ADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — Effective management can be the catalyst towards business growth, and ineffective management can lead companies down a path towards despair. We are seeing a lot of this with the rash of layoffs that has been occurring as of late, not just in this industry but across many others. This is not to suggest that all the recent layoffs are due solely to ineffective management.
But some companies have a mindset that human resources are expendable. No company is immune to this reactive thinking at a time of cutbacks. How can we collectively change this mindset, manage the people we do have, work to grow their careers all the while getting our companies back on the right track?
This topic is fresh on my mind, as our company is preparing to initiate an internal Management Training program, which will be the first of its kind. It highlights that as much as executives perceive our time as valuable, we feel management training is towards the top of the list of “time well spent” in building a sustainable enterprise that can withstand macroeconomic hardship. Recessionary times actually are the best times to undertake this sort of program.
I’ve developed my own “4 C’s” for management. Some of them are probably nothing new. However, they have served me fairly well and perhaps you can adapt some of these. In tough economic times, a rock solid management organization across all levels of the company holds even greater importance. You can tell more about people, and companies, when they are faced with challenges rather than when the sun always shines upon them.
Before I get to the list, managers and high-level executives need to understand that it is a privilege to be in a position to manage – and lead – people. The act of managing is not for everybody; managers at any level of an organization are expected to be leaders in their own way. I’ve studied successful leaders throughout history and analyzed what makes them tick. A caveat, of course, is that some of the greatest thinkers or entrepreneurs don’t necessarily make good leaders or managers, and that is okay too. We can learn from failures as much as success stories.
Competence (leads to Respect)
Managers at any level have to be highly competent and highly skilled at their job. I’m sure we’ve all had at least one manager who we felt was “clueless about the business” or “didn’t know what to do” or worse “didn’t have any insight into our daily tasks”. In other words, before you can be a good manager or executive, you have to do your job better than anyone. If you don’t know the marketplace or can’t set strategy for your own division or group, how do you expect to grow and develop other competent people? Take care of your business first so that you can be the role model that others depend on for insight and direction. Know the marketplace. Know key internal resources and pressure points. All of this will lead to creating an environment of respect for you with your employees. An extra note here: I’ve long lived by the doctrine of hiring and fostering people who were better than me in their day to day jobs. (Astute observers might say that’s not hard to do!) Hiring and mentoring the best people does not mean you get to be lazy or incompetent. In fact, it means you as a manager need to raise your game more.
Clarity (leads to Achievement)
In some informal research, I found the best managers communicate and lead, and set employee’s expectations, very clearly. Some of the managers I’ve known who reportedly have gotten bad marks are ones who do not communicate or articulate the groups, or individual employee’s, short-term and long-term goals. As we get towards the time when most companies do year-end performance reviews, make sure you are clear and concise with feedback, a “vision” for the team, and importantly a vision for each individual. This is especially important in today’s climate. High-level executives typically drive performance evaluations; it should be understood that everyone else depends on them and depends on an open and honest form of praise, constructive criticism, and understanding of how their role affects the division or company’s overall strategy – and how that might change over time. Take the extra effort to provide the right amount of clarity to your people. This means more work for you, since basic human nature is to simply assume that people know what to do themselves, but the extra work is well worth it and your employees will thank you for it by being able to perform better. Clarity feeds into a manager’s true job, which is to act as an “enabler” for people. In other words, enable people to better do their jobs by eliminating fuzziness.
Confidence (leads to Decision-Making)
If you’ve successfully checked off the first two items, focus on confidence. Managers need to be confident in their decisions and actions every day. However, what I’m referring to is more about instilling that same confidence you have, in your workers’ day-to-day business decisions. If you’ve prepared people properly, and communicated clearly what their goals are, then the table is set for great things to be achieved by pushing decision-making “down” and providing the necessary level of support for employees to make their own decisions. Time and again, otherwise great companies have gotten stuck because the decision-making authority resided in only one or just a few people’s offices. This is poison, and some highly-regarded companies are getting pinched now because of it. For a company of any size, centralizing every decision is not only ineffective but paralyzing. It is also not healthy for a business in any kind of dynamic or creative industry which relies on thought leadership to thrive. Instead, the goal should be to instill confidence in people’s ability to make their own decisions quickly and decisively. This does not mean encouraging half-baked decisions. But it does recognize good people who know their goals and the organization’s goals perfectly and that sometimes they can probably make the same decisions you would have made anyway.
Courtesy (leads to Trust)
For some, this might be the one that conjures up a spirited debate. Courtesy, for managers, does not mean getting walked on, does not mean kissing behinds, and does not mean allowing things outside the normal course of people’s job responsibilities. Rather, it refers to being a true professional and understanding that the beauty, and challenge, of being a manager and leader is that every single person is different. People act differently under different situations. Personalities need to be dealt with in a wide variety of ways. The common thread in all of these situations is the need to be courteous. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is ages old, but highly applicable. Who wants to work in an environment with people who aren’t courteous or who communicate in a snippy, unprofessional manner? Not me.
Books have been written about what management style is most effective: the iron fist or the laissez-faire. I’ve found that a centrist mentality is even more effective. Rulers with an iron fist, in my experience at least, tend to act this way to cover up inefficiencies in the company or as a way of expressing frustration sometimes for their own inadequacy. High-stress economic times typically exacerbate inefficiency. However, if you can check off the first three items above, it reduces your own emotional burden and allows you to deal with people in a courteous, transparent and professional manner. The single most important trait between manager and employee is trust, and courtesy leads to trust. If you act in your employees own best interests, and truly do seek success for them, there will be a level of trust built over time that is powerful to shake, even in the worst climate. Companies challenged by the economy, and most every one of us is, will only get through this rough period by utilizing all of its resources to the fullest – and the most valuable resources are people.