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Managing people – means building the right environment to let them flourish

Are you managing a team that is smarter than you?

Your team should be smarter than you – if you’ve got the right team, of course. They should be more up-to-date, swifter or have greater expertise than you. The question is are you comfortable managing them and achieving the kind of performance that helps you achieve your commercial objectives?

In your pressurised world of targets and objectives it’s easy to focus on systems, services and projects, forgetting the people part of your job. As a manager, you are one of a select few in charge of the backbone of the organisation: its people. That’s a proper job.

People are more unpredictable and frustrating than systems or services. They can also be really satisfying to work with, teaching you as much as you teach them.

What do I know? Well after, 20+ years in various management and senior advisory roles, I’ve learnt 3 things:

1. Ditch the detail and see the bigger picture
2. Don’t manage in a vacuum
3. A good manger is a welfare officer

Let me explain in more detail. After all, it is one of the most depressing times of the year (furthest away from a summer holiday, nearest to personal debt) and you need all the help you can get to motivate your team.

Ditch the detail, there’s a bigger picture.

You are a manager so ditch the detail and see the bigger picture. You can’t do that if you’re constantly getting involved at the technical level. You have a team to do that and as I mentioned earlier, they should be better at it than you. Accept it, embrace it even. This is your day job – getting the job done by managing your team whether you’re in marketing, operations or procurement.

Recently, I re-organised the sales team of an engineering firm, refocusing its efforts and energies. Consequently, they not only achieved targets in line with the needs of the organistion, they were also empowered to use their initiative within a structure they’d helped to build.

Time to delegate and find your inner leader. Strike a balance between telling people what to do and inspiring them to contribute to the overall plan. Understand what makes each person tick and how their strengths fit into this bigger picture. You don’t want to lose your own skills but try to be more visionary and inspirational.

It calls for really good organisational skills so you are able to oversee and supervise activity without actually doing it yourself.

Don’t manage in a vacuum.

Becoming a manager can be a bit daunting but resist the temptation to go it alone – don’t manage in a vacuum. Ask for help and learn from the experience of others.

It’s not unusual to ‘assume’ the position of manager, having performed well at another, completely different (and often ‘technical’) role. Irrespective of whether you’ve demonstrated any aptitude, let alone possess any qualifications for managing people, suddenly you are in charge of the daily output of a team of people – complete with a myriad of problems, gripes and disparate personalities.

Even if you’re a natural, you’ll benefit from professional management training or coaching -getting the best out of people, managing conflict, etc. Maybe think about having your own mentor – someone who can pass on their knowledge and experience. Even if you think you’re doing well, seeking out different perspectives will help you immeasurably. It’s a vital role, managing people, not one you do when you’ve got a spare moment from running a project or department. Managing people is part of your day job.

As a ‘technical’ person you knew where you stood and what you had to do but, as you rise through an organisation you have to become a leader of people. Learn to do it well and don’t see asking for help as a sign of weakness.

Managing people, Managing staffA good manager is a welfare officer.

Yes, managing people is challenging, whether they are difficult and lazy or talented and achieving – but then a good manager is a welfare officer. You’re also a bit of a psychologist.

Just like a bit of machinery, your team members need help maintaining their performance – some more than others. Give them your time, communicate with them properly. Making sure they perform as good employees also means attending to their well being, managing significant mental health issues, for example.

When you get it right, it’s really rewarding and you’re adding true value – to the business, to your individual team members and, importantly, your own reputation. As a business advisor to industry, this is what I recommend to my clients:

1. Lightness of touch: trust the abilities of your team and your own instincts rather than micromanaging them.
2. Look at matters from their point of view: as a manager, you have to see the bigger picture and that includes looking at things through your team’s eyes.
3. Understand your team members: play to their strengths, help them with their weaknesses.
4. Be crystal clear: about your expectations and how you want the relationship between you and each of your team members to pan out. So much better than opinion and heresay.
5. Be organised: people are less likely to regard you as a push over if you stay on top of things.
6. Lead by example: adopt the same set of standards and core beliefs that you expect your team to observe.
7. Don’t panic: when things are going badly guide your team through the process.
8. Have an open door: for ideas as well as problems.
9. Keep your promises: whether it’s allowing someone to take charge of a project or taking everyone out of the office for some ‘team building’.

Being a manager is an ever-evolving process, recognising significant events – successes and failures – and applying what you learn. As a regular interim manager working in industry, I am able to pass on my experience and knowledge to those clients for whom I work as a business adviser. Call me if you’d like to understand how I could add value to your management.