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Effective Managers

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By Colin Ramsden, February 2006.
Guess which one is the effective manager

Management as a broad category covers a very large multitude of meanings. There have been many books written about product management, time management, corporate management, business management, and the like. I won't attempt to discuss those matters here, and I refer you to the published literature should you wish to learn more about that.

This topic will focus instead on the single aspect of managing the people that work for you, as a part of your management role, and in particular about the effectiveness of that aspect in being a people manager. People managers are those that are in a management position and have subordinate staff working for that manager, receiving instructions from, and reporting to, that manager.

The measure of effectiveness of the people manager aspect can be shown by staff retention and turnover rates, longevity in the relationship between individual managers and their staff, performance reviews of managers by staff, staff productivity and efficiency, staff attendance rates, and staff surveys.

What makes an effective people manager?

People skills

A manager who manages staff requires the ability to understand what motivates the individual staff members, what drives them, what inspires them, and also what discourages them, individually. Everyone is different. We each have individual likes and dislikes. Each and everyone has different motivation and motives. Everyone cannot be managed in the exact same way, as a broad sweeping broom method such as that makes no allowance for the individual.

To be truly effective, the manager must get to know their staff personally. Know enough about them to better understand their individual motives. Only then can suitable motivation be considered for that staff member.

Communication skills

Getting to know your staff will involve talking with them, not to them or at them. And talking with someone is a two-way communication flow. That necessarily will involve listening to your staff. Talk with them and listen to them. They are adults, not children. Treat them as adults and respect their individuality.

Unfortunately, some people appointed to managerial positions aren't aware of the different ways they should handle the different aspects of their position. Those with this limited understanding of management behaviour most often take the view that a manager must be authoritarian and aloof. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Your staff are not your personal slaves, and should never be treated as such. Take the time to get to know them and you'll learn that they are people too, with personal lives, worries, concerns, attitudes, and beliefs. They carry all this around with them as emotional baggage, and their past experiences will most likely directly affect their current attitudes and behaviour. Like it or not, your personal emotional baggage forms your personal experiences, and affects your likely behaviour in every circumstance you encounter in every moment of every day. You can't see this emotional baggage, but you can gain an insight into the effect theirs individually has on each of your staff members, by getting to better know them as individuals. The same applies to you.

When you're getting to know your staff, you don't have to necessarily agree with every little thing they say, but by getting to know them, you will be in a far better position to understand where they're coming from, that is, their viewpoint, and ultimately what motivates each of them. You don't have to become close to them, or even become friends, although friendship can break down many barriers to communication. You do however, need to be able to communicate effectively, and to do so, you need to practice your communication skills to develop your people skills. Understanding the people you deal with, is a major step towards being capable of communicating effectively with them.

People manager skills

You need to practice your people skills and communication skills at every opportunity. These skills can become second nature so quickly that you'll find yourself performing them without deliberately thinking about it. Together, the knowledge you'll gain about your staff will become invaluable when you need to manage them. Consider how much easier it will be to have your staff work efficiently and effectively when you know what individually motivates them. You don't have to guess. You already know. Easy. That makes you effective too as their manager. Collectively, these are your people manager skills.

The effective people manager has their team working together towards the same goals. There may be several separate individual motivating factors used, and there may be some common motivating factors which are equally effective for several individuals. How you implement these motivations is beyond the scope of this article, and is a book in itself. We won't discuss that any further here.

Conflict resolution skills

Managing people requires a different set of manager skills not taught in most books about managing other things. Some management requires conflict resolution, and when conflict arises about products, goods or services, these matters are often settled and resolved through negotiation and communication, followed by written confirmation. These dispute resolution practices are practical, long-standing and effective.

However, when it comes to dealing with conflict between personnel, those involved often make it personal or take it personally. Emotions can run high and conflict resolution may seem difficult. Managers are people too, and carry their own emotional baggage around with them just like everyone else, however, they need to separate their personal emotions from their professional responsibilities. People managers facing people in conflict need to remain professional and not become emotional themselves.

The effective people manager in these circumstances will need to also remain compassionate with the people involved, making use of those developed people manager skills described above. That will probably involve more listening than talking on the part of the manager. The important point is to be in a position where you can properly understand what has happened and why, before you make any decisions and act upon them. If you really know your staff as you should to be an effective people manager, you will already be better prepared to handle any conflicts that arise with the people under your management.

Unfortunately, my experience has been that under these circumstances and when faced with emotive staff, managers have not had the foresight, training, nor experience to resolve the matter amicably. Instead, they have tended to quash it, resorting to an authoritarian edict for those involved to be quiet. These are the same managers which willingly resolve other conflicts with proven practical negotiation, communication and confirmation. In my opinion, those that can't handle people conflict, are not effective managers. They don't have or are not willing to perform the people conflict resolution skills necessary to be a truly effective manager. Their own personal emotional baggage might have taught them to avoid conflict at all costs, or to pacify, or control, or even confront the antagonists. These behaviours will never work, and is counter-productive when treating staff in this manner.

Consider how the staff member told to be quiet will react. They were not treated with the respect due to an adult, and were treated by this manager as a child. That is belittling. Any mutual respect which may have developed between this manager and this staff member will be irreversibly destroyed, and the opportunity to redevelop respect will most likely be forever lost between these two. Do you really think the staff member would be as effective in their job after being told to be quiet about a matter which obviously they feel strongly about. No they won't. Bottled-up emotions need to be released, and if not given an outlet, will find another way to escape. Being forced to dwell upon an emotive issue will consume the thoughts and time of the person. That's not conducive to productivity. The matter has not been settled, it's just been covered up.

Measuring effectiveness

At the outset, I stated that "The measure of effectiveness can be shown by staff retention and turnover rates, longevity in the relationship between individual managers and their staff, performance reviews of managers by staff, staff productivity and efficiency, staff attendance rates, and staff surveys." Consider how the staff member (instructed to be quiet) will rate the effectiveness of this manager against these criteria.

Effective people managers

Now consider the alternative. Suppose that when the manager first became aware of the conflict between personnel, this manager took the time to fully assess the situation, by taking advantage of their people skills and the good relationships they had previously developed with the staff members, and used their communication skills to discuss the matter of concern with those affected. Then took the proven, practical, long-standing and effective dispute resolution practices they learned for products and services dispute resolution, and applied them to the individuals concerned with a resolution created through negotiation and communication, followed by written confirmation.

From this approach, reconsider how the staff member (with the conflict now resolved) will rate the effectiveness of this manager against the effectiveness criteria.

What type of manager do you want to be? Or if you're a staff member, what type of manager would you prefer to work with?


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