By Bruce Tulgan
Leaders in organizations of every shape and size can probably list a number of ways their businesses could improve. Employees do their jobs the wrong way. There is too much firefighting and not enough work getting done. Low performers are hiding out under the radar. High performers are thinking about leaving. Resources are wasted.
There is never going to be a solution that fixes every problem at once. But of course, it makes sense to know where the organization should be investing its time and money in order to have the greatest impact.
A good place to start? With the leaders, managers, and supervisors at every level of the company. Think about it: who are the people with the most influence over the day-to-day performance of every part of the company? Managers are responsible for so many things in today’s workplace, and yet too many of them are not sufficiently trained in the basics of management.
With the right amount of coaching, your managers will become the type of strong, highly-engaged leaders who benefit your bottom line in eight ways.
The foundation of highly-engaged management is structured communication. Basically, that means that managers are meeting regularly with their direct reports, one-on-one, to talk about the work at every step of the way. These managers are the ones who make sure that people get each and every project started off on the right foot, by discussing the steps that person will take, what each step will look like, and how that person will arrive at their final goal. This allows managers to course correct before anyone has even had the chance of going off in the wrong direction on a task or responsibility.
Highly-engaged leaders are the leaders who are “all over the details,” in a good way. They know who on their team is responsible for what tasks, and how those tasks fit into the larger goals of the project. When things begin to go wrong, these leaders spot it early, and know who to talk to. They know which team members to ask in order to understand what the nature of the problem is, and how they can help as the manager. Huge problems are prevented by being caught and dealt with early.
When managers establish long-term plans with each direct report, they have a better idea of what their team needs and doesn’t need in order to succeed. Managers who understand the details of a project are less likely to make requests for materials, software, or services that aren’t useful to their team.
Leaders who practice the basics of management understand that they have to both explain what to do and how to do it. Sometimes, that means passing on a standard operating procedure or best practice to an employee who is new to a particular task. Sometimes, that means the manager coaches the employee on a specific aspect of their performance on an ongoing basis. Sometimes, the manager provides training resources. Sometimes, the manager simply asks the employee in advance exactly what their process is going to look like.
Low performers thrive under hands-off leaders who rarely check in with their employees, relying on quarterly or annual reviews to do most of their management. However, when managers engage in ongoing, regularly scheduled one-on-one discussions with each employee, low performers are held to a higher level of documentable accountability. Usually, these people become uncomfortable with the level of scrutiny and “fire themselves.”
Average performers usually get along just fine in an organization, but it’s likely that many of those people are looking for ways to earn the raise or promotion you’ve been withholding due to performance. When managers spell out the particulars of performance with every employee, then everyone knows exactly what low performance, average performance, and high performance look like. Then, those managers identify with each person what exactly they need to do to achieve that high performance. When average employees are presented with clear, concrete paths to advancement, they are much less likely to become frustrated and leave for another employer.
There is no doubt that the high performers in an organization are the ones who stand out the most when working with a highly-engaged manager. When high performers are given a basic level of mentoring from a manager, they become the ones who are in control of their progress and success in an organization. They know where to focus their learning efforts to meet their individual career needs, are encouraged to learn on an ongoing basis, and are connected with the relationships and resources that matter to them.
When managers are engaged in a process of spelling out expectations, keeping track of performance, and working with each and every team member to improve and succeed, they are much better at handing off tasks to other people. Strong communication is the key to making sure that delegation is effective. Otherwise, employees are more likely to do something incorrectly or insufficiently. This means wasted time down the line. When everyone is aware of expectations, best practices, and next steps, there is a lot less room for error and inefficiency.
While a culture of highly-engaged management won’t necessarily solve every problem your organization faces, it can go a long way in reducing the impact of everyday inefficiency and firefighting. The costs of undermanagement can be huge. Strong, highly-engaged management has the potential to improve your bottom line, retain and develop the best of your employees, and establish your reputation as a top employer.