Thrown in the deep end? This articles takes you through some options for getting up-to-speed as a manager
If you find yourself in a management role without any management training behind you, it’s comforting to know that you are not alone! Successful professionals are frequently appointed to management roles on the basis of their professional and/or technical track record and without any management training. It’s good to know that many of them go on to be highly successful managers.
Management training is not a passport to managerial success. It can certainly make a significant contribution to advancing your management career but only when it is applied effectively to practice. The real tests of managerial effectiveness occur when managers encounter the practical workplace challenges associated with their role. Then, common sense, life experience and the skills which have helped you become a successful professional can all take you a long way toward being a good manager.
If you are in a management role and you have not yet invested in any management training, it does not need to be your first priority. Before you go any further make sure that you:
- Understand where your focus as a manager should be and where to channel your energy; and
- Take note of the pitfalls awaiting unwary managers – whether or not they have any management training behind them – and how to avoid them.
Management focus and energy
As a professional appointed to a management role, you are likely to have a reputation as a high performer with integrity who can be trusted to deliver high quality outcomes. Your job as a manager now involves focusing on others’ performance – without losing sight of your own! You should make sure you have each of the following well covered:
Comprehensive understanding of your management role
It’s important you have a broad understanding of your role particularly the overall responsibilities and authority delegated to you. As a manager you need to delegate to team members and you can only do this effectively when you are clear about your own accountabilities. Make sure too that you understand the outcomes expected of your team – in the short, medium and longer-term.
Being clear on what is expected of you and your team will require on-going dialogue between you and your manager to make sure you stay on top of your manager’s shifting priorities. Being clear about what she or he needs to achieve helps put you in a good position to communicate what you expect of your team members and enables you to delegate effectively.
For more on how to make sure that your own and your team’s efforts are channelled in ways which are consistent with your manager’s accountabilities see the Professionals Australia article ‘Managing Upwards‘.
Make sure that each of your team members is clear about what overall responsibilities have been assigned to you what you are delegating to them and how you will hold them accountable. Team members should understand how achievement of their individual goals supports the team as a whole to succeed and how you will assess their progress.
Equally importantly ensure that you also delegate to them the authority to make decisions associated with their responsibilities. Effective delegation makes a significant contribution to people feeling empowered and satisfied at work. It also helps you avoid becoming a micro-manager. Micro-management is morale-sapping so effective delegation is critical for optimal productivity. Inadequate delegation and persistent micro-management are top inhibitors of individual and organisational performance.
For more on performance management more generally see the Guide ‘Performance Management: Principles Practice and Pitfalls‘.
Maintain ‘open’ communication
Open’ communication refers to open channels of communication. For managers this means being clear about what information your team members need from you and ensuring they receive it in a timely manner. It also means being a good listener – hearing what your staff members are saying to you about their work and their work environment even if you don’t agree with it. And it means leading constructive discussion on topics that are important to the outcomes the team is expected to achieve.
Open communication is not only two way; it is also multi-way providing communication channels between all relevant stakeholders.
For a technique to help develop your active listening skills especially when disparate views are evident see the article ‘Credulous Listening‘.
For more about the value of open communication see the Professionals Australia article ‘Managing Knowledge Workers‘.
Everyone benefits from feedback at work. When team members are on track and achieving what is expected it provides important recognition of their contribution. And if there is scope for improvement in what they are doing or how they are approaching their work constructive feedback (rather than just critical feedback) from a supportive manager can be all that is needed to lift performance and get a worker back on track – without feeling reprimanded!
For more on feedback see the Professionals Australia ‘Guide to Performance Management‘.
Develop effective working relationships
For some personality types getting to know colleagues as people comes naturally. For managers with more of a task and goal focus getting to know the people who report to them can be more challenging.
The most important point to remember as you work on this aspect of being a manager is that it is part of your job to develop effective working relationships with the people who report to you. This is not the same as becoming their friend! For more on this see the next section in this article about management pitfalls.
For more on communication staff engagement managing people’s performance and other aspects of where to focus your energy as a manager see the Management Insights article ‘The Qualities of Successful Managers‘.
For more on effective working relationship see the Management Insights article ‘Getting the Best out of your Team‘.
Beware the management pitfalls
Without attending a single management development workshop your likelihood of success as a manager is significantly increased when you are alert for and avoid some common management pitfalls. Here are the ones that can inflict the most damage on the team’s performance and on your reputation and career:
Confusing collegiality with friendship
Collegiality is about helping and supporting each other at work in ways that are consistent with people’s roles at work.
Collegiality as a manager means getting to know team members well enough to work with them effectively. Collegiality is not the same as friendship. Remember that whilst friendships with colleagues inevitably develop effective managers avoid letting friendships undermine collegiality.
Not treating the people who report to you equally
This does not mean treating everyone the same way but it does mean being fair to everyone. It also means not having or being seen to have ‘favourites’ in the team and it means ensuring that you support each team member according to their needs.
Make a point of learning how you can best support each team member whatever their career stage or level of competence in their current role.
Having an unqualified ‘open door policy’
When managers say they have an ‘open door’ policy (or words of equivalent meaning in an open plan setting) they often do so in an effort to appear approachable and supportive.
The downside risk is that their day becomes interrupt-driven and their own ‘to do’ list rapidly becomes the list of things they will do at home or on the weekend because there is no time left in an average working day.
There are much better ways to be supportive and collegial that do not undermine your own performance including the techniques covered earlier in this article. Remember too that to properly support the people who report to you you need time to plan to analyse and to think and you can’t do this well with a permanently ‘open door’.
Assuming that all decision-making is about gaining consensus
When you are the manager accountable for overall team outcomes there are times when you need to make decisions that will be unpopular.
Whilst employee involvement in the decisions that will affect them is an important contributor to workplace satisfaction ‘involvement’ does not mean that everyone must be satisfied with the decision.
There will be times when as a manager you will encounter decisions that only you can make. In these situations however widely you consult and however long you listen to people with an interest in the decision it will not be popular with everyone. High performing managers learn to differentiate between this type of decision and those decisions where a consensus approach is appropriate.
Tackling cultural change as if it is a short-term project
Sustainable cultural change almost always takes time intelligent leadership and patience. When managers assume they can change a workplace culture by mandating changes to long-standing work practices or by publishing a new set of ‘values’ they invariably become frustrated and disappointed and in some cases out of a job!
For more on organisational culture and ideas on how to go about changing it see the Professionals Australia Guide ‘Leading Change‘ and the Management Insights article ‘Understanding Workplace Culture‘.
The pitfalls highlighted here are universal. In addition your particular industry might have its own ‘banana skins’ well known to experienced management colleagues. Check out whether they have any specific advice. You will find that most experienced successful managers are more than willing to help an enthusiastic learner!
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 coaches individuals and teams and generally helps organisations to build sustainable futures.