By Bruce Tulgan
Managers today are under a lot of pressure. The bar keeps being raised. They are responsible for more and more employees. More of the people they manage are working in areas of expertise that the manager doesn’t know much about, or maybe knows almost nothing about. Managing people is getting harder, and it can be tempting for managers to try and find a “quick fix” solution that will solve all their management problems… at least for a little while.
The latest trend in management or leadership can seem to improve things at the beginning. But very quickly it becomes clear that the system isn’t sustainable, or that it was merely improving things on the surface without addressing the core issues the manager faces. Think of it like a fad diet: it may cause you to lose a lot of weight initially, but it doesn’t necessarily make you any healthier, and, as soon as you stop dieting, the weight all comes back.
Nearly nine out of ten managers aren’t providing the guidance, direction, support, and coaching their teams need to be successful. Undermanagement is the root cause of so many ongoing management challenges and problems. The solution is simple, but effective: a rigorous adherence to the fundamentals of highly-engaged management.
If a management “quick fix” solution is like a fad diet, then think of the management fundamentals like taking a walk every day and eating your vegetables. Adopting a routine system for maintaining the quality and productivity of your team may take some time, but eventually that daily effort really adds up.
When managers practice the fundamentals, they create an upward spiral of performance driven by structured, ongoing dialogue.
The spiral can only gain momentum if the fundamentals become habit, both for managers and their employees. But high-structure, high-substance communication is a powerful framework that prevents so many small problems from becoming large, production-halting problems in the future.
Consider this example from one of our clients in a medical clinic.
The department manager had a receptionist, let’s call him Chris, who seemed to have a hopeless performance problem. He was efficient and on time, answered the phone when it rang, and dealt well with the patients in the office. But he neglected to open the mail every day and file it as he was supposed to. The manager “actually saw Chris using a dustpan to scoop up excess mail that had fallen onto the floor… [and watched] him dump it right back on the pile on his desk!”
The manager wanted to know, “Do I really need to tell Chris to open the mail every day, sort it in this particular way, and then file it accordingly? Do I need to spell it out that much?”
The answer? When the manager didn’t spell it out for Chris, he got it wrong. So, yes! Spell it out for him, every day if necessary, until his performance starts to improve. Turn that big pile of mail on his desk into a project. Give him a clear deadline. Break it down into smaller goals, with precise instructions.
Several weeks later, the manager reached out with an update: “Sure enough. All I had to do was tell him. I reminded him every day for a while. Now when I walk by Chris’s desk in the morning he says, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t forget the mail today!’”
Imagine the impact it would have if you started running one mile every day, for the rest of the year.
Now imagine the impact that practicing the fundamentals of management, a little bit every day, would have on the success of your team. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis to start managing! Start now and build the habit, so that when there really is a management challenge you have to deal with, you are in a much better position to handle it quickly.