Building Exceptional Managers
When we think about who in an organization has the most influence on organizational culture, it is easy to point to the executive team and list all of the ways that their actions, leadership and expectations set the tone. A strong case can be made for the executives’ role in an organization’s explicit and implicit culture. However, when it comes to the day-to-day experience of most employees in a mid-sized to large organization, the executive team has less impact than you might think. It is rare for most employees to interact with the CEO on a daily basis. Rather, the employee experience of the organizational culture is shaped by their direct supervisor. Team leaders have incredible power to influence team dynamics, business performance and an organization’s ability to reach their goals. Organizations who train and support their team leads, supervisors and other emerging leader roles on the skills to be an effective manager will see major benefits to their organization in retention, performance and alignment.
Meeting managers’ needs
There are several approaches to supporting manager’s development from formal training programs to less structured learning. The essential component of any approach is that new or developing managers have time to practice and apply the skills they are learning. That’s one reason that new management cohorts are a popular model for manager training. Practicing skills like giving feedback with peers can build new manager confidence so that when they need to provide feedback to someone on their team, they can do it more skillfully and with clarity.
Giving feedback is one of those management skills that comes up frequently in articles like this, but there are many other aspects to being an effective manager. What expectations has your organization set for managers? How do you communicate them to the people in your organization who lead teams? A few management skills that organizations I work with expect managers to demonstrate include:
Prioritization: Managers are expected to prioritize work for their teams, which can take several forms. Managers can learn techniques such as setting clear goals, creating schedules, and using tools like to-do lists or prioritization matrices to effectively manage their time and prioritize tasks. In addition, managers should assess tasks and projects based on their importance, urgency, and alignment with organizational goals. They can identify high-impact activities and delegate or eliminate low-priority tasks.
Expectation Setting: Managers should communicate expectations to their team members by clearly defining goals, objectives, and performance criteria. They must ensure that everyone understands the desired outcomes and timelines. To increase accountability and ownership, managers can involve their team members in the expectation-setting process, seeking their input and discussing realistic goals and milestones.
Delegation: Learning to delegate effectively is a key skill for new managers. They need to shift their mindset from that of individual contributor to team lead. To excel at this skill, managers should take time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their team members. This involves assessing skills, knowledge, interests and experience levels. When delegating tasks, managers should provide clear instructions, expectations, and desired outcomes when delegating tasks. They should be available for clarifications and provide the necessary resources and support. While delegated work is in progress, managers should maintain an open line of communication, monitor progress, and provide feedback to ensure tasks are completed successfully.
Project Management: This skill, at least in the context I am talking about, is adjacent to delegation. Managers have to develop the ability to reasonably allocate work across a team. This means knowing how long aspects of the work will take as well as understanding what other priorities the team is working on. Managers who develop this skill will avoid burnout among top performers and build trust across the team.
Feedback: Managers should provide constructive feedback on team member performance, progress, and areas for improvement in a timely manner. Waiting until formal performance reviews is a disservice to the employee and the team. To be effective at providing feedback, managers should actively listen to their team members, understand their perspectives, and provide feedback in a respectful and supportive manner. Feedback goes both ways. Managers should encourage a culture of continuous feedback and growth, not only by providing feedback but also by actively seeking feedback from their team members and higher-level stakeholders.
Talent Development: Managers should encourage and support their team members' professional development by providing access to relevant training, internal growth opportunities through project-based work, workshops, and other learning resources. Managers can work with their team members to create personalized development plans that align with their career aspirations and organizational goals. This may involve identifying training opportunities, assigning challenging projects, or providing mentorship. Recognition and rewards are an important part of a talent development strategy for managers to keep in mind to drive engagement. Celebrating their team members' achievements, promoting internal mobility, and providing opportunities for them to take on new responsibilities and expand their skills are all signs of a manager focused on talent development.
Managers are often responsible for making decisions that impact their teams and the organization as a whole. Their approach to decision-making and how they share what they determine set the tone within a team. This, combined with their sophistication in the skills listed above, is how they influence culture and create (positive or negative) ripples within an organization. Managers play a crucial role in developing their team members' skills and helping them reach their full potential. That’s why it’s important that senior leaders remember that while managers provide guidance, support, and constructive feedback to foster growth and improve performance within their teams, they need the same care and attention themselves to continue to grow in their career. Leadership development programs, mentorship initiatives, regular performance reviews, and coaching and career development are even more important for managers. Make sure your organization is making time for this critical group.
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier
True North, Emerging Leader Edition by Bill George and Zach Clayton
It’s the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter
This article was also published on Medium.