Manager Skills

7 Manager Skills That Lead to Mastery and Deliver Results

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”                                                                   

-Aristotle

Assuming a person possesses key core traits – initiative, genuine care for others, drive for results, to name a few — then the craft of management is learnable. Mastery of management skills, like any discipline, is built upon mastering fundamentals.

Increase your likelihood of success in 2019 by implementing the following 7 Manager Skills until they become managerial habit. These competencies may also lower your stress and bring more fun into your work.

  1. Be an agile learner. Your current expertise, and your team’s, is insufficient to solve tomorrow’s problems or quickly pivot to seize opportunities. Your ability to be curious, ask questions, engage your team in divergent thinking, and enable organizational learning is today’s critical leadership competency.
  2. Create psychological safety. This culture dynamic makes people feel comfortable speaking up and being themselves. The business case is that team members move beyond superficial nice-talk and engage in honest dialogue that make everyone better. They don’t avoid conflict, they leverage healthy debate to produce improved business solutions. Open cultures create agile learners, the force behind problem solving and continuous improvement.
  3. Have a bias for informed action. A manager’s credibility is built by consistently making strategic decisions that move the business forward. They are proactive versus reactive but are always making it happen.
  4. Manage by expectations, not hope. According to Gallup“only about a half of employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work.”  Most of us know the frustration of working for a boss who fails to set clear priorities, direction, and responsibilities. This management style also fails to inspire because employees can’t see past the daily grind to the company’s vision, mission, and core values. Management ambiguity degrades people’s motivation.
  5. Teach, coach, and grow others. Great managers invest in relationships. They are servant leaders. They simply bring out the best in others. They grow future leaders, not more followers. Be the boss that everyone wants to work for.
  6. Measure, hold accountable, and reward performance. High performers respect managers who demand high standards and build a culture of accountability. There are no shadows to hide in. Great managers reward the doers, without apology. Low performers naturally get weeded out, making room for better talent.
  7. Be upbeat and positive. This is not modeling Pollyanna behavior, that’s being inauthentic. Leaders’ moods are like a cold; everyone around the manager is susceptible to catching it, which in turn affects employee engagement. Management demands significant energy output so why not make it constructive?

Reflect and look ahead in this New Year. Have you developed your manager blue print for success? What are your top development goals that will inspire others, build a cohesive team, and put up big results?

Consider identifying at least two skills, implement them with regularity, solicit feedback from your team, and become the boss that nobody wants to quit.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring.

Disengaged and Frustrated

5 Steps for Engaging a Disconnected Employee

Engaging a disengaged team member can be one of the more vexing manager challenges. And, the associated symptoms can be costly:

Gallup pegs the cost of lost productivity due to absence, illness and stress-related work problems in excess of $350 billion per year nationwide.

-Forbes


Disengaged narratives run the gamut but here are a few common themes:

  • Management has allowed a steady A/B player to be left alone to do her job but the business has outgrown her. Compounding the issue is that management has failed to provide employee any real performance feedback and coaching, leaving employee with a false sense of ability.
  • Personal issues have distracted and drained a usually stellar team member’s passion, focus and accountability.
  • The team member was never a great fit from day one but management tolerated sub-par performance hoping they’d turn the corner.
  • A team member was passed over for a promotion, received a tough performance evaluation, or possible workload increase without additional compensation.

“You manage things; you lead people.”

                   -Grace Murray Hopper, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral

While the root causes for employee disengagement are varied, reflective managers must confront the brutal fact that they may be co-responsible for the current situation. In the spirit of self-development, a few diagnostic questions can help understand the problem:

  • Where did I disengage with this team member?
  • Where did I fail to develop a trusting and effective work relationship?
  • How have I contributed to this current dynamic?
  • How have I failed this employee?

“Management has always gotten what it models and tolerates.”

-Anonymous

Following candid self-reflection, here are 5 Steps for re-setting the relationship, gaining alignment on work expectations, and establishing milestones and measurements:

Step 1: Take part ownership, if necessary, of the situation and be direct with team member. It might sound like, “I apologize for not being more candid in the past, however, your current work contributions are below expectations.” The objective is to re-calibrate an effective work partnership, not be liked.

