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?