Since being a good manager is this important, here's my personal list of rules for better management.
- Know your staff, and align their strengths and preferences with the needs of the organization. This means getting to know each person as an individual, seeking to understand their strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and career aspirations. If you can leverage peoples’ strengths and assign them to projects that are in line with their stated preferences, they will be motivated to perform, and more likely to be successful in the process. This will also result in less directing and cajoling on your part – a real win/win.
- Understand what good performance looks like. As a manager, you don’t have to be the best performer, but you do need to know what stand-out performance looks like in order to judge it accurately. To do this, look to your best performers; you cannot understand what excellence looks like by studying failure.
- Provide clarity and context relative to expectations. Make sure that you have you clearly communicated your performance expectations in terms of what needs to be done and how to go about it. This should be in the form of a regular, two-way dialog and not a "it's my way or the highway" mandate. As a part of this dialog, make sure that the expected results are understood in context of the organizational goals and values.
- Stretch people, but do so carefully. To get high standards of performance you need to set tough, yet attainable goals.
- Pay attention. I’ve seen articles and books dating back decades that discuss the fact that people don’t get the time and attention from their bosses that they feel they need. Some managers deliberately distance themselves from their staff, not wanting to be "too familiar" or too close because they feel it will undermine their authority. This doesn't work, as you cannot build personal influence and strong relationships by distancing yourself.
Another part of paying attention to people is finding ways to provide praise and recognition for things that people are doing right on a regular basis. People need to know that you are paying attention to what they do, and that they can count on frequently hearing from you. Finally, giving praise and recognition are not only great motivators, but it makes any corrective conversation that needs to be conducted a whole lot easier.
- Provide opportunities to learn and grow. Knowledge workers need to expand their horizons to be of continuing value; putting knowledge in the knowledge bank allows you to make those continual withdrawals, paying dividends in the process.
- Identify and remove impediments. People sometimes need a little assistance and guidance to make them more productive. A few key questions to ask that can surface typical bottlenecks:
- Does your staff have the proper materials and equipment required to do their work?
- Are there things that you as a manager or another part of the “system” are doing to impede progress?
- Is too much being demanded of too few?
- Take the long view. Yes, we all have urgent tasks that creep into our day, but keep the longer-term objectives in mind when dealing with those day-to-day pressures. Continual firefighting and unchecked multi-tasking keeps people very active and busy, but it diverts you and your organization from achieving meaningful results. Ultimately, this lack of meaningful accomplishment will be a significant de-motivator.
- Provide confidence and optimism. This is particularly important when the pressure is on. People and teams that don’t allow themselves to get rattled under pressure can make all the difference in terms of successful delivery and failure. Under times of stress, managers can shore up everyone by projecting confidence.
- Assess employees on specifics, not on generalities. Give people something concrete to work with. “Rudeness” is general, whereas specifying the improper behavior of interrupting a co-worker when she was making a suggestion is specific. “Not a team player” is general, where pointing out that not volunteering on several occasions to take on extra work is specific. Having a “good attitude” is general, whereas smiling at people and never complaining during crunch time is specific.