The Challenge of Becoming an Outstanding Manager

I work with managers who are trying to get better at their craft.  Much better.  They want to be the kind of manager who supports a team to do amazing work.
To help others to really deliver to the best of their potential, both individually and as a team.
There are several reasons why making a transition to being a significantly better manager can be difficult.
  • Firstly you have to be prepared to be obsessed by high performance, improvement and making the most of potential. Organisational rhetoric will always advocate this. However, in practice the rhetoric of excellence is often dropped in favour of more pragmatic and easily achieved compromises.
  • Secondly, people centred management practices can feel very uncomfortable, especially to begin with. They are usually not our default management style. Our default management style is an expression of our deeply held, often subconscious, values and beliefs. And sometimes these are driven by more traditional management concepts of power, control and task focus than on developing the potential of the team to deliver excellence. So there is always a little voice saying ‘Just give a few orders, crack a few heads and get things done’. Only if we persist with person centred management will we recognise that relationships are improving, more initiative is being shown, teams are performing better and genuine progress is being made. Only then will the nagging voice encouraging us to revert to more directive ways start to fade away. And this is a process of substantial personal development. It is the process of becoming a different person with different attitudes and beliefs about what ‘excellence in management’ is all about. Now the tools and techniques of ‘person centred management’ feel much more congruous with who you are as a person.
  • The third difficulty is the response of your team and the wider organisation to your changing management style. You start to use regular 121s; you give and seek feedback – frequently. Furthermore you expect it to be acted upon. You start coaching – everyone in your team – and expecting things to get better on a weekly basis. And you delegate consistently and well – not from a place that says ‘I can get some of my work done by others’ – but from a place that says ‘giving people the opportunity to take on these challenges will help them to develop and keep them interested and fulfilled in their work’. And what response do you get? Often it is a combination of surprise, discomfort, antagonism and disbelief. Usually there is a hope that if we can just keep things quiet for a while you will get over whatever training programme you have been on and things will get back to the mediocrity that passes for normal.
So the challenge of becoming a better manager is not an easy one. However it is not about mastering tools and techniques or acquiring new skillsets (although there maybe a little of this stuff). It is actually about recognising that there is a better way to manage and having the commitment and the discipline to pass through the discomfort of putting it into practice.

What the heck is ROIR?

Return on Investment in Relationships of course!

Tom Peters encourages managers to obsess on R.O.I.R – the Return on Investment in Relationships.

Usually what has to be invested is not cash – but time. And the challenge is to invest that time effectively.

For me, without doubt, the most effective tool for ROIR with employees is the 121. These are structured, documented 30 minute meetings held with each member of staff, every week. They provide the most effective ROIR with employees that I know.

ROIR through 121s comes in many forms:

  1. increased staff retention
  2. improved productivity
  3. recognition and acknowledgement of progress
  4. appreciation of those who are performing well
  5. identification of under performance and early resolution
  6. promotion of behaviours that reinforce strategic goals and values
  7. increased pace of coaching to develop potential and performance
  8. deeper professional relationships
  9. increased trust
  10. increased influence
  11. increased responsiveness
  12. better support of team members in their work
  13. conduit for ideas from the front line to be heard and acted upon
  14. management support for every member of the team – every week
  15. improved communication and focus on what matters
  16. progress made and recognised on a weekly basis
  17. increased sense of urgency in the team
  18. encourage individuals to think through their contribution to team or organisational objectives
  19. increased initiative and enterprise
  20. planning remains flexible and dynamic
  21. documentation makes performance reviews simpler and less contentious
  22. barriers to high performance are removed
  23. factors contributing to poor performance are identified and resolved
  24. formal opportunities for delegation are created
  25. more feedback – both given and received
  26. increased employee engagement
  27. improved knowledge management and knowledge sharing
  28. better talent management and development
  29. increased creativity
  30. more innovation
  31. more responsibility taken voluntarily by more people
  32. reduced absenteeism
  33. more diversity as 121s recognise that ‘one size fits one’

Perhaps some of these are things that you as a manager need to work on. If you are already using 121s then think how you can use them more effectively for the things that matter most to you and your business.  You can find out more about 121s here.

If you are not already using 121s then you have a tremendous opportunity to improve your management practice.

Additions to the list are very welcome!

On Becoming an Outstanding Manager

To become an outstanding manager is not as hard as you might expect because, to be frank, the competition is not up to much!

Many people are given managerial roles because of their technical competence in the role they will be managing.  So excellent nurses become managers of nurses.  High performing sales people become sales managers.  Good bar staff become bar managers.  Sometimes such a strategy works, but more often it does not, because managing people doing a job is a very different proposition from doing the job.

So, if it is not very hard to be an outstanding manager, what does it take?

Courage

Managers have to have the courage to say things that they might find difficult or unfamiliar.  To praise when it is deserved and to challenge when it is required.  Managers have to say and do things that can feel awkward. They need to be brave enough to start some difficult conversations and skilful enough to end them well too!

Confidence

Managers need to have the confidence to get the job done. They have to believe that they are equipped to deal with the situations that they face, both psychologically and technically.  They have to believe in themselves as a manager, and be confident in their position.

Competence

Although managers have to deal effectively with a bewildering range of situations, I believe that there is a relatively small set of core skills or tools that need to be learned to deal with most of them.  These include:

  1. Building working relationships
  2. Giving and getting feedback that works
  3. Coaching and developing people
  4. Delegating, and
  5. Managing priorities

These are the managerial ‘Big 5′.  If you can learn to do these 5 things well, and use them frequently and consistently with everyone that you manage, then you will be an outstanding manager.  Many books have been written on each of these ‘Big 5′ and you can spend a lifetime learning about each of them. However for each of them competence can be acquired quite quickly by learning a few basics and then practicing them consistently.  Once managers have acquired a basic proficiency in the ‘Big 5′ then in my experience they soon acquire the confidence and courage that they need.

Get Better

Outstanding managers have a way of ensuring that they get better at their job.  They manage their own learning and are continually developing their management practice.  While it may take just a few months to become an outstanding manager it can take a professional life time to become the best manager that you can be!

Managing in The Matrix

There was perhaps a time when the vast majority of managers would just have to worry about managing their team, their ‘direct reports’.  For most of us this is no longer true with lots of time being spent managing:

  • horizontally with peers inside and outside the organisation
  • managing up, frequently in matrix organisations, to more than one boss on more than one project
  • customers, suppliers, regulators/inspectors and others touched by our work

Once again in such complex organisational settings the ‘Big 5′ are our friends and using them consistently and systematically will ensure that we are seen to be an outstanding manager.