Being An Effective Manager (Part 2)
In this post, I will be sharing the second part of last week’s post about being an efficient manager. If last week we discussed a lot about the manager’s role, this week, we will touch more on how employees can benefit from a manager’s efficiency.
DEVELOPING EMPLOYEE CAREER PATH
One of the important things a manager should have as a personality is being approachable. An approachable manager makes employees more comfortable about opening up and once that is achieved, you as a manager will find managing your team or department, a much smoother ride.
An employee will naturally want management to think that they have long-term plans for staying within an organization but not all are being completely transparent. If your employees feel uneasy about coming clean, you will not have a clear idea of what their intentions are.
Of course, it goes without saying that your intention is not to hold them back from achieving their dreams or moving on to greener pastures but ideally, you would want every employee to feel valued and be loyal to your organization. This particularly applies if your employee possesses a special skill.
What you can do is put aside an hour a month on asking your employees specific questions. You may look at it as a reversed KPI. You can ask them what their long-term plans are and if they have any specific ambitions of moving up the career ladder.
Some questions I like to ask are;
1) On a scale of one to ten, how happy are you in the company?
This question allows you to gauge their level of contentment and sometimes, you might discover things you have overlooked. Make sure that your direct reports never give you a ten because nothing is ever perfect. If they do give you a ten, it can be either because they are afraid of opening up to you, or they are simply trying to please you. Your employees must understand that you are trying to improve things for them and not punish them for being honest.
2) What do you want to spend more time doing?
The answer to this will give you an insight on what your direct reports strengths are. When they say they prefer to be given a bigger responsibility in regard to a certain task, it means they know they are good at it and will be more productive and perhaps even proactive when handling said task.
3) What do you want to spend less time doing?
Similar to the question above, this question reveals your direct reports weaknesses. It is a good manner of judging what tasks might create trouble for them and in turn, you may not get the best result out of their completed work.
Of course, you cannot always cater to their specific needs but at least you have a clearer idea on how to delegate tasks within your team or department in a more efficient manner.
4) How do you feel about your long-term career trajectory at the company?
This is where you ask your team what position they have their eyes on. Some may be eyeing a director level role within the next five years, while others may just be comfortable going with the flow. Let them know that what ever their plans are, you are not here to judge. Instead you simply want to be informed of the direction you can help steer them towards, when the time comes. You are after all, their manager and your job is to manage them, their tasks and their expectations.
5) Tell them what they are doing well.
It is crucial that your direct reports know what they excel at, so they are informed that they are on the right track, as opposed to blindly following orders, without any confirmation of whether they are carrying out their duties correctly. It also acts as a guide on how they can improve themselves.
Something that needs special attention to when giving feedback to your team is to pick the right moment. Your team may be going through some difficulties in their private lives and are not prepared to listen to non-positive feedback. The tip is to ask when is an opportune time for them.
6) What can I do better for you?
Many employees wish that they are able to give constructive criticism to their managers instead of only being on the receiving end. Nobody is perfect and you might be subconsciously doing things that do not sit well with your employees. The only way to find out is to listen to their feedback. Remember that your job is to facilitate them towards success so if there is any room for improvement, you are ready to hear it.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU CONDUCT THESE SESSIONS
The frequency of checking up on your team really depends on the size of your team or department. Ideally a weekly half an hour session should suffice. In this case, a general catch-up session will do, instead of asking them all six of the questions above.
Personally, I only ask the six questions on a once a month basis. My own manager conducts these career catch-ups with me once every quarter and because our sessions are less regular, the list of questions tend to be longer.
Essentially it depends on your availability, however a face to face session is always preferred. This is so you are able to read the body language and facial expressions of your team. There is only so much that words can express, and for others, you need to read cues.
HOW EFFECTIVE ARE THESE CATCH-UP SESSIONS
Although uncommonly practiced, these catch-up sessions are very effective in making team more proactive and motivated. These methods have been proven to work within my own workplace and I highly recommend it to others.
What it does is it basically gives team a sense of ownership which makes them want to do more for the overall success of the company. The bottom line is to keep your employees happy, so they will in turn, want to make you happy.