Step 2: Establish regular, structured and substantive one-on-one meetings. It’s common to hear managers say, “I stopped having one-on-ones with this employee because they ceased to be productive.” Well structured, focused one-on-ones is a trusted process for charting a new path forward with disengaged employees.

Step 3: Present facts and examples where the team member is falling short of performance expectations. Present a written list of non-negotiable work expectations. Establish clear consequences for not meeting the expectations and gain agreement from the team member. Building trust begins with making professional agreements.

Step 4: Set up the team member for success. You are not crafting an HR performance improvement plan (PIP), yet. You might have to if the team member doesn’t make forward, measured progress. First, establish clear, incremental steps for immediate action. In other words…

“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.”

-Lord Kelvin

Step 5: Inspect what you expect. Monitoring, evaluating and providing regular feedback on progress are the heavy lifting of good management. Remember, your (or your predecessor’s) historical hands-off management style have enabled the employee to work in a silo. The antidote is an over correction – a very hands-on style that could last several months. These situations rarely develop overnight and neither will the solutions.

The source of many employee disengagement scenarios is often a disengaged manager. At some point the manager failed to commit to the 5 steps above. If you fell off the management horse, get up, dust yourself off, and recommit to engaging your people.

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring.

Strategic Coaching Chess

Manager-Coaches Don’t Coach to Be Nice; They Coach to Be Strategic

3 Mindsets and 3 Coaching Skills of Effective Managers

 

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The most successful managers I know are obsessed about pursuing excellence and delivering results. They are equally committed to talent development. Their site line is crystal clear – grow their people first, who in turn grow the business.

 

“If you focus on results you will never change. If you focus on change you will get results.” 

                                                            -Jack Dixon

 

Great coaches are usually born, but can be made. The mechanics and skills of effective coaching, of course, can be taught and learned. But great manager-coaches just seem to get it. Their coaching DNA drives their focus to help others be their best, while insisting on goal achievement and results. Yes, they are skilled but their skills are an outcome of their beliefs about people and business.

 

3 Mindsets and 3 Coaching Skills of Great Managers

#1 Coaching is a strategic business decision, not just a box to check. A talent management mindset is not murky – finding, engaging and retaining great people is a competitive business strategy. Great strategy with mediocre people produces mediocrity. Professionals committed to learning, growth and development will always find a way to increase market share and build long-term customer loyalty.

Coaching Skill: Conduct regular (3-4 weeks) one-on-ones that engage, inspire and insist upon positive action and accountabilities. Coaching without individual, measurable actions is a waste of company resources. Short on time? Use the 4-Step Coaching Plan to conduct one-on-one meetings in 30 minutes.

 

“Talented manager-coaches don’t lose people, they grow them.”

Steve Rudolph

 

#2 The greatest business potential is in the middle. Every manager wishes they could clone their one or two rock stars. Sustained business outputs cannot depend on the few. The strategic coach focuses 80% of her energies on building the skills of the middle 60%, knowing she’ll need solid players to be resilient and adapt to a changing market place. For the rock stars, use this Coaching High Performers guide.

Coaching Skill: Require each team member to develop an IDP (individual development plan) and update it quarterly. Coaching one-on-ones always results in a SMART action plan that directly supports IDP goals. Managers who attract high performers have a reputation for growing future leaders. Implementing a clear system for developing talent forges coaching reputation.

 

“Change before you have to.” 

                                                            -Jack Welch

 

#3 Coaching is not a technique; it’s a strategic connection. Effective coaching cannot exist in low trust relationships. People want to be appreciated and understood. Great coaches get to know their team members, their drivers, values and aspirations. Money doesn’t produce inspiration, meaningful work and a connection with others is the fuel of motivation. It’s a trite adage, but powerfully true – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Coaching Skill: Listen a lot more than you speak; adopt an active listening technique. Deep, empathic listening builds trust. Trust causes people to open up, to share useful information. Because leadership is the art of influence, trust makes employees more likely to listen and be persuaded by the manager’s ideas.

