I have been digging deep and thinking about what I have learned throughout my career and what I want to focus on and further improve. Managing and developing people is the highest ROI skill that you can always work to enhance.
Why should you care? Well, unless you are running a company of one (you), management skills and style are paramount with the consequences of hitting the company’s viability where it hurts the most – profitability. Endless research and polls show the number one reason people leave companies is poor managers. Gallup research has determined that poorly managed teams are average 50% less productive and 44% less profitable than well-managed teams. Finally, Gallup found yet again in 2020 (seems like the same study every couple of years only finds worse results) that over 52% of employees are not engaged at work. In an operations executive role, you tend to see this very clearly, because it shows up in product development, sales cycles, customer retention, and ultimately, the financials. Lousy managers cause organizational cancer and bad morale.
So let’s start improving! Here is what I have picked up along the way from my own mistakes and those of others:
Always start by telling people why you ask them to do something and what impact their work will have. Context is a very powerful tool we don’t use enough. Especially with knowledge work, telling people to do something without context just doesn’t motivate them to deliver their best work. The optimal cognitive performance is achieved when people know the purpose and impact of their work. Explaining what needs to be done is a lot more impactful after people know why.
Take all the blame for the mistakes of your people and redirect every credit and praise to them. Most of us work in an organization where we are in a constant discovery mode. We have to break things to make them better. Your job is to be the safety net for your people, so they can push the envelope. Several studies listed in the linked article on Harvard Business Review point out just that – high-performing teams need psychological safety. You are delegating work, but you can’t delegate responsibility. If you built your team right, they would watch your back, and you will not have to cover for them often. As far as sharing the credit for the wins goes, some build everything for themselves and some build something to be greater than themselves. If you get it, you know which ones end up the winners.
Stop fixing people and instead start amplifying their talents. We tend to waste time and resources on accentuating our team members’ weaknesses instead of looking at how to build upon their strengths. Some managers fall into a “relationship as a project syndrome” trap. They make someone their “project” and work to “fix” them. It never works! People are pieces of a grand puzzle, and you must find those with strengths that fill your company’s needs. From what I have seen, if you focus and magnify each of your team members’ strengths, people tend to offset and neutralize the weaknesses of others. I have written on this topic before – Mitigate Weaknesses and Invest in Strengths.
Take your white gloves off. So, you walk around your office and see trash on the floor. Do you pick it up quietly, as nothing happened, or do you pick it up and then lecture your staff about how the office has to be cleaned up? If there is a happy hour or another company event, are you the first one to jump in and help clean up? Those, who make a scene, or use an “opportunity cost” excuse or rank to avoid the task of cleaning up, have no chance of being excellent managers. Heck, if your CEO is the scene-making type and you are in a sub-500-person company – look for another job! It is about the attitude of servant leadership. The more senior you are in the organization, the more you should take on the role of someone who wants to make the environment more pleasant for those who work with you. If you do it right, your team will immediately jump in and help you.
Business is personal. Fortunately, I learned this early in my life from my father – if you want people to stick with you when times are rough for the company (which is inevitable), you have to help them when they are going through their own rough patches. No, I don’t mean the preachy crap some managers engage in to “teach” someone how to live. I am talking about having compassion and bending the rules/processes when needed to help your team members when things are not going so well. Your team is your second family, and if you don’t feel that way, you have hired the wrong people.