There is No Secret Sauce to Being a Great Manager – Take Action

I remember the first time I had to manage others. At the ripe old age of nineteen, I had just been promoted to Supervisor at a campus restaurant at Cornell University. So magically, I went from being a worker bee to being in charge of a shift. From soldier to sergeant. Just like parenthood, they don’t hand you an instruction manual on “how to supervise others”. It’s a trial and error process. I did everything from being a micro manager (“Did you greet that table yet? “or “How many French Fries are on that plate”) to being everybody’s friend (“Sure you can come in 30 minutes late for your Sunday morning shift” or “Go ahead and have another cigarette break, that line of folks can wait”). Trial by fire. But somehow I survived and managed to keep my job and most of my friends.There is no secret sauce to great management.

As a Human Resource professional for many years, I have seen newly promoted, and dyed in the wool managers make the same mistakes I did and some that were much more egregious. I’ve seen the power go to manager’s heads as they exploit their position by flirting with their underlings or bullying those from a different ethnicity. But what prompted this post is an infographic from the TD magazine, Key Drivers of Effectiveness for Managers and Leaders. Using a Towers Watson 2014 study of more than 32,000 employees from around the world, they found 5 drivers for effective managers and here is my take on them:

1. Respect. 70% of employees favored Manager treats employees with respect .Jackie Robinson said, “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” I think it’s important that respect is not about liking someone. I may not like the Vice President of Logistics or the new mail clerk but I should respect them. I’ve seen leaders get all tangled up in titles so that a Dishwasher can’t ask a Prep Cook for help. Respect is unilateral with no boundaries defined by title, income, age, gender or culture. Manage with respect.

2. Follow through. 57% of employees favored Manager does what she says she will. A manager has to deliver. If you promised a raise or resources or a decision, do it. This is especially true in making decisions. If you need to cut the cord on a project that is bleeding red ink, make the decision. Your department is waiting for you to be decisive. They want to stop working on that project that is a dead end, which no one else is supporting. Make the call and cut the cord. And if you promised to approve the promotion by Friday, do it. Don’t wait until Monday (see item #1). Follow through builds respect and trust.

3. Communicate. 57% of employees favored Manager clearly communicates goals/assignments. I have seen managers who expect to be communicated to but fall flat on communicating themselves. There is nothing worse than a boss who does not respond. The project or promotion will come to a standstill as the department doesn’t know if they should continue on or stop or focus on something else. We all need to know what direction the ship is going in. We don’t know that unless the end point or the metric is clearly and frequently communicated.

4. Remove. 54% of employees favored Manager helps remove obstacles. Whether it’s having the right equipment, software or enough folks on the project, it’s critical for managers to know what obstacles are botching up progress. Of course, with this integrated with #1, #2 and #3; you need to respect your direct reports opinions, follow through on what you promised and make sure you communicate the progress on removing the obstacle. They are all intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. So if your assistant needs a software upgrade, call IT and make it happen and let your assistant know when they can expect the upgrade. Remove obstacles quickly and efficiently.

5. Differentiate. 54% of employees favored Manager differentiates between high and low performers. Your highly engaged, empowered assistant needs to be given stretch projects to help them grow and develop. Your slacker business specialist who is constantly calling in sick and has work that constantly needs to be reworked needs to be put on an improvement plan or an exit plan. This will involve a difficult conversation. It’s much easier to praise your rising star than try and turn around your faltering dead weight. But you have to deal with them. Everyone on the team knows when you are letting folks skate and become sacred cows. Deal with it. Don’t let it fester. People can’t turn around their performance unless they are told they aren’t performing. For hints on how to do this read my post on 7 Steps to Turning Around Your Slacker Employee. The stars need to know that they are rising and the slackers need to know they aren’t measuring up. Differentiate so your folks know where they stand.

In that job at Cornell, supervisors had to rate each employee for their performance on every shift. That seems crazy now in retrospect but when you have some 200 part time student employees and 10 student supervisors, there needed to be a system that gave each employee feedback. When, at the end of my first semester as a dishwasher (yes, a dishwasher), I was give some low marks for not having any initiative, my performance did a 180. I was helping prep cooks in my free time, bussing tables and looking for ways to be a team player. I was promoted to supervisor and, eventually, the manager of student employees for my Senior year. Without that feedback, I might still be washing dishes or, worse yet, terminated. I don’t remember who gave me the feedback but I was relieved that someone did. Make a difference.

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