 

While great coaches are mostly born, not made, managers who make a dedicated, strategic commitment to coaching others often experience a renewed sense of managerial motivation. There’s just something special about connecting with others in pursuit of purpose and performance. Begin a rewarding journey by adopting the above 3 Mindsets and 3 Coaching Skills.

 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring.

 

Difficult Conversation

Managers, the Goal for Difficult Workplace Conversations is not Personal Comfort…

It’s action and commitment

 

Manager Skills Boot Camp II: Improve your Difficult Conversation skills and more!

 

“An object at rest remains at rest until acted upon by an outside force.”Newton’s First Law

 

Grant is a steady performer; an overall solid team player. Ellen, his supervisor, has given Grant feedback several times that his work lacks attention to detail and the quality is often marginal. Grant’s behavior has not changed, so it’s time to have a difficult conversation that gently provokes him at his edge.

Ellen’s untiring feedback attempts to get Grant to improve have failed. Ellen needs to amplify her expectations and become the outside force. Intensifying one’s tone while being prepared for the consequences naturally stokes levels of stress and anxiety, both for Ellen and Grant.

A critical challenge for Ellen is to appreciate that tension is a resource to gently increase and manage, not avoid. Why? Tension and struggle are the universal energy sources for human growth, change, and transformation. The chick embryo must work and struggle to break free of the eggshell to become a healthy chick.

Grant must experience constant, gentle pressure to understand it’s in his best interest to change. Tension, when harnessed appropriately, creates awareness. Ellen must develop a *safe learning container to leverage the tension in pursuit of Grant’s development. It’s a classic manager’s paradox.

*If managers have not created trusted working relationships with their direct reports, these conversations are often emotionally difficult with messy outcomes.

 

“The challenge for leaders is to disturb or disrupt the movement at the edge to provoke the desired outcome.” -Per Bak, author of How Nature Works

 

Two Outcomes of Turning Comfortable into Uncomfortable

#1 Ideal Outcome: Grant takes 100% responsibility for his sub-par performance and sincerely makes a commitment to change. Most managers report a mere 10-20% success rate with this highly desired outcome. When this level of spirited partnership is achieved, managers call that a great day at work!

On the other hand, being overly attached to this outcome is often driven by the manager’s need for comfort and control. In order for the outcome to be ideal, this need should be relinquished.

#2 Acceptable Outcome: Ellen is leveraging her personal relationship with Grant to persuade him that it’s in his best interest to change. She’s selling, he’s not buying. Now she must pivot from expecting an ideal outcome to an acceptable outcome.

Grant commits to taking concrete and specific actions, including changing his behavior, and understands the consequences if he does not do so. This uncomfortable condition is known as agree to disagree. Ellen must be okay with the fact that he doesn’t share her belief. Her goal is to demand expectations that serve the company, not for her or Grant’s comfort levels.

 

So What Now?

Monitor, Measure and Provide Feedback

Ellen’s previous feedback attempts were based on hoping Grant would change. The Situational Leadership Model instructs Ellen to apply a much more direct style until Grant has made observable behavior changes. Being more direct is not Ellen’s default leadership style, but that’s not important. Ellen’s primary objective is to help develop Grant’s full potential. This is Servant Leadership at its core – the sincere desire to help others be their best. This leadership style says easy, does uncomfortable.

 

Sometimes Acceptable is…Acceptable

Few management situations are more frustrating then having a difficult conversation, especially when the employee digs in and says, “I disagree with your assessment.” Managers must develop the emotional fortitude to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Tension is not a condition to be avoided, but instead, constructively managed towards an acceptable, not perfect, outcome.

 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve

 

Manager Skills Boot Camp II: Improve your Difficult Conversation skills and more!

 

Managing a Tone-Deaf Boss Can Feel Like Riding a Cow…

The cow doesn’t want to be ridden and the ride is rough

 

Watch the complimentary webinar: Difficult Workplace Conversations

 

Growing up next to a farm with a tribe of reckless boys, I had lots of painful and failed attempts at riding cows. If you’ve ever tried this, you’d know that it feels pretty similar to “managing up” a tone-deaf boss.

