Being an Effective Manager (Part 1)
In this day and age, many of us can be found chasing a managerial position at work but not all of us are fully prepared to fulfill the role. It is definitely one of those things that appear easier than they actually are. Unfortunately the result of hiring an ill prepared manager is a lack of productivity which can affect the entire organization.
In today’s post, I will share with you some valuable tips and pointers which I have had the privilege of learning from many companies over the years.
To begin with, there are two types of managers. One is a people manager, and they are the ones who manage, well, people. And then we have project managers which consist of individuals who mainly handle proposals, outline long-term plans and essentially ensure the smooth flowing of projects.
Either way, holding a manager title means you have the large responsibility of over seeing things. You are expected to produce results as you are the face of the team or project. People managers focus on the success of those who directly report to them while individual contributors or project managers focus on their own specific KPIs or goals, for the benefit of their own people manager.
I find that some companies exploit the team leader title, so they may hire a person capable of managing without actually paying them the wages of a manager. If you are a job seeker, it would be in your best interest to fully research a job’s requirements before accepting any team leader positions.
HOW BIG OF A TEAM IS TOO BIG?
I first became a manager at my second job. It was a project manager position as I did not have a team under me. At the time, my official title was SEO Manager. It soon came to my attention that I needed a team so I could run projects more efficiently. I brought it up to my manager and was placed in a position of learning from the experience. The goal was to prove to everyone that I was capable of not just managing, but also handling the day-to-day tasks of being a people manager.
Recently at PieSync, I was managing a team of 6 people and now at HubSpot, I am managing a small team of 2 people. I believe a team of five or six is still manageable, and anything more is pushing it. That said, handling a large number of direct reports is unavoidable, the higher you move up the career ladder.
COMMON MANAGERIAL MISTAKES
One mistake that may sound trivial but can have major consequences for a manager is the mistake of following your employees on social media. There might not be a handbook for how to handle the social media age but trust me on this one as I have had a bad experience stemming from a previous manager becoming my Facebook friend. It was an unnecessary argument that started from me wanting to rant about work in my private space (or, so I thought), in my private time and unfortunately led to me resigning.
Fortunately in this case, we have both moved on from the incident and are now connected via LinkedIn and are on good terms. Regardless, the mess could have been avoided had we not followed each other on a personal social media account. As a manager, it is important to remember that your employees are people with basic human needs. Their personal life should not be any of your business, unless they choose to include you in it.
Another mistake that is unfortunately rather common amongst managers is a form of bias or prejudice when hiring. Whether conscious or unconsciously practiced, discrimination should not have a place in the hiring process of any job in 2021. Some startups are infamously known for an unspoken “bro code” of hiring amongst their friends, whom are mostly males. Diversity is important in any workplace and regardless of any preconceived notions, every person from every walk of life should have an equal chance of proving themselves worthy of roles which suit their skill set. Diversifying one’s workforce is especially important in making sure the work environment is not stuck in a bubble or an echo chamber that has no space for growth.
Being a manager also means you are to be held accountable for anything and everything that happens within your team. Oversights and blunders must be expected. As long as they are not deliberately done out of selfish motivations, a manager should be able to speak to the offending team member, and find out what exactly happened. The next step would be to shield your team from resulting consequences which may come from either outside parties or your own manager. You will most certainly discover that your team will respect you for this.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED
I have had the honor of managing individuals who are older than I am and what this has taught me is that despite generational gaps, working well within a team is possible if clear communication is put ahead of differences.
Adapting to evolving technology is also an important aspect of being an effective manager. If two years ago, messages were sent via e-mail and WhatsApp, some companies now use Slack as a practical tool of communication.
Keep in mind that each individual in your team has a unique work ethic or style and being able to accommodate each person is part and parcel of being a people manager. Use good judgement in providing your employees with the necessary tools to ensure the success of your team or department.
Also, before accepting a managerial position, make sure that you yourself are well-equipped to lead. Adequate training and guidance from leadership & management is important especially since not everybody is a born leader.
ESTABLISHING HAPPINESS WITHIN TEAM OR DEPARTMENT
As a manager, it is crucial that your team is content. You may start by providing a safe space for your employees, letting them know that you are willing to take the bullet for them. Ultimately, everything that is done within and by the team is for the team and not the manager. Once your employees understand that, they will always have your back.
