Fight Undermanagement—Be a Great Boss!
Most managers want to be great at what they do. They put in their best efforts every day and try to do right by their teams. But despite their hard work, they aren’t getting the results they need as a leader. All managers slip into a period of undermanagement at some time or another, but the real question is how they react once they’ve realized it.
If you are a manager in this situation, you probably understand that you must be strong, disciplined, and all about the work. You must start holding employees accountable and helping all of them work harder to earn what they need every day. You want to get in there and start managing!
But first, you have to take a giant step back.
Consider the Culture of Your Workplace
Before making a big change in your approach to managing, think about the culture of your workplace. Does the culture support hands-on management? Or is everybody else around here pretty hands-off? What will it mean for you, in the context of this corporate culture, to become a strong, highly engaged, transactional, coaching-style boss? Will you fit right in? Or will this make you something of a maverick?
Of course, most cultures support a hands-off status quo in which strong managers often feel like ducks out of water. What can you do about it?
And don’t keep it a secret! Let people know. Stand out as the manager who is serious about the work and always goes the extra mile when it comes to managing. Being the maverick can be uncomfortable. Do it anyway. Be the manager who is not afraid to be the boss. Be hands-on.
Before going public with your new management approach, prepare yourself first:
- Set aside one hour a day for managing. Find the one hour a day that works best for you, and set it aside every day for two weeks before you actually plunge into managing employees in one-on-one sessions. During those two weeks, use this one hour a day to prepare. Start by gathering information and tuning in informally to your employees and their work.
- Practice talking like a coach. Tune in to the individual you are coaching. Focus on specific instances of individual performance. Describe the person’s performance honestly and vividly. Focus on concrete next steps.
- Create your first Manager’s Landscape. List each person you are responsible for managing on a sheet of paper, and for each of them ask: Who is this person at work? Why do I need to manage them? What should I be talking about with this person? How should I talk with this person? Where is the best place to meet? When is the best time to meet, and how frequently?
- Make a preliminary schedule for managing people. Start thinking about when you are going to meet with whom and for how long. If you’ve been using one hour a day to prepare for this change in your management practices, then you are well on your way to making that “hour-a-day management” a habit. Now you need to decide how you are going to divide that time among your employees.
- Set up a performance tracking system. You need to have a practical system for tracking employees’ performance in place. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You are going to revise and adjust it with use over time as things shift and change. How are you going to monitor, measure, and document each employee’s performance? What kind of approach seems to fit each person you manage? Will you need a separate system for each employee, or will the same system work for everyone? What format are you going to use?
Once you’ve prepared mentally and have a schedule and a tracking system in place, it’s time to go public and discuss the impending management changes with the key person you depend on at work: your boss.
You don’t want to act as if you’ve been failing as a manager until now. Instead, adopt a simpler message: “I’m going to be a better manager, and here’s what that means.”
Most bosses will be delighted to hear that you want to work hard to become a better manager and will be happy to help you. If your boss is going to be an obstacle, however, you’d better find out immediately.
If your boss doesn’t believe in hands-on management, at least try to persuade him or her to accept and support what you are trying to do—even just some of it. If you are not able to persuade him or her, smile and be strong anyway. If your boss is as hands-off as he or she is telling you to be, he or she will have a hard time holding you accountable for poorly conceived directions. Meanwhile, the results on your team likely will improve, the disgruntled low performers will go away, and the rest of your team will be much happier. The results will speak volumes and might cause your boss to reconsider.
Once you’ve done all the necessary preparations, you are ready to start a regular schedule of ongoing one-on-one management conversations with every person you manage. You are the boss. What kind of boss are you going to be?
Fight the undermanagement epidemic! Create real accountability. It’s OK to be the boss—be a great one!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website, www.rainmakerthinking.com.