 

Like cows, tone-deaf bosses:

  • Don’t enjoy be ridden (e.g. “managed up”).
  • Ensure the ride is very uncomfortable and possibly risky for you
  • Purposefully attempt to rub you off the fence
  • Will throw you off (Falling off a cow is like falling out of favor with your boss: Bruising and dangerous for your career)

Inversely, in-tune bosses are on high alert for shifting workplace discord and proactively engage team members in sincere two-way dialogue. These bosses are engaged, hands-on, approachable, and biased toward democratic action.

Safety is your #1 goal while riding a cow. The same goes for managing up: The psychological and political perils are many and often hidden.

 

Cow-riding tips and parallels to managing a tone-deaf boss:

Rule #1 – Try to minimize surprising the cow. Cows, like bosses, possess a survivalist brain that easily spooks into fight or flight.

  • Boss Rule: Schedule regular 1:1’s with your boss. I recommend at least 20-30 minutes every week. Provide a clear agenda in advance that is solution-oriented, sensitive to tight budgets, and demonstrates your clarity around key priorities.

Rule #2 – Never attempt to change a cow. A cow has gotten to where it’s at by being a successful cow; bosses too. Nothing yields rigid thinking and outsized egos more than historical success.

  • Boss Rule: Show that your riding attempts will be a win-win. Point directly to the green pastures on the horizon. Your boss needs assurances that your obvious persuasion attempts consider her best interests.

Rule #3 – Cows are stubborn negotiators.  An armful of freshly cut hay usually provides leverage.

  • Boss Rule: Most bosses can be swayed by strategic solutions that support her objectives and the organization’s priorities. Complaining without a clear business plan promotes resistance to your ideas. Just like cows, bosses will simply ignore you, stare you down, or become agitated by your anemic advances.

 

A tone-deaf boss is a major source of frustration for many dedicated employees. There is no ‘grass is greener over the fence’ strategy, but take it from an experienced cow rider: There are trusted rules for what and what not to do.

 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve

 

Watch the complimentary webinar: Difficult Workplace Conversations

 

5 Key Performance Dimensions to Mitigate Manager Frenzy

FREE webinar: Identifying and Promoting the Right People

 

“Management by drive, like management by ‘bellows and meat ax,’ is a sure sign of confusion. It is an admission of incompetence. It is a sign that management does not know how to plan.” -Peter Drucker

 

Many managers are heads down, hard chargers all day long. Their relentless pace can exhaust their team and often causes widespread confusion. As the leadership proverb goes: Do not confuse frenetic activity with progress. There can be an addictive rush in being the hero manager; the feeling of being important and needed (who else could do this job as good as me?). Letting go of the need to control is imperative to organizational health.

 

These 5 Key Performance Dimensions (cascading in importance) offer a steady leadership path out of the frenzy

KPD 1 – Over-communicate the WHY vision. Clarity is the antidote to uncertainty, a common root cause of workplace anxiety. Managers who master communication foster meaning and purpose, a key dimension for attracting and retaining top talent.

KPD 2 – Be tough on performance expectations, gentle on people. The only employees who like wishy-washy managers are slackers. High performers are repelled by cultures where everyone wins a trophy. Be kind and caring, but let people fire themselves.

KPD 3 – Coach and develop. Make people better each day. These 2 tools support, stretch, and ensure accountability: 1) Regular 1:1’s, and 2) Delegating. Building the organization’s leadership pipeline ought to be every manager’s legacy.

KPD 4 – Build a safe and collaborative culture. Fostering psychological safety is a prerequisite for team performance, according to Amy Edmonson, author of Teaming. Great teams will always outperform a culture of individual stars in the long run.

KPD 5 – Recognize achievement and have fun. Workplace stress continues to be a top complaint for most employees. Chronic stress, as we know, is literally a killer. Create regular rituals of renewal that will benefit the company in the long run.

