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When I was a boy, I thought like a boy. It's true. When I first managed people in e-commerce, I didn't really know what good management was.

I had some good and bad experiences with my own managers but had never stopped to think what my team thought of my leadership style. Ironically it took the worst Director I've ever worked for to show me how to improve my management skills.

This blog offers nine techniques that, from personal experience, I know to be effective in managing and motivating a team. Management is about people, pure and simple. Forget the numbers; if you can't lead, motivate, support and inspire, those targets are history. Please take a read and then share your thoughts.

1. You reap what you sow

The performance of your team is a reflection of your skill as a Manager. Yes you get some mavericks who will never fit the team ethos (your job to tame them or move them on) but generally it is your ability to lead that creates the team environment.

Lead by example. If you expect your team to be structured, controlled and logical, act the same way. Time management is essential, so set the tone by being highly organised with your own time. Help your team by setting a useful structure to team life to help them manage and deliver their tasks.

Business life in the UK is overly hectic - help your team manage their work by using clear prioritisation e.g. a simple traffic light system helps define work that is critical/not critical.

2. Set clear objectives

There is nothing worse than being told you aren't performing when you have no clear goals against which to measure your performance. In a previous role I was called to a meeting with the CEO and told I need to add more value, yet when pushed I was given no definition of "value" and no objectives set. Three months later the same comment was made. The end result, a dramatic fall in motivation and enjoyment.

Objectives/goals need to be SMART. Set start and end dates and be clear on deliverables. The clarity of your instruction will have a big effect on the quality of execution by your team.

I was once asked to write a summary report on "The UK market for lifestyle data" and was given a deadline but no specifics. I produced a three page summary. I was called to a meeting with the Director and torn to shreds for taking two weeks to produce so little. When I told him it took four hrs and the reason it didn't contain what he now demanded was that he hadn't given me an accurate brief, I got more abuse. Relationship broken.

3. Make meetings worthwhile

If a meeting has no agenda and no actions, what was the point? That to me is a chat, not a meeting. Time is precious and every hour spent in a meeting is an hour less for your team to deliver work. Don't allow your team to go to any meeting that doesn't have a clear purpose and agenda.

Challenge other managers and teams who request your team's time without setting clear expectations.

When you hold team meetings, insist on meeting notes and actions being documented. Actions must have clear instructions and delivery dates. Review progress at each meeting and ensure that actions don't drift aimlessly. If an action is passive for more than a few weeks, get it sorted or remove it. It's not an action if nothing happens.

I've seen many people drift off because meetings are poorly planned. It will also add to stress if people are busy and then have time wasted in meetings that add no value, plus they won't concentrate. Every hour spent is a cost to the business and your team.

4. Be flexible

Allow your approach to change based on feedback from your team. One you have set objectives, situations may arise that prevent individual objectives from being delivered as planned.

For example, I asked my team to write a digital marketing guide in 4 weeks. 1 week later they sat me down and explained that they weren't experienced at copywriting. We changed the plan to give them three weeks to produce the detail/facts and I would produce the final content in the 4th week. The deadline was still met.

However, you must also be resolute. Don't accept delays to work just because your team asks for them. Make sure their performance is up to scratch and that lack of delivery due to poor performance is addressed. Flexibility should not impinge on commercial responsibility.

5. Listen and don't be afraid to take advice

One of the biggest mistakes my managers have made in the past is to react negatively when I tried to give constructive criticism over what was being done by the leadership. Yes senior management has the final say, that's how hierarchy works, but every person must have the freedom to input and comment without fear if reprisal.

If your team makes logical and sensible suggestions that challenge your initial decision, be big enough to embrace them and change your approach. People can be motivated and inspired if they know you respect their intelligence and let them voice their opinions. "My way or the highway" is for autocratic leadership that never emerged from the dark ages.

6. Don't be a machine

There are times when people need a supportive ear and for rules to be bent to help them. We are not machines, sometimes shit happens and we can't think straight.

If one of your team has problems that affect his/her performance, discuss it rationally and privately. Understand the problem and work with them to find a solution. If you simply criticise without listening, you will add more pressure which will inevitably lead to worse performance.

However, you have a commercial obligation so don't allow flexibility to conflict with your team's output. If the problem persists, involve HR who should be experienced in handling these situations. Stay involved though, don't just wipe your hands because you have a duty of care to your team and need to ensure they are being looked after.

