When you are newly appointed to a management role you can be confident that your skills, experience and track record to date have contributed to the outcome of the selection process. You are seen to have what it takes to be successful in your new role! But how can you ensure that you make the most of the opportunities ahead?
You know what made you successful in the past but you also know that it won't be enough to ensure success in your new role. What aspects of your prior experience will you bring to the fore? And what will you need to do differently? Are there new skills to be learned? And if so, how are you going to acquire them in parallel with your new management responsibilities?
Once the excitement of securing your new management role has subsided and you start to think about the challenges ahead, it helps to keep in mind the qualities that lead to management success, whatever the setting. They fall into five related areas which are easy to remember as ‘PERCS':
Rigour and flexibility
Having a performance focus is critical for management success in any situation. This does not mean that you should preference performance over the many other factors that require your attention as a manager. It does mean that you must be clear about:
- the outcomes expected of your role;
- how your progress is measured and assessed;
- when, and from where, you can expect to obtain feedback about how you are going; and
- the issues which put successful outcomes at risk.
Having a performance focus also means ensuring that the staff members reporting to you are clear about the above factors in terms of their own role and your expectations.
Once they have laid the foundations for effective performance management successful managers then put in place formal and informal feedback processes that enable people to stay on track. Successful managers understand that performance feedback must be fair, respectful, constructive and clearly linked to the expectations you have set about staff members' performance.
Maintaining a performance focus also involves:
- learning how to coach staff when they need it;
- recognising the signs that a staff member would benefit from coaching;
- effective delegation; and
- ensuring that good performance is acknowledged and rewarded.
You will find more on how to manage performance effectively in the Management Guide ‘Performance Management: Principles Practice and Pitfalls'.
People perform at their best when they feel fully engaged in their work. A significant contributor to people feeling engaged is having opportunities to influence and participate in the decision making that affects them. Successful managers develop workable engagement strategies and implement them effectively. By doing so they help create a trusting environment in which success is celebrated and people take the personal risks needed for creativity to thrive. When trust abounds what would be labelled ‘failure' in other settings is seen as ‘opportunity to learn and improve'.
To develop an engagement strategy you will need to consider:
- What business outcomes do you want to achieve through staff engagement?
- Who needs to be engaged? The answer to this usually goes beyond your direct reports to include people in other parts of our organisation and perhaps also people external to your organisation.
- How you plan to engage people in the decision-making which affects them whilst also remaining accountable for your areas of responsibility.
For more on staff engagement see the APESMA Management Guide ‘Employee Participation'.
Rigour and flexibility
These seemingly opposing qualities are both required for managerial success. The critical skill is knowing when to apply rigour and how to also be flexible. Rigour is about:
- setting and applying clear standards such as the standards associated with performance and quality;
- defining scope such as the scope of people's responsibilities and the limits of their delegated authority;
- having effective control systems; and
- how you make decisions.
Management rigour includes documenting processes and what is expected. Process rigour helps people to detect problems early and therefore supports high levels of productivity. It supports you to be fully accountable.
Rigour in decision-making means making defensible decisions using a robust decision-making process. Decisions are ‘defensible' when you are able to justify to others how and why you made a particular decision. There is nothing wrong with ‘gut feel' in this either as long as you are able to explain what your gut was telling you and how you interpreted its message!
Flexibility on the other hand is about making adjustments when necessary. It's about being attuned to your environment and people around you and being ready to make an informed judgement about doing things differently. To develop a flexible approach to their work successful managers hone their skills in:
- Listening to people and taking their views into account. See ‘Credulous Listening' for more on this.
- Self awareness. Successful managers understand their effect on others and how it helps or hinders the outcomes they want to achieve. See ‘Effective Managers – the link between organisational performance and people' for more ideas on this topic.
- Knowing the ‘rules of the game' and exercising judgment about how to interpret and apply them.
See ‘Office Politics' for practical ideas on how to deal with this.
The most successful managers model how to maintain balance between rigour and flexibility in ways which inspire their teams to better performance.
Successful managers are highly-skilled communicators. They develop an awareness of their natural communication style and know when it works well. They also assemble a portfolio of alternative approaches to communication for use when their natural style is not the most appropriate.
For example the naturally introverted manager might feel more comfortable thinking things through before talking with staff yet staff might feel very uncomfortable with the long silence! To be successful he adjusts his style to ensure that staff members' needs for information are satisfied without compromising his own need for uninterrupted ‘thinking time'.
When managers learn to adjust their style they experience first-hand the positive flow-on effects. For example the introverted manager might come to appreciate that ‘talking things through' can inspire lateral thinking and creativity. To develop a more inclusive approach to communication he moves out of his comfort zone – and the team benefits.
Successful managers also understand that communication should flow differently depending on its purpose. They are also adept at selecting the right approach. They know that there are times when ultimate decision-making responsibility rests with them. They might consult widely for input through a two way or multi-way communication process but ultimately they know they must communicate a decision which might not accord with everyone's point of view. On those occasions the manager uses a ‘telling' style. She provides plenty of opportunities for people to understand the implications of her decision at the same time making clear when there is little or no room for people to negotiate.
Successful managers know the risks of one way communication and use that style judiciously. They know that staff engagement depends on people's involvement and participation in communication processes.
Successful managers are good systems thinkers and apply the principles to everyday practice. In any setting being a ‘systems thinker' involves:
- keeping in mind how other parts of the organisation are affected by the work of their area of responsibility;
- knowing what they need to do to support smooth running of other parts of the organisational ‘system'; and
- remembering that the organisational ‘system' has human parts as well as inorganic systems and processes and that while you can change a system or process in an instant people need time to make psychological adjustments to change – managers included!
At the level of what you do every day managerial success can look different in every situation and it can be difficult to put your finger on what makes others' successful. Whilst it can be useful to identify role models around you and to call on the assistance of an external or internal coach attention to the PERCS of your role will help ensure YOUR success as a manager.
About the Author
Dr Janet Fitzell is an independent organisational consultant and facilitator specialising in organisational development and team dynamics through her company FourLeaf Consulting Pty Ltd (www.fourleaf.com.au). She facilitates strategic planning and team development undertakes organisational reviews using a collaborative approach coaches individuals and teams and generally helps organisations to build sustainable futures.
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