Cues & Clues for Effective Managers

Use these simple management techniques to better understand your team and improve as a manager


What happens when I become a manager?

When we become a manager, our lives change. We move from being responsible only for the quality and quantity of our own work to being responsible and accountable for the performance of others.

Success within the workplace is now redefined for us to include how well the team is performing, how we are managing the individuals within the team and how well we are working with our colleague managers.

The volume of work we are in charge of has grown considerably as the team produces far more work than we could as an individual. 

Along with growth in the volume of work comes a commensurate growth in the number of problems to be dealt with on a day-to-day basis and an increase in the complexity of those problems. We find that we are pulled in multiple directions and that we have to prioritise in order to dedicate time to resolving issues whilst working on longer-term strategic challenges.

Our viewpoint on problems within the workplace has shifted and our relationships have changed, as we need to be conscious of performance expectations and human resource management obligations. 

The biggest challenge managers typically identify is in understanding and managing people and the biggest issue for managers and workplaces is the avoidance of managing people’s performance.

Understanding your team, their skills, knowledge, attributes and interests

There are many psychometric tools that are used to highlight the differences between human beings. They help us group characteristics so as to enable meaningful interpretations about behaviour and attitudes. These tools typically look at personality types, instinctive reactions, strengths and weaknesses. The most valuable thing in relation to these tools is that they enable us to reflect on who we are and how we work best (our natural style) and how that contrasts with others. None of these tools provide a whole picture of us as a unique individual but they can provide an understanding of who we are and why we do something the way we do.

Each of us brings to the workplace a reasonably permanent set of personal characteristics that include psychological, emotional, physical and intellectual characteristics. We use these characteristics to construct, act within, feel about and react to our world.

Managers often refer to an issue as coming out of nowhere. When we look closely, however, we can usually identify a pattern to the behaviours that have contributed to an issue arising. Understanding the personalities in our teams and identifying correctly individual strengths and weaknesses can provide us, as managers, with a greater insight into the issues that arise. Greater insight can lead to solutions that are more sustainable.

Understanding personalities within a team can help a manager motivate individuals as well as the team, provide insight into the roles that individuals are more naturally inclined to do or not do, enable the manager to predict behaviours in certain circumstances, for example, when under stress and/or at times of change, and provide the manager with insight into the degree of autonomy a person needs within the workplace.

Ideally as a manager you will be able to enable people to use their personality characteristics to achieve in the workplace and make a unique contribution to the business.

In reality as managers we don’t always have absolute control over the nature of the work. Our challenge is to influence the factors within the workplace that we can influence and to seek out ways to gain the best for and from our staff. 

In order to effectively deploy a team the performance expectations need to be understood and the resources, including human, available for deployment to the task clarified.

Staff members respond when performance expectations are transparent and they are provided with regular feedback and data on how they are achieving against targets.

The productivity of the team is more likely to be optimised by deploying according to the strengths, skills, attributes and personality of team members.

Simple Management Techniques

  • Organise you time well. Your time is a critically valuable resource. You will have multiple demands on your time. These demands will come from your staff, customers, your manager, your colleagues and people who connect via email. Simple as it may seem making a list for the day will be one of the most valuable habits you can cultivate. Never complain about being too busycomplaining is a most addictive disease. 

  • Manage your relationships with your staff. A closed door all the time sends the message that you are not interested in the staff and that you are inaccessible. An open door all the time could see you occupied all day with people related interactions and as a result unable to complete administrative requirements. Successfully managing the open door is an art worth learning. If you are managing remote staff or multiple shifts, you need to establish regular and meaningful contact including face to face. Good managers effectively walk the relationship tightrope in terms of their staff. They are approachable whilst not over socializing with staff.

  • Agree on a way to ensure that your team is only dealing with emails that are of substance. Many organisations have encouraged through inaction the reply all “Thank you” email, or the “joke” email. Whatever the intent of these emails the impact is to kill valuable time for everyone. Keep your inbox under control. 

  • Establish and maintain a schedule of meetings with your team and with individual staff members. Make sure that you are prepared for team meetings, prepare an agenda and ensure that agreed actions from the meeting are documented and circulated to staff. Keep team meetings on track and ensure that everyone contributes in some way. A common complaint with respect to workplace meetings is that they have no purpose, no outcomes and they are not well structured. Use team meetings to talk about what is happening within the company as well as what is happening within the team. Connect your team to the broader purpose of the company.

  • When meeting with your team members one on one, ensure that you give feedback on performance (positive and areas of improvement), outline goals for the coming weeks, understand if there are any issues that may impact on performance, and take notes of the discussion and agreed actions from the meeting.

    To better understand your workers, you will need to find out what motivates them.  Using positive feedback is one of the most effective means to improve motivation. The best managers find ways to get their people to become motivated to do their jobs well and with pride.

  • Use data consistently in discussions with staff and provide honest professional feedback on areas where improvement is necessary. Sugar coating is delusional and encourages you and your staff to not face up to challenges. Conversely overstating negative issues leads to distrust.

  • Performance includes the outcomes that need to be achieved to meet targets, the attitude that is adopted within the workplace and the impact of behavior on the team. It is absolutely necessary to manage outcome performance: attitude performance and behavioural performance.

  • Keep a record of achievements, including those where challenges were overcome. This can be used in your management reports but is also useful to demonstrate to the team what they have achieved. Highlighting achievements of the team and individuals is a really good reward for performance. Most staff members feel rewarded when their performance achievements have been recognized.

  • If you are a new manager transition can be difficult. You will need support to deal with issues that you have never had to work through before and/or to discuss where you need the team to move to in terms of their function and performance. Engaging an experienced manager as a mentor is a really good first step. Invest your time in meeting regularly with your mentor, rather than just ringing up when you are facing an issue.

  • Practice delivering clear, concise and unambiguous communication in relation to performance expectations and the culture that you expect within the workplace. This is not as easy as you may think because what you think you have said can be interpreted to mean something quite different by your team or by individual staff members. If you need to reinforce a direction make sure that you have provided it in writing as well as verbally and provide the opportunity for questions.

  • Set your expectations relating to behaviour from the start and make sure that they are realistic. Remember the saying “what you walk past you approve.” If you allow a culture to develop or continue after you start as manager it is very hard to change. Be consistent with respect to your expectations and follow through with doing what you say you are going to do.

  • Make the decisions that your delegated authority allows you to make (avoid procrastination) and where a decision needs to be made by your manager, ensure that you have provided a properly documented business case with recommendations so that your manager is able to make the decision that is right for the business, right for you and right for your team. Be aware of unintended consequences in decision-making. Discuss options with your staff, allow them input and use their knowledge to identify any potential unintended consequences of the decision that may be detrimental to the business. 

  • Understand what you need to do to look after your health and wellbeing and make sure that you are eating well, exercising regularly and sleeping well. You are the person most in charge of looking after yourself. 

Utilising these simple management techniques will help you become a better manager, and in turn improve your workplace. Learn how these techniques also contribute creating a mentally healthy workplace.

Prepared by: Bernadette O’Connor

Executive Director, Management Governance Australia

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