Understanding each individual’s strength and weakness is also helpful in delegating tasks correctly. You will find an increase in productivity when the right job is given to the right person. Handing out tasks randomly will leave you with burnt out employees who might be silently struggling. A monthly catch-up session asking your employees what they enjoy doing more of and what they prefer to do less of should put you on the right track of identifying individual strengths and weaknesses.
DEALING WITH WORK FROM HOME INEFFICIENCY
Always start by trusting that your staff or employees will carry out duties as efficiently as they possibly can. Working from home is not only a challenge for you as a manager but also your staff, because they are in their home environment, where other responsibilities will come into play. Handing out specific goals and listening for feedback will help both parties reach their targets as expected. If an employee is still disorganized and missing deadlines after you have handed them a set timeline, place them in a performance improvement plan for about three months. This will give your employee a fair amount of time to improve their performance. This however should be the last resort.
SHOULD YOU BE A FRIEND TO YOUR EMPLOYEE
There is nothing wrong with being friends with your employee or staff, but there needs to be a boundary between personal and professional matters. As the manager, it is your job to reinforce the line and make sure your employee is comfortable with the relationship. Otherwise, keep it professional because your friendship is not only between the two of you but the entire team is also observing. If it is too tedious to keep a friendly relationship with your employees, remain on a professional level so you can be fair to the rest of the team or department.
ARE YOUR ORGANIZING TOO MANY MEETINGS?
It goes without saying that the higher up you are in an organization, the more meetings are to be expected. Fortunately, technology has allowed a way to work around too many meetings.
First things first, manage the needs of your team or department. You will find that some individuals end up sitting in a lot of meetings where their attendance is not crucial. Next, introduce the use of technology to your team. Certain things do not need an agenda and certainly not a whole hour of discussion. In which case, there are a lot of communication tools which can be utilized. For instance, you can start a thread on Slack and include every staff member that needs to be kept in the loop. In the case that a thread grows too long and a solution cannot be reached, prepare an agenda and call for a meeting. If possible, meetings should be a last resort.
EMOTIONAL SAFETY NET
Employees get insecure about their position within the organization from time to time. This is especially so during this pandemic era where many people are suddenly left without a job. It helps to make your company’s financials as publicly transparent as possible. This not only makes your employees feel more comfortable about their future within the organization, but is also deemed attractive to potential freelancers.
Managers should also be straightforward about future plans. During these uncertain times, as long as employees are clear about what plan A, plan B and plan C is, they will feel secure and stay loyal to your company. But of course, the amount of information shared depends on your respective organizations. That said, it is only fair to all if employees and staff are kept in the loop.
It is of course not your job to seek new employment for your employees should the need to let them go arise but it would be wonderful if you could support them by suggesting recommendations and offering reference. Additionally, a month to two months notice is fair.
Even if you are prepped with the best managerial handbook in the world, you are still going to face conflicts. Regardless of who it is with, the idea is to minimize the damage. A deep understanding of each involved party’s goals will help greatly in finding middle ground or even a solution.
Keep emotions in check at all points. If all things fail, it is your job as a manager to resolve matters with another manager. Let all parties know that there is no hostility, just a means to reaching an amicable solution. At the end of the day, this is purely professional, so reaching out to another person’s manager should not be seen as personal.
Listening is a vital part of being a manager. The bigger the project, the more listening is necessary as conflicts are bound to happen. It goes without saying that clear communication should be practiced at all times.
Micro managing is not only annoying to employees, it will lead you to being burnt out as a manager. Employees perform better when they know they are trusted to handle their duties and as such, managers must learn to let go. Unless a team member is not performing and missing deadlines, micro managing should be avoided at all costs.
Instead, schedule weekly catch-up sessions with employees to see where they are with their tasks. It does not need to be a long meeting, just a quick point by point check on their progress. For as long as you have set up clear goals for each individual or team, it should be easy to keep track of where everybody is at all times.
Not all may agree with this but simply being present at the office or clocking in from nine to five does not guarantee efficiency or productivity. Hitting the end goal is what you want ultimately. Having a little faith in your employees goes a long way for both parties, especially in a work from home environment.