanket messages typically do not address the various communication or learning styles of all employees. Dedicated time creates space to clarify expectations and removes confusion that could result in more ‘fire fighting’ later on. It also demonstrates personal concern and support for the individuals that you are responsible for.

5. Host team practices, not staff meetings. Great teams don’t just show up to the game and perform as a great team. They dedicate themselves to numerous hours of practice. Staff meetings have a connotation of being controlling, limiting and boring because most of the time they are. Typical staff meeting agenda items can be communicated by more efficient means in today’s technology rich world. Instead of a staff meeting, schedule practice, a place where employees can be engaged and develop their skills. One practice might involve an overview of the workflow to eliminate unnecessary work actions while establishing some agreements around some more meaningful ones. Another practice might involve role play that simulates work activities. Hosting practices that have something of value to everyone who attends improve team performance.

6. Establish a peer feedback process for your team. Individuals on high performing teams have the ability to critique one another’s performance in a very constructive manner. This process enables individuals to get the feedback required to improve individual performance. On the contrary, without constructive feedback on how to better assist team members, employees will not recognize the opportunities for improvement, maintaining the status quo. The team is only as effective as it’s most fragile link.

7. Establish a manager feedback process for yourself. Feedback from the individuals on your team is one of the most important data points that you will ever receive as a manager. Choosing a process that guarantees safe, anonymous, and accurate feedback is key. What you do with the feedback is most important and creates the greatest potential for team improvement. You as manager, have to demonstrate your commitment to honing your skill as coach, just as you expect each team member to improve theirs. Employees establish a renewed level of commitment when this behavior is observed from their leader.

8. Always take responsibility for the performance of your team and team members, unless the action is clearly unethical and inappropriate. As manager, you are in a position to develop the individuals on your team (several strategies mentioned above). All critiques of performance should be handled internally, within the team environment. If one of your team members makes a mistake (which they will) or one needs more time to get their performance up to par, you take responsibility. The day that you sellout anyone on your team marks the beginning of the end of your days as a manager. On the other hand, don’t shy away from tough decisions. If you maintain a management position long enough, you will eventually be confronted with an individual that doesn’t fit or whose interests would be served better elsewhere. It is your responsibility to handle this with professionalism and empathy.

9. Have fun! Find ways to have fun while doing what you do best. Don’t be afraid to do things that may be considered irrelevant or make you appear to be human. Today’s work environments are stressful enough and methods to lighten things up are the responsibility of the manager. Remember, if you can’t have fun doing what you do, then you and your team should be asking yourselves ‘why are we doing this?’

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