I am a regular reader of your articles and have already put into practice a number of tips that you suggested. As a result, I have recently been promoted to a manager position. The consequence of this promotion has been that I now have to manage a bunch of nitwits. Not being as gifted as me or not having the benefit of reading your insightful articles, they are nowhere as productive as I would like them to be. However, my performance is going to be judged by their outputs. Can you provide some suggestions for me to manage these idiots and look smart to my bosses?
– A disgruntled manager
Dear disgruntled manager,
First of all congratulations on the promotion! Keep reading my articles and the day will not be far off when you will scale loftier heights. I can understand your pain – all of us go through this process where we have to start managing others and no longer are in complete control of our deliverables any more.
Well, here are a few simple steps that have helped me:
Set ‘Stretch Expectations’
Sam Walton has said that “High expectations are the key to everything”. If you set stretch goals for yourself, chances are that you will achieve more than in the case if you set modest goals. The same logic applies to your team members too. At the beginning of any logical project, sit down with your team members and agree on stretch targets for them. These goals should be realistically achievable but should also be just beyond the comfort levels of the team member. It is normal for your team to sandbag and ‘under-commit’ with the intention of ‘over-delivering’. In fact, I have heard many people claiming to do this with an intention of delighting their clients. In such situations, you should remind them that this approach works in a ‘one project’ situation. However, in a recurring situation, the next time you sit with your team member, you know that this person is capable of much more and should factor that into their targets.
‘Enable’ your team
Setting stretch targets is just one dimension of managing your team. Nothing is more frustrating than being accountable for a job, but not having the authority to do it. When you give your team members stretch goals, also give them the flexibility and authority to do their jobs. This essentially means that you should learn to let go and have the confidence in your team that they will make the right choice! Of course, this is built over a period of time and it makes sense to be involved closely at the beginning of the process and gradually reducing your involvement as you become more confident about the person’s capability to handle things.
Review, Review, Review
Have you ever had an annual review where you feel the feedback is ‘too little, too late’? Well, that is what happens if there are no periodic check-points to review progress. The progress review helps in ensuring that the pace of the work is as desired, identifying and eliminating any bottlenecks in the path of your team, determining any headwinds that may affect the final outcome and so on. The frequency of reviews should not be too low (too little, too late) or too high (the team spends all their time preparing for these meetings instead of on the work itself). Make sure that you are looking at the big picture, questioning assumptions and challenging your team members to come up with innovative solutions during these reviews.
Take tough decisions
The advantage of regular reviews is that it also gives you the chance to determine if the team is on the right track. Sometimes in order to enable this, you will have to take tough decisions. It could mean revising your expectations about someone and letting them know that, taking extreme decisions like termination of employment or pushing back your senior management and letting them know that the goals for the team is unrealistic! The sooner such decisions are made, the more helpful it will be in course correction and bringing the project back on track. Remember – “Communicate bad news as soon as possible, good news can wait!”
Finally, as a manager – you form the crucial link between senior management and your team members. Pretty soon, you will be the most reviled person for your team as well as the senior management. The best way to deal with this inevitability is to be as transparent, straight-forward and rational in your decisions as possible. In cases where you believe that senior management has set an impossible goal for you and your team, highlight this issue at the beginning itself and keep reiterating this. Also, work with them to identify ways to facilitate the achievement of these goals.
Last but certainly not the least, make your team members read the articles on this blog!
What are your thoughts on the above steps? What has helped you in managing your teams? Is there a regional or cultural aspect to team management?