ENSURING THE HAPPINESS OF YOUR TEAM
There are many things that can be done to raise employee happiness level. Team building activities or courses lifts their spirits while also giving them a break from work. That said, of course these events are no longer possible during this pandemic era, however there are alternatives.
An example of this is the Airbnb Online Experience which allows you to design an online team building course that is both fun and engaging. Monthly and quarterly sessions of these little breaks from work can do a lot for both you and your team.
Also be open to suggestions from your team. If they are looking to organise these events themselves, then look into supporting them with a workable budget.
One of my favorite practices here at my workplace, HubSpot, is observing special events. Employee birthdays or special celebrations are noted with gifts or wish cards. With the recent Easter holidays, every employee was given a gift basket containing chocolates. These small gestures go a long way in reminding your team that they are appreciated and thought of.
MAKING YOUR TEAM COMFORTABLE OPENING UP
An emotional safety net is essentially something that makes your team comfortable in opening up to you. A manager should be able to provide a secure enough emotional safety net that results in employees willingly wanting to share their professional and personal problems if they feel the need to.
The idea is to let them know that regardless of what happens (within reason, of course), there will be no negative consequences. In fact, it should be common knowledge amongst your team that you have their backs and will do anything you can within your professional capability to assist them.
Yelling at your team is never an option. Not only is it uncivilized, it also results in loss of trust from your team. As a manager, your role is to ensure work is smooth sailing. You want respect, not fear.
An example would be how my workplace afforded emotional support for an employee who was going through a rough patch in their personal life recently. The company sent them to see a licensed therapist for ten sessions to work out their issues, ensuring that their burden was lessened. Needless to say, it helped greatly.
IS BEING TOO SUPPORTIVE A FORM OF SPOILING YOUR TEAM?
The way I see it, you as an employer are investing in the success of your team. You are not only hiring them to get things done but you want it done effectively. Support is a form of easing their journey towards achieving success for the entire organization.
CREATING AN EFFECTIVE PROJECT BASED WIP (WORK IN PROGRESS)
Out of the many techniques of ensuring a smooth running WIP, my personal preference is the GROW model.
As you can see from this diagram, each letter in the word GROW represents a step in managing a project.
“G” essentially represents goals.
In your weekly WIP meetings, ask your employee or your team “What is the goal(s) of this project and why is it important to you.”
Listen first prior to giving feedback. Interrupting before they are done may discourage them from being transparent with their answer. Their idea of the goal may differ from yours but the most important thing is you take their point of view into consideration.
“R” stands for reality (check).
The plan is to guide your team in prioritizing their tasks towards reaching their goal. If you find that they are disorganized, you can ask them what they are willing to change. If it is additional resources that they need, that is where you come in with assistance. Working overtime should never be an option.
“O” is for options.
Find out what their plan is. Asking your team about their options helps them think critically as opposed to being spoon-fed. Employees who are allowed to be in control of the plan will feel empowered. Even if the task is set by you, the journey towards the end game should be engineered by your employee or team. If hiring a freelancer is mentioned by your employee then it is your role to find out if the budget permits the extra hire. You are there to provide them with additional resources, if possible.
The question regarding what others have done in the past gives you an idea of whether your team member have conducted their research.
“W” represents will.
Allow your direct reports to tell you what milestones they plan to hit along the way of reaching their goal. If it is not what you expect, discuss it with them. That said, give assurance that you trust them to handle this and you are ready to assist in any way possible.
Asking your team what will happen if they are not succesful is basically a way of letting them know that they always need backup plans. You can secure the most airtight plan but you can never foresee what may happen in the near future.
THE PRACTICALITY OF THE GROW MODEL
The GROW Model implements structure in the handling of projects. It puts into perspective of where everyone is, prioritize tasks and identifies resources needed to move ahead. At the end of the day, problems are identified and recorded weekly and it can be used to improve the process in future projects.
At the end of the day, the GROW Model helps both your team and you as a manager in figuring out alternative methods of running a project.
Having said that, the GROW Model may not apply for near impossible deadlines. In fact, near impossible deadlines should not be normalized in any organization. It is unhealthy for everyone involved in the long run.
This is where we draw the line between the western work culture and their Asian counterpart. Westerners usually perceive Asians as hardworking but there is a fine line between being hardworking and being pushed to ones’ limits. This discussion is a whole other topic for another day.