“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” (Ronald Reagan). Is management really that simple? For anyone who has been in management, you know that is an over-simplification. Good management is hard on the best of days; excellent management is tantamount to the pursuit of perfect children. As a manager, it is not only incumbent upon you to have all the answers; you must also have a bottomless bag of skills – otherwise known as “techniques”. In thinking about my current role as a manager, I often reflect upon my prior management roles and the management mentors who inspired me to develop and implement techniques that have proven continuously successful and beneficial.
Everyone remembers what it is like to be in a job where one person is the favorite associate and shining star of the team. Favoritism not only fosters an environment rife with dysfunction, it inhibits motivation, stifles productivity and closes the door completely on the drive for excellence. Associates need to know that opportunities for their professional growth and career enhancement are alive and well on a level playing field. Managers are the gatekeepers for those playing fields. They demonstrate their awareness and commitment to their individual team members by conducting regular one on one meetings, checking in throughout the year to ensure associates are within striking distance of their annual goals, and providing solid feedback for a myriad of performance activity. Something as simple as giving every associate a fair chance to book their highly-coveted, but elusive, floating holidays can send a positive message to one’s team. In the world of management, fairness often means a call to action. When negative situations occur, the team looks to management for a reaction that is fair and expedient. If management fails to act, the disappointment experienced by associates quickly manifests into negativity, distrust, and decreased motivation.
Best practices are successful because they are rooted in defined consistency. Associates need to know that actions have consequences. As managers, it is all too easy to overlook the small transgressions of the over-achievers on our teams – after all, they stay late all the time – so what is the big deal if they are 10 minutes late three days per week? This management style sends two very dangerous messages. First, the over-achiever in time will feel empowered and be viewed as the recipient of favoritism. Secondly, the other team members will eventually assume, “what is good for the goose is good for the gander.” Legitimately, they ask themselves, “what’s the big deal when other people are late more than me?” The fairness principle cures many ills when utilized consistently across the entire team. A good example of this comes into play when dealing with associate appointments. You cannot approve an early departure dentist appointment for one associate and later deny a late arrival for a teacher conference. While associates have lives, we at the same time are charged with running our business unit in the most productive and efficient way possible. When associates ask for the time, I grant the request but conditionally – how do you want to make up the time – by vacation time or early arrival/late departure later in the week? Remarkably, few associates take advantage and I have never had to call an associate to task for neglecting to make up the time.
Whenever I am given a new team to manage, I arrange for a team meeting to give my associates the opportunity to learn about me and my expectations. A recurring theme has always been that I am only interested in hearing complaints if they are immediately followed by a new and better suggestion that has the possibility of implementation. It is amazing how creative and resourceful associates can be when confronted with an archaic process or difficult colleague. This technique is so contagious that it actually inspires people to step up and face many chronic challenges head on. It is also a great framework for fostering empowerment as the team melds over time. A great example of this occurred recently when one of my associates identified a glitch with one of our clients. I told her what the new procedure should be going forward and checked it off my list. The next day, the same tenured associate approached me with what she thought was a more comprehensive solution. It kept the pieces that were working in tact while providing a remedy for the broken arm of the process. She was 100% spot on and I told her so, thanking her for stepping up with an enhanced idea that would be a win/win for all. We cannot ask our associates to change if we ourselves are resistant to change or cling to ideas because at their core, they are not only flawed, but just so happen to be our propositions.
Team can only move forward and be successful if they feel empowered! Empowerment cannot be taught – it is cultivated and nurtured. From its early germination, the ideal environment is rooted in trust, frequent feedback, an environment of acceptance and mutual respect. All these characteristics serve to create a “safe” environment. If associates fear rejection, not only will they forever be siloed into mediocrity, they will eventually take hostages to the land of limited thinking and moderate success. I have always conveyed to my teams that there would be no tolerance for “in-fighting.” As a member of the team, they are not competing with each other; rather they are competing with themselves. They have the power to identify and strive toward the next level of professional growth. I am frequently impressed and delighted as I watch the associates on my team share information, offer assistance when someone appears to be struggling and ultimately take charge. No where is that more evident than in our weekly team meeting. We take turns – all of us! I create a schedule and each week a different team member solicits agenda items, creates the agenda, hosts the meeting and prepares the minutes. The team meeting is what you make it! By providing a regular forum, my associates are comfortable speaking in front of a group, eager to voice their opinions, accepting of sometimes lively debate, and ready, willing and able to take on additional responsibility each week.