I’ve been clearing out – very slowly – the client files from my career as a management consultant. I found some notes on what one workshop leader – I’ll call him Alex – said about “how to be a good manager”, and as you’ll see below, I didn’t agree with him on several of his ideas.
Thoughts on a Workshop about “How to Be a Good Manager”
|1. Have one-on-one meetings with each of your staff members to establish performance expectations.||1. Have weekly group meetings with your whole team to review goals, clarify assignments and identify obstacles or problems. Don’t use the “expectations” thing.|
|2. Rely on relationships and personal connections to get things done.||2. In any conversation for getting something done, (a) state the objective and the value in succeeding, (b) establish agreements on who will do what by when, then (c) take responsibility for the follow-through with everyone. Build productive relationships, not “connections”.|
|3. Influence and motivate your people rather than using your “power position” or your title.||3. Rely on productive communication – dialogue to clarify goals and measures, clear requests and promises to establish agreements, and follow-up to review progress on agreements – to generate engagement and momentum.|
|4. Encourage planning all schedules and activities based on priorities.||4. It is important to be clear about priorities but recognize they may change quickly and often. “Planning” is a process of (a) identifying intended results and outcomes, (b) formulating the processes and actions that will produce those results, and (c) establishing timelines and assignments for accomplishing them. “Priority” can be fleeting and is not always a reliable management tool.|
|5. Resolve conflicts and deal with emotional behavior promptly.||5. Dealing with conflicts and emotional behavior is best based in policy rather than playing therapist to resolve them. Your people should understand that they will participate in resolving conflicts, including problems with emotional behavior. A manager is not a den-mother.|
Mary Parker Folet, a 1920’s management guru, said, “Management is getting things done through other people.” She did not say, however, that management needs to focus on the people, but that is where management theory has taken us. This people-focus, visible in each of Alex’s pieces of advice, has given us a people-oriented vocabulary that has taken over management thinking. Here it is:
“One-on-one meetings” focus on an individual rather than promoting coordinated teamwork. They are often seen as making someone feel “special”, or an opportunity for “development” of some kind. Sometimes it develops teacher’s pets, though, which can cause ill feelings among team members.
“Expectations”? They are subjective – they live in your head and can change in a flash. Further, it can sound a little demeaning to tell people, “Here’s what I expect from you.” Simply state the goal, then discuss it until you are you are confident there is a shared understanding of what success looks like.
And “performance”? The word literally means “provide thoroughly”, but we have turned it into a code for evaluating people. If it’s not quantitative or visible, it may not be performance at all.
“Connections” are personal relationships, not necessarily productive ones. For a manager, it is more useful to learn how to make agreements to produce specific results and support staff people in committing to do or produce a certain result by a specific due date. Using a personal relationship to get a performance promise from someone may be seen as manipulating them into doing you a favor. Why not keep things a more professional?
And how about “influence”? This is another interpersonal game, like “expectations” and “connections”, and it relies on personalities. First, “influence” is a vague concept: how do I know whether you are influencing me or I am influencing you? But influence can also be very short-lived (ending when the Influencer leaves the room), and may not produce any genuine engagement or commitment. Maybe people don’t like being “influenced”, experiencing the process as a form of bossiness.
“Motivation” – we talk about it like it’s a thing, as if it can be passed from one person to another. But your motivation is for you to generate, not mine to give to you. I can’t motivate anybody but myself. I’ve seen managers work to “motivate” their people, expecting some response that seldom arrives. I’ve also talked with the people who have been the object of those attempts and are often not inspired. One person said, crossly, “I don’t want her to try to motivate me. She should just talk straight.”
“Priorities” are individual interpretations that are unlikely to communicate anything specific about the desired due date, the product quality or quantity. “Priority” is just a code for saying something is important and/or urgent and a priority can change quickly if something else happens. Stick with performance agreements and follow-through, including the details of what is wanted and needed by when.
“Resolve conflicts and deal with emotional behavior promptly” – this last one is the icing on the cake of management’s “people-talk”. It fails to draw the line between the rigor of clarifying agreements and holding a psychotherapy session. Both conflicts and emotional behavior should be rare phenomena in the workplace, and this suggestion from Alex takes us back to the beginning: hold group meetings, encourage people to work together in pairs or sub-groups to get things done, and deal with the whole picture of what all team members are doing and where people need help or resources. The team can solve problems, including some personal ones. Create transparency wherever possible, without releasing confidential material, and people will support one another.
Management is often misunderstood to be all about people – getting people to do things and having them behave “properly” to support a productive environment. But you can make management about getting things done with group discussion on the specifics of what, when, and who, which gets an actionable message across. Then, if you add respect, good manners and some friendliness or humor, you’ll also make room for everyone to be more responsible for their commitments to “provide thoroughly”. Do we have an agreement?