For example, at a previous company if you needed to visit the Doctor or Dentist, you had to take a half-day holiday. One of my team had an ill young son and needed frequent morning visits to the Doctor. She often worked extra hours for me without pay (no overtime/time in lieu system), so I quietly ignored the rule and allowed her the time as long as she delivered all critical work. The result, she could manage her stress and still perform effectively.

7. Be bold and make decisions

Somebody has to make a decision. With conflicting opinions in your team, it is your responsibility to make a decision. If you don't, you send a message that you don't know what to do and this will undermine your authority.

You might not always make the right decision but you need to weigh up information and take positive action. Don't be afraid to make a decision that your team doesn't agree with. Just ensure that you explain your reasons and are clear that you expect their support. Discussion is essential but at some point action has to be taken and your leadership followed.

8. Learn from your mistakes

It may come as shock but I'm not a perfect manager:) I have made embarassing mistakes, I'm human after all. I've learned that some senior peeps have no clue about people management, no matter how successful in business they may be, and you have to think before following advice.

At the same time, I have learned a great deal from some of my Directors and as I get older I have learned to be a better listener. When I was younger I was too impetuous to listen effectively; I heard but didn't understand.

It's essential to learn from your mistakes and listen to the experience of other managers. There is no such thing as a perfect manager but there is a good manager, and that is the person who listens and accepts that they don't always have the best answer. If you make a mistake that adversely affects your team, hold your hands up and apologise. It is a sign of strength and conveys confidence in yourself.

9. Have fun and get to know them

Why do so many managers think you have to be emotionally removed from your team and be another person at work to who you are at home? I don't agree, it's fake and I don't get on with fake people.

I've got the best results from people who know they can enjoy themselves without me thinking they aren't working hard. If you set clear objectives, monitor performance and keep your team on their toes by challenging them to work smarter, you can give them the freedom to kick back every now and then. It's not natural to work 9-5 without sharing a laugh or smile, well not for most people I've met.

I do think there is a line that can't be crossed. Work is work and you must ensure your team doesn't distract other people from their work. It is also very hard to effectively manage someone you are best friends with. However, that line is different in every relationship so you need to use judgement and intuition to tell you where to draw the line.

What do you think? My view is that if you treat people like adults, most will behave like adults. What other tips do you have from your experiences in people management?

James Gurd

Published 31 January, 2011 by James Gurd

James Gurd is Owner of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce and digital marketing consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy.He can be found on on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Google+.

49 more posts from this author

Comments (14)

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Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

Hi James

Brilliant post with tons of great advice!

I'd also add 'Be Confident and Ambitious about the future'.

I think people thrive when - as you've put - managers are bold and happy to make decisions. But the most powerful decision managers can make is to 'decide' that the future for everyone in the team will be a good one.

Teams need leaders who have a clarity of Vision.

This should be an idea of the future that they can share in, help shape and be excited about.

If only more managers could read (and act upon) this type of advice, then the world of work would be a lot less stressful than it often is :)

over 5 years ago

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Anonymous

Great post. So very true. Thanks.

over 5 years ago

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Depesh

Very good post, though I think this applies to managing any teams. I couldn't find anything specifically related to managing e-commerce teams, however I'll add one in:

10. Training. In order to get the best out of your team, you need to equip them sufficiently. Whether it is basic HTML or copywriting training, usability or anything else e-comm related, a good manager looks at the needs of the business and of their team members and matches the business needs (ie what the team member is there for) with longer term aspirations of that person. There's nothing worse than upskilling someone for your team's/companies benefit when that person has no interest whatsoever... and there's nothing better than seeing someone in your team flourish through your help and guidance to help them achieve their career goals and help you achieve your business goals

over 5 years ago

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Subha Ganesh

Excellent article, gives good insight into leadership skills.

over 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Evening all,

Thanks for all the RT action and the comments.

Andrew - yes I like that and it is true. Showing your vision to your team and encouraging their input can be energising and exciting. Believing you can be part of something new is a great motivator. I also know what you mean about the stress thing, a good manager can make work a real pleasure. Fingers crossed i've not sent anyone into therapy, yet....

Depesh - a good point, training is essential. Managers need to understand the strengths/weaknesses of each person and give them the support to help them improve. You raise many valid points and the main reason I didn't talk about training was that it requires a detailed discussion as there are so many angles e.g. do you invest in training not directly related to the role to improve overall job satisfaction? How do you measure the impact of the training and involve your team in the evaluation?

You are right that nothing specifically relates to e-commerce in the words, just happens that 90% of my management experience has been with e-commerce teams and I have generally found them to have a touch more dynamism and energy than other teams I have managed.

