5 ways managers can build better teams

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jan 06

Managing people isn’t easy. People have a vast array of differing opinions and attitudes towards their work. Managers manage their people with a vast array of differing approaches and attitudes about management. One manager may be great for you — and lousy for your coworker. And the next manager can be lousy for you and great for your coworker.

Bob Sutton notes on The Boss’s Journey that management, especially for new managers, is a learning experience:

This new boss was in the second phase of the journey required to develop true expertise in any craft. As psychologist William Schutz explained, “Understanding evolves through three phases: simplistic, complex, and profoundly simple.” This process means, as my distraught student learned, being a great boss seems deceptively easy at first blush. But no boss can master the craft without traveling through a purgatory of uncertainty and confusion.

But management is a process, no matter how many other skills are required in working through “a purgatory of uncertainty and confusion.” What confuses me to no end is why companies don’t define this process with their managers when it comes to their employees — or manage the process like they manage every other process in the business.

Here are five practical management steps that should significantly improve the communication, productivity and clarity for any team, while building the very same management competence for managers — and their Cubicle Warriors in training:

1. Set SMART Goals with employees

The key here is to use the SMART methodology to get to measuring the actual work the employee has control over in his or her job. If the employee can’t control the outcome or is lumped in to meeting “team” goals rather than individual performance, the goals won’t mean much.

This is MUCH harder than it looks; I know because I try and set these types of goals with my employees and the right tools are usually not there in the business infrastructure. But it needs to get done.

2. Meet every other week one-on-one to review progress and pitfalls

Too much of management is about beating people up to get all their work done and not enough about figuring out if the work is the right work for the employee’s best skills, the right goal to get to the business result and figuring out what the roadblocks are that need clearing by management.

If a manager is truly evaluated by upper management on the results of the manager’s team, then the manager’s incentive should be to figure out how best to help the employee meet the goals provided. The work is what counts for the business, isn’t it?

The one-on-one meeting gets all this out in the open. Over time, there is a better meeting of the minds about the work, the progress, the strengths of the employee and knowing the right kinds of work to assign.

3. Review goals quarterly — including eliminating or changing the goals

Business changes over time. What is important in January may not be important in March. Yet, the goals never change. The work does — but not the evaluation because the performance review is about goal achievement. If you don’t consistently look at the goals you have to the work you actually do, you will end up with a disconnect between the performance and the performance review.

Most companies make a big deal over setting goals for the beginning of the year and the performance review at the end of the year. They are poor at everything in-between. Yet the business changes, the work changes, the priorities change, but no one reviews the goals and performance rating based on the changes.

Reviewing the goals quarterly ensures that the right work is being evaluated the right way.

4. Provide a performance review

Even in companies where you are supposed to get a performance review, too often you don’t. You get your rating, perhaps a raise and bonus, and that’s it.

But, hey, if you actually did all of the above, the performance review would end up being the easiest activity to do during the year because there are no surprises anywhere for either the employee or the manager.

The performance review is much maligned — and for good reason. But without the yearly or twice a year perspective of the review, one can get lost in the weeds of the work without seeing the larger successes.

5. Have an annual, formal “hiring” session for each employee

Employees have a disconnect between the work they do and the job skill they have. Let me explain. I had a person who said he wasn’t qualified to do anything else because he worked on a proprietary mortgage system that no one else had. That’s the job skill — working on a proprietary mortgage system — the employee thought he had.

But the job skill is this: solving problems for demanding, illiterate technology customers that use complex (and proprietary mortgage) systems while trying to make loans that earn the bank money.

This is a very different perspective of the work being done — and most teams have a similar disconnect. The manager can greatly increase the understanding of the job skills, motivation and fitting in with the team for the employee by having this type of discussion. This leads to an employee learning new job skills and getting better at existing ones, all designed to help your team reach the business goals better.

After all, there are only three answers to interview questions, so you might as well help the employee get even better on your team to show that your employees are the right ones for the job.

What’s your management process for employees?

Now, you may or may not agree with all five of these steps in the process. Yet every company has some process they claim to use to help employees and management improve communication and performance. But go out into cubicle world and you’ll find inconsistencies, differing approaches, outright ignorance or ignoring of the process. Assuming you can find the processes outside of a Human Resources handbook.

The first time you do these five steps, you’ll find your “purgatory of uncertainty and confusion” as a manager — and as an employee. But you will get better at it with time and consistent practice. That means better results for you and your company.

What other management processes should be consistent across the company?

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