The 8 Steps of Highly Engaged Management

Radically changing your management style, especially if you’ve been very hands-off as a manager until now, requires commitment and dedication in the long term. But the results will be worth it.

Too many leaders, managers, and supervisors today fail to lead, manage, and supervise. That doesn’t mean the majority of managers simply don’t want to do their jobs—most managers want to be great, highly engaged leaders. But the majority of employers don’t spend enough time training their managers in the fundamental basics of strong, highly engaged management.

There are eight simple steps any manager can take to get on the right track. Of course, simple does not mean easy. Radically changing your management style, especially if you’ve been very hands-off as a manager until now, requires commitment and dedication in the long term. It will be a lot of hard work, especially at first, but over time it will become easier. And the results will be worth it.

Step 1: Get in the habit of managing every day.

Too many managers are so busy with their “real work” that they think of their management work as an extra, unnecessary burden. They only manage when they have to. I call this phenomenon “managing by special occasion.”

Effective managing is a lot like being in good physical shape: The hard part is getting in the habit of doing it on a regular schedule, no matter what obstacles come up. So stop letting yourself off the hook. Stay in touch with your true priorities. Make yourself do a little bit of managing, an hour, at least to start, every day, as if your health depended on it.

Step 2: Learn to talk like a performance coach.

Most managers, when encouraged to “develop a rapport” with their employees, end up building a superficial, false rapport based on small talk that neither the manager nor the employee really wants to have. If you want to be truly friendly with your employees in this way, go out with them after work. But atwork, you need to be the boss.

Your role is keeping everybody focused on the work and each person performing at his or her best each day. The good news is that the best way to build genuine rapport with your employees is actually by talking about the work. Work is what you really have in common, after all. So talk about the work that’s been done and the work that needs to be done.

One thing I learned from the best teacher I ever had was this: “All we have is today. As a teacher, I have to ask myself, ‘What can I teach you right now? What can I focus on right now? What can you improve right now?’ The only thing that matters is what we are doing here right now.” Describe the employee’s performance honestly and vividly. Develop concrete next steps.

Step 3: Take it one person at a time.

The only way to cope with the incredible diversity among your employees is to figure out what works with each person and then customize your management style accordingly.

The best way to keep fine-tuning your approach to each person is to continually ask yourself these six key questions:

1. Who is this person at work?

2. Why am I responsible for managing this person?

3. What do I need to talk about with this person on an ongoing basis?

4. How should I talk with this person?

5. Where should I talk with this person?

6. When should I talk with this person?

Together, these six questions make up one of the most powerful management tools I know of—I call it the customizing lens. If you become obsessed with asking and answering these questions, you won’t be able to avoid customizing your approach with each person. Start asking and answering these questions and you’ll see what I mean.

Step 4: Make accountability a process, not a slogan.

To make accountability work, it’s not enough to chant the slogan around the office and hope people get it. 

First, accountability only works as a management tool if the employee knows in advance that they will have to answer for their actions. Second, employees must trust and believe there is a fair and accurate process for keeping track of their actions and tying their behavior to real consequences.

This process cannot be done once or twice a year, during formal evaluations. The process of creating real accountability has to be done up close and often.

Step 5: Tell people what to do and how to do it.

Remember that the first and most important element in creating real accountability is spelling out expectations up front in clear terms. If you are the boss, your No. 1 responsibility is to make sure that every person you manage understands exactly what he or she is expected to do and how he or she is expected to do it.

Practice this technique in your regular one-on-one meetings with employees:

  • After describing the what andthe how, ask good questions: “Can you do this? Are you sure? What do you need from me in order to do your job? What does your checklist look like?”
  • Listen to your employees’ responses carefully, and quickly evaluated how well they understand the requirements of whatever task is at hand.
  • Pay close attention to gaps in their approach.
  • Keep asking the employee to think out loud until the approach he or she imagines is gap free.

Step 6: Track performance every step of the way.

If you want to be that manager who is known for being “all over the details,” you need a tracking system to document performance on a daily basis. Tracking performance in writing adds so much clarity to the management relationship.

Tracking is also the key to ongoing performance improvement, including providing rewards and imposing consequences for performance. Constant evaluation and feedback help you revise and adjust the goals and guidelines you discuss with each employee. Having a written record of performance also makes it easier to either provide special rewards or impose consequences for performance that has been evaluated in detail over time.

Step 7: Solve small problems before they turn into big problems.

Without regular daily or weekly management conversations with a strong focus, managers have no natural venue in which to provide employees with regular evaluation and feedback—good, bad, or neutral. Instead of regular and consistent “problem solving,” which is a good thing, dealing with problems becomes a difficult conversation to be avoided. If small problems are dealt with at all, they are dealt with lightly and in passing, which means these problems are likely to recur.

If you engage in regular problem solving, 9 out of 10 performance problems will be solved quickly and easily or will be avoided altogether. In most cases, even long-standing problems will die away under the withering medicine of regular and consistent strong management.

Step 8: Do more for some people and less for others.

Often managers have discretionary bonus pools and a lot of input on raises, but somehow everybody on the team shares in the bonus pool equally and everybody gets roughly the same raise, regardless of each person’s individual performance. So why do managers fail to favor some employees? Too many simply cannot or will not dedicate the time and energy necessary to make the tough performance-based distinctions and then follow through to reward people based on what they truly deserve.

Yes, you want to get more work and better work out of everyone. For their part, most employees are doing their best to succeed and are trying to earn what they need and want. If you are going to do more for those who deserve more, by definition you must do less for those who deserve less. When they earn more, do more for them. When they earn less, do less. That’s only fair.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website,


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