 

“Discern the vital few from the trivial many.” -Greg McKeown

 

Think of implementing the above 5 dimensions as utilizing the 80/20 rule. Allocating your time to a few vital areas (20%) assures the busy manager that her focus yields outsized (80%) results. Executing these high-leverage activities helps managers regain a sense of healthy control while providing team members increased clarity and direction – a win-win!

 

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring.–Steve

 

FREE webinar: Identifying and Promoting the Right People

~Facilitate High-impact 1:1’s in 2018~

3 Performance Outputs and 4 Guidelines

 

Download the 4-Step Coaching Process and Skills Plan

 

Note: This is a two-part blog post meeting series. This post strongly advocates and will focus on the power of 1:1’s. The next post will give attention to the architecture for team meetings; both standing and ad hoc.

 

“A meeting is nothing less than the medium through which managerial work is performed.” -Andy Grove, High Output Management

 

Workplace meetings have a bad rap. Why shouldn’t they? Busy managers often run meetings on default or fire fighting mode.

Many team members perceive meetings as a “waste of time.” However, high business output can be accomplished by combining the structure of 1:1’s with intention. This creates a powerful communication medium.

The common sentiment – “1:1’s are unnecessary, I work along-side my people all day and they know I have an open door policy” is a common and noble management behavior. However, a crucial dimension is missing: The failure to prioritize the development, engagement and working relationship with each team member.

Here’s an analogy: One can work side by side with their spouse every day raising kids…but if you fail to regularly connect with your spouse, what’s the quality of that relationship?

In work lingo it’s called, “high task, low relationship.” Lots of important stuff gets done but the quality of the relationship quietly, and often dangerously, erodes.

 

“You don’t build a business. You build people who in turn build the business.” –Zig Ziglar

 

1:1’s drive three vital performance outputs

  1. Builds the working partnership with the manager and her direct reports
  2. Grows the unique capabilities of each team member so they operate at their peak performance, which in turn
  3. Helps ensure the organization achieves its performance targets

Four guidelines for facilitating 1:1’s in 2018

Guideline 1 – Schedule regularly. Shoot for every two to four weeks. Avoid more frequent meetings because individuals might feel micro-managed. The exception is the chronic under-performer, where a direct style of management is required. Don’t wait more than a month or the coaching relationship will lose momentum and engagement.

Guideline 2 – Mostly stay on individual’s agenda, not yours. This is about optics. The effective manager-coach prioritizes the team member’s growth, concerns, and ideas. Focus on developing the necessary capabilities that will support their success in achieving business metrics, not the other way around.

Guideline 3 – Ask great questions and be highly collaborative. Nothing builds trust faster than asking useful, sincere questions and listening deeply to team member’s career aspirations, motivational drivers, concerns, and ideas for continuous improvement.

Guideline 4 – Have a strong bias for action and accountability. Every 1:1 should be book-ended by commitments and action plans. The high output manager-coach always asks, “Who is doing what, by when, and how will we measure progress and success?”

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring.–Steve

Investing in Your People is Investing in Your Business

5 Tips for Establishing Your Talent Pipeline

 

Download the New Manager Promotion Playbook for FREE!

 

If you’re a small business owner or manager the chances are that you don’t have a clear management talent pipeline. You probably hire and promote solely based on how hard-working and good at their job a team member is. Big mistake! But don’t just take my word for it, Harvard Business Review demonstrates how being an expert in only one area is one of the biggest reasons that managers fail. Managers have to be talented in all areas to be successful in the long-term.

 

Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” –Jim Collins, Author of Good to Great

 

To accomplish this hefty task, your organization must have a talent pipeline. HBR recommends the following 5 Tips for establishing your talent pipeline:

  1. Focus on Development: Invest in management training, use events in the workplace as learning opportunities and don’t fall into the trap of pure succession planning.
  2. Identify Linchpin Positions: Focus your efforts on positions that are vital to the health of your organization. If a manager quits today, would your business still be able to run effectively? Always be ready with a list of qualified individuals to fill vital roles and consistently train them for those roles.
  3. Make it Transparent: Let your team know how your talent pipeline works, what they should expect, what they need to do to successfully navigate the pipeline, and what training programs are available to them. Also, don’t be reluctant to receive feedback from your team; especially if your pipeline is newly established.
  4. Measure Progress Regularly: Monitor your talent pipeline. How many positions are being filled internally? The more qualified internal promotions, the better your pipeline.
  5. Keep it Flexible: Don’t be afraid to change your talent pipeline. Periodically update your procedures based on feedback, observation, and the latest management research.

