We’re already a month into the New Year and, yet, some managers will still be wondering what to do to make positive changes in 2014. If you’re one of those playing catch-up, or even if you’d just like to compare our own ideas against your own, here’s MOL’s guide to the essential managerial activities you’ll need to see you through the coming months.
Make an effort to set foot on the ‘shop floor’ at least once a week
Taking regular walks around a department or section fulfils a hugely important function. It lets your direct reports know you’re there. You don’t want to be a stranger who causes people to clam up or change their behavioural patterns the moment you walk in the room. That’s what’s known as executive isolation and it’s disruptive to progress.
The more people see you, the more easily they’ll come to interact with and trust you, meaning you can more effectively fulfil your commitment to them and their needs. What’s more, being visible gives you the chance to see how the organisation is running at ground level and means that your decisions will be informed by knowledge, rather than purely by reports and hearsay.
Don’t expect the work to be done if you don’t brief it in first
People won’t know what you’re thinking if you don’t state it clearly. If you’re delegating a task to someone, no matter how fantastically competent they are, they still need to know exactly what it is you expect of them. That’s why briefing meetings are absolutely essential. They’re a two-way dialogue where any potential misunderstandings can be ironed out even before the work begins.
Remember this: a piece of work is only ever as good as the brief that initiated it. So make sure you put the same amount of effort into delivering it as that which you expect in return.
Leap the social barrier – engage in informal chats
You’re under a lot of pressure to achieve results via your staff. That means it’s very easy to fall into a pattern of acting like the boss all the time. Try to remember that your staff are people just like you and they’ll probably feel much more engaged and motivated if you talk to them as such. The reporting lines aren’t going to become blurred just because you had a natter about what was on TV last night. So feel free – you have our permission.
Look for a way to linger – maybe have breakfast in the canteen
Staff around a manager can be a little like antelope who’ve sensed a lion in the brush: on their guard! That’s why it’s important, as well as being visible at ground level, that you linger long enough so that people start to relax. You want to gain a realistic picture of what it’s like to work in the environment you manage. So put yourself in more sociable situations – have breakfast with your colleagues, go to lunch with them, be someone they get used to having around.
Operate more than one Outlook calendar
Your direct reports are unlikely to need to know that you’re in the Lake District for a couple of days’ well-needed R&R. But, if you’re a discerning manager who knows the importance of remaining available, you’ll certainly want your own line manager to know. That’s why it’s important to keep more than one Outlook. You can give different people access to different ones and, when necessary, you can shift over events from one to another, e.g. doctors’ appointments, which may be booked long in advance but only necessarily ‘public knowledge’ closer to the time.
Identify four developmental priorities each month
Create a culture of continuous improvement. Set aside some time each month to think about what could be done better. Then set yourself a small number of achievable goals (four is manageable and not unrealistic) based on those areas for improvement and make sure you carry them out.
Set-up problem solving events for different groups
Group dynamics aren’t always easy to see at the day-to-day operational level. There’s too much interference or ‘noise’ because every day throws up unexpected surprises. If you really want to see how your teams interact, set-up problem solving events. They act as concentrated microcosms of the workplace and allow you to see which roles people take. The results can be surprising, e.g. someone working at a lower level might prove themselves to be an opinion leader, purely due to their wealth of ‘social capital’.
Identify and map out succession plans
If one of your most talented staff members leaves, have you mapped out who might step into their role? At the heart of good succession planning is the philosophy that an organisation’s top talent must be identified, developed and retained. And it’s essential that you set clear objectives, if you’re going to do so.
- Identify the potential for development
- Provide the circumstances by which the individual can develop – give them appropriate challenges
- Get the management team’s buy-in – it’s all well and good identifying potential, but you need other key stakeholders to see it too
- Show your commitment to the individual – look at their rewards and benefits, including ‘softer’ benefits such as organisational culture
- Deliver what you promise – if you talk-up progression opportunities, make sure to push for them
Introduce 360 degree feedback within the organisation
Your staff members each have multiple tasks to carry out. And they might be better at some than others. That’s why it’s hugely important for them to understand how they’re viewed from across the organisation. If they only get feedback in one area, from one individual who likes what they’re doing, then they’re going to develop a deluded sense of their own ability. And, believe us, it can all end in tears.
People need a realistic sense of their own abilities and 360 degree feedback is a brilliant way of achieving it. Set up the circumstances by which staff can access both formal and informal feedback on each activity they undertake.
Set up a problem solving task force
This interdepartmental ‘superteam’ will be comprised of people who each bring different skill sets to the group. And their focus will be to proactively identify areas for organisational improvement. How often they meet will depend on the state of the organisation as it stands. If you’re operating effectively and are simply looking to stay at the top of your game, it might be once a month. If there a significant issues to be dealt with, it might be once per week or daily. Either way, they will act as your internal management consultancy firm, who can deliver short, sharp shots of adrenaline to the organisation, but with lasting effects.
Develop your employer brand
Your organisation may have the best reputation in the industry among consumers. But maintaining that reputation is almost entirely dependent on the quality, happiness and dependability of your staff. So it’s crucial that you build a name for your organisation as an employer of choice, too.
Work closely with marketing and HR to find out what your employees think of you and how you can use those opinions to develop your internal communications. Undertake focus groups, using positive feedback to develop messaging that attracts and retains talent while using negative feedback as a jump-off point to organisational change (structural and/or cultural).
Consult, consult, consult!
Never stop asking searching for new opinions, new ideas, new ways of doing things. There’s always someone with a worthwhile opinion that you haven’t yet heard. And they’re always eager to voice it, given the right conditions.