What, exactly, do we mean by management? Different textbooks and management gurus give different definitions. Many are along the lines of ‘achieving desired goals through planning, organising, directing and controlling’. A shorter – and perhaps better – definition is ‘getting results through other people’.
An organisation may have an inspiring mission statement, clear goals, a compelling strategy, realistic and challenging work targets, and excellent systems and procedures. But none of these count for much unless it has enthusiastic, committed people. Motivating people is at the heart of effective management.
People skills are the most important attribute of any manager. Of course, they are not enough on their own. There are a number of core competences that any manager, working at any level in any organisation, needs. I’ll identify and explain these in subsequent articles. People skills, the subject of this article, help you to put them all into practice.
You don’t have to know the latest management theories to be an effective manager. Theories and fashions come and go. The essential qualities have been around for years and years, and are likely to endure for many more years: honesty, integrity, truthfulness, industriousness, reliability, accountability, loyalty, trustworthiness, dedication, resilience. And there’s one more thing to add to the list: plain common sense.
If you’re a manager, it’s vital to set a good example. If you tell your staff one thing, and then do another yourself, that won’t do much for their morale. For example, tell them that you expect everyone to be in the office by 9 o’clock on the dot; then roll up yourself at 10. You need to model the standards of behaviour you expect of others. Showing respect for the people you work with – not only the best and brightest, but every member of the team – is really important. The kind of behaviour that may have been tolerated 20 or 30 years ago – bullying, sexual harassment, racism, homophobic or other bad language – is no longer acceptable.
Honesty is important. Don’t mislead people or make promises you won’t be able to keep. If you have to pass on bad news, don’t shirk the responsibility. Choose the right time and the right way to do it. Do it carefully and sensitively. But do it. Occasionally there may be circumstances that prevent you from telling your people as much as you know yourself. If that is the case, just tell them what you can and stop there. They make not like it, but they will like it even less if you mislead them.
Management by walking about (MBWA) is one of the best management tools around. If you’re closeted in an office, hunched over a desk or have your eyes glued to a computer screen, you won’t see half of what’s going on. MBWA is the way to see what’s really happening and to find out how people really feel.
A manager should do everything possible to cultivate informal networks: look beneath the surface and you’ll find them everywhere – in your own department, in the rest of the organisation and in the outside world. The grapevine often tells you more about what is really going on than anyone will dare tell you openly or officially.
Making a real effort getting to know the people you work with – their interests and families and lives outside the office – always pays dividends. An occasional get-together after work, with an opportunity to talk in a more relaxed environment, can be good for building personal relationships; and sometimes it can be the best way of getting to grips with a work-related problem that is just too sensitive to discuss in the office.
The more you can let people manage both themselves and their own work, the better. Don’t be afraid to let go. You need to keep an eye on things, of course, to make sure that things are running smoothly and that people are on course to meet their targets. But if you can’t see the wood for the trees, you’re never going to be an effective manager.
There may still be a few top managers around who like subordinates who carry out their wishes without question. But most organisations today value managers who think for themselves. Don’t be afraid to say what you think – provided, of course, that you have the facts and the arguments to back up your opinion. Once your views have been heard and a decision has been taken, it’s your job as a manager to implement that decision, even if you don’t like it.
However brilliant your staff, they are all fallible human beings. From time to time mistakes are bound to be made. That’s when you need to be there to support them. If something has gone wrong, the most important thing is to establish exactly what has happened and why – and to take steps to prevent it happening again. Avoid apportioning blame – especially in public. It’s never a good idea to humiliate someone or undermine their self-respect. It’s always better to build people up rather than knock them down.
In any organisation, a manager is in the space somewhere between top management and staff who are carrying out day-to-day tasks. That can be an uncomfortable place to be – especially when ridiculous edicts come down from the top of the organisation. You may have to stifle your own reservations (or, at least, not groan too loudly) and persuade your people to accept or do something that everyone – except those at the top – knows is nonsense. But that’s your job.
Finally, don’t be afraid to show some passion about your work. If you care – really care – about what you’re doing, some of that passion is bound to rub off on those around you. That can be a powerful way of motivating people.
A new edition of Tony Rossiter’s Management Basics in easy steps was published earlier this year