 

Develop talent for tomorrow, rather than just hire for yesterday.” –Pearl Zhu, Author of IT Innovation: Reinvent for the Digital Age

 

The 5 Tips from HBR outline the general areas to begin developing your talent pipeline but your organization is dynamic. Constant devotion to improvement is the hallmark of a successful business. Read and download the free asset below, and contact me for more specific skills, real-world examples, and tailored content devoted to making your talent pipeline work best for you.

 

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and definitely keep it inspiring.

–Steve

 

Download the New Manager Promotion Playbook for FREE!

Why Recognition is Critical to Success

My boomer-buddy and business owner recently said, “People just need to shut up and do their job. I give people enough rope to succeed or hang themselves.” Having grown up in the Darwinian world of restaurant kitchens, I get it. But does that approach get results?

My reply to his assertion: You can either manage people according to the way you think things ought to be, or the way they are. Leadership is the ability to accurately name reality and act upon it. Effective recognition implies talented managers must be skilled communicators. Specifically, they must have the ability to provide daily, constructive feedback (yes, daily!)

“…80% of Millennials said they want regular feedback from their managers, and 75% yearn for mentors” -D. Schawbel (Forbes)

There is no such thing as negative or positive feedback; it’s all just information. All feedback should be constructive and developmental in nature. This requires managers to develop high levels of emotional intelligence and invest in skilled communication.

Two Likely Reasons your Feedback is Misconstrued

1) The receiver doesn’t trust your intention

2) They receive so little feedback that they are not conditioned to process the information constructively

Either way, you, the manager, are on the hook for improving the partnership!

How much company resources does a “thank you” cost? None. Conversely, reflect on this sobering finding:

“…actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.” -Gallup

Business economists conclude that managers who master the skills necessary to attract and retain top talent help position their organizations for sustained market victory. And that is why recognition is critical to success.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring.      –Steve

Learning Bulb Ideas

Learning and Performance: The Importance of Parallel Goal Setting

You want high performance, so you demand it. But without proper education and support, your employees lose morale. We all know what low morale does to a workplace. Failure to keep employees engaged, inspired, and rewarded creates more of what you don’t want: loss of hope, frustration, and—sometimes—unethical behavior. But a manager who couples performance expectations with learning and process goals is a manager with a winning team.

 

If you focus on results, you’ll never change.
If you focus on change, you’ll get results.” 
–Jack Dixon

 

Winning Managers Simultaneously Craft Two Types of Goals

#1—Performance Goals. These are often “the numbers,” and I warn you, be careful with them. Arbitrarily raising the bar may result in the negative actions above.

“The numbers” are tightly coupled with “forced ranking,” the management process made famous by Jack Welch at General Electric. Enlightened leaders and managers have long associated these archaic methods with Fredrick Taylor’s Scientific Management Theory. Rigorous coaching and development inspires and motivates people, not the pursuit of economic efficiencies at all costs.

 

“What’s measured improves” -Peter F. Drucker

 

#2—Learning/Process Goals. These are the identified competency areas necessary for the person to achieve the performance targets. It’s unethical for management to set performance goals but not provide the knowledge and training necessary for people to achieve success. However, front line teammates experience this shoddy implementation regularly.

Most of us would consider it ludicrous for a tennis coach to demand his player increase her first-serve speed (performance), but not train the athlete on the bio-mechanics (process) that generates more power. Sadly, the sloppy mandating of increased performance expectations happen every day in organizations. Talented managers act like talented coaches when setting performance targets.

Make sure you are nurturing and developing your people, and they’ll stick around longer, be stronger, and help you pave the way to more wins for your business.

 

Keep it Simple, Keep it Focused, and Keep it Inspiring. –Steve

 

art credit: Carlos Sarmento & Gregor Cresnar