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Ken Keller: How to be a better people manager

Posted: July 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:11 p.m.

Scientific research says that the single most important determinant of individual performance is a person’s relationship with their immediate manager. Lacking a strong relationship with a manager that sets clear expectations and is willing to make investments to improve performance, an employee is unlikely to perform, let alone stay.

Here are seven ways that a person with a management title can become more effective in their day-to-day roles for his or her organization. This group includes the owner, CEO, president or managing director.

First, start working with all of direct reports. Don’t ignore anyone. Spend more time with the best people because they can benefit from coaching for higher performance.

As for the rest of the staff, spend that time counseling them how they can improve. Put an action plan into place for each individual and hold them accountable for meeting improvement deadlines.

Second, learn the strengths of all direct reports. When people use their strengths, it makes them feel better; increases engagement and encourages them to be better at what they are paid to do.

When engaged, managing people becomes far less of an issue. Help people become more of who they already are.

Third, don’t be afraid to discipline people who violate standards, policies and procedures. Organizations don’t create rules and guidelines in a vacuum; they are created for a reason. Managers must enforce company policy. Managers must lead by example in all that they do.

Fourth, over-communicate. There is a well-known disease — NETMA — that exists in many organizations. The symptoms are numerous, often surfacing through whining, complaining and shock with a dose of indignation. NETMA means “No one Ever Tells Me Anything.”

Fifth, understand the role of the manager is not to be a technical expert. All too often people are promoted to a position to supervise others because they are the best technically in a field.

The skills needed in a technical role are far different than those needed in a management position. Managing is all about getting work done through the efforts of others not personally doing it.

Sixth, the manager is the bridge between leadership and those that do the actual tasks required to serve clients. The manager needs to understand the larger picture of what is taking place and will take place in their organization, and make the translation for direct reports. The manager more than anyone else needs to be clear when communicating that direct reports have a WIIFM mindset — “What’s in it for me?”

Finally, managers must meet regularly with each direct report and take the time to ask these six important questions: Do you know what is expected of you at work? Do you have the materials and equipment that you need in order to do your work right? At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? In the past seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work? Do I, as your supervisor, or someone else here at work, seem to care about you as a person? Is there someone at work who encourages your development?

The answers are a mini-performance appraisal for both the supervisor and the direct report.

The best investment any manager can make is in the people that work for them. While many managers feel that someone on the payroll should know what to do and when do it, the most important assignment a manager can make is to coach the high performers to excel.

The second most important assignment is to counsel the underperformers on what they need to stop doing and the steps they need to improve performance.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with companies interested in growing top line revenue. He can be reached at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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