Thanks, keep the suggestions rolling
james

over 5 years ago

John Braithwaite

John Braithwaite, Managing Director at Ergo Digital

Final one: make sure that everyone is focused on making the site more efficient and profitable...

over 5 years ago

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Anon

So true.. Just wish the Managers I've had throughout my career had managed me in the same way! I think one more to add would be unafraid of the success of who you manage. If your team do well it's a great reflection on you.. A shame most Managers are too intimidated/insecure to feel this way.

over 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks for the new comment.

Anon - really good point. I've seen first hand how nasty things can get when a manager is intimidated by a switched on and ambitious team member. A good manager will nurture talent and help the person become the best they can and if that means they move up/on, then so be it.

You have to protect the commercial interests of the company you work for but at the same time people's happiness is important and you shouldn't keep a good man/woman down.

thanks
james

over 5 years ago

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Joe

This was a very helpful post. I've been lucky enough to be employed by a team that's supportive, non-autocratic and easygoing as long as the work's being done.

I wonder if you have any advice for people with a**h***es for managers. You know, the guy who thinks he's better than you and will make fun of your suggestions in public. The only solution I've found is to quit. I don't think it's worth the effort. Do you?

over 5 years ago

Tony Barker

Tony Barker, Director & Founder at eEnablement - Online Interim Management & ConsultancySmall Business

Very good and interesting post. Would also add:
- don't be afraid to recuit people better than you!
- importance of being able to combine commerciality with customer centricity with the art of the possible (through technology)
- be clear about what are core competencies for your e-commerce team (ie that you should develop the required skills and capabilities in-house) vs which are non core(and you should out source)

Tony Barker

over 5 years ago

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Ron Rule

Excellent article

over 5 years ago

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KimC

Great post!

Although I am still young I have already experienced average managers, awful managers and great managers and your tips are what distinguish the good from the bad by far! However a final tip would be to 'Share your Rewards!' - If you get a huge bonus for hitting a target and your team helped you do that, why not show your appreciation by treating them to a nice meal or letting them finish an hour or two early on the last day of the month, or bringing in some pain au chocolat as a reward breakfast - even a simple gesture such as these will certainly be appreciated, and the team will be better motivated by the future targets if they can see that their efforts are recognised and rewarded too!

over 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Afternoon all,

Hi Joe - my advice for working with a manager who is Satan's spawn is not to throw the towel in. Their weakness is not your responsibility and don't forget you have certain rights as an employee. Make sure you know what those are and exercise them. Remember that a manager who feels the need to criticise you in public and belittle your ideas is one who is riddled with insecurity and is clearly trying to mask their own shortcomings.

I've been there a few times and have learned from my mistakes and my own shyness at standing up for myself. First, arrange a meeting with your manager and spell out the problems. Ensure you are clear with your expectation for a response, then follow up by confirming the discussion in writing, email ideal. That way you have a written trail of having tried to be constructive and work together. If the manager fails to respond and continues, confront him/her again and explain that you are not happy and that you will escalate to HR if they don't take it seriously. Next step is to involve HR. Make sure you document every communication, every problem and every time the manager takes the pi**.

However, be prepared for hassle and for people to try and pick apart your contribution and performance. Bad managers can't accept any blame and try to push it on to their employees. I've also experienced shocking HR teams who simply support the company management and implement their requests instead of impartially observing HR protocol (boy could I write a book on that!). In some companies HR is merely a tool of the leadership, not something intended to better the working life.

If you fail to get any positive or adult response, you can of course make the decision to move on. To exercise your employee rights fully in the face of animosity can be daunting and lead to a legal process. Sometimes people often prefer to wash their hands of the games and find something more suited to their personality and aspirations.

Tony - thanks for the comment. You make a good point about not being afraid to employ someone better than you. I welcome team members whose expertise in specific areas is greater than mine - as a manager my job is to manage output and get the best from the team, not levitate on a celestial platform and bask in my own knowledge, making them feel humble! I find it motivating to work with people I can learn from.

Kim C - good point. If you get bonuses and your team's pay scale means they don't, you need to find ways to reward hard work. Fighting for them to have improved contracts and rewards is one way, treating them if another. I've often taken team members out for lunch or for a team meal - amazing how quickly a team knits if they feel valued. It's also true that it doesn't always have to be grand gestures - buying ice creams on a long hot day can put a smile on people's faces.

Thanks, keep the comments coming
james

over 5 years ago

Balraj Bangar

Balraj Bangar, Business Development Executive at UPG plc

Great read, provided some much required inspiration.

over 5 years ago

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