Ever been to the doctor, been prodded and poked, clamped, scraped, sampled, screened, diagnosed, prescribed and pronounced all better, only to wish they’d met your eye and said ‘G’day and how are you?’
In management and business we focus on strategy and outcome. The softer skills – managing the people who implement the strategy and bring us the outcomes - are often learned on the job. We acquire them though our own personal fumbles or, if we’re lucky, a mentor who imparts their wisdom. And we don’t see them as part of our core business. Big mistake.
You’re not alone if you find great people management, for all its perception as a ‘softer skill’, one of the trickier to master. But it’s essential if you want your people to feel – and perform - better.
Books, podcasts and even social media are great platforms for sourcing expertise. The methods you’ll read about are tried and tested, which takes away the guesswork and gets you up to speed quickly.
Mark Horstman author of The Effective Manager and podcaster of The Management Tools is a go-to influencer on this subject. ‘Regardless of how long you’ve been managing or how many people report to you, statistics show you probably aren’t getting the most out of your team,’ he says.
So let’s run our hands under the hot tap, slip behind the consulting room curtain and examine how you could build better relationships and drive performance. There are four critical behaviours.
It’s simple: get to know the people who work for you and look to you for influence. Understand each of them, and know what they do well and not so well. Your primary responsibility might be to achieve results, but giving the right tasks to the right people makes all the difference.
‘People and their behaviours are what deliver results to your organisation – not systems, not processes, not computers, not machines.’ - Mark Horstman
The best way to get to know your people, says Horstman, is to talk to them. Fancy that! Fact: smiling, giving encouragement, talking and laughing are all behaviours that people absorb and appreciate. They’re the behaviours that encourage others to like you and be open with you. So being friendly, in a natural and authentic way, really is an insider’s ticket to knowing your staff well – with all that promises. Who knew?
It’s okay to share your thoughts about an individual’s performance – provided you have the skills to do it politely and professionally. Feedback shouldn’t be reserved for when things are going badly. Just as you might expect your boss or clients to communicate often with you, your direct reports are hoping for the same.
If you’ve made the effort to connect with your staff, delivering feedback gets easier with time. Better still, once this kind of open communication is part of your culture, it’s a seamless, easy and cost-free way to achieve results and retain your team.
ASK FOR MORE
Raise the bar. Keep everyone within their comfort zones and you’re nothing more than a caretaker for the business, says Horstman. Team performance has to evolve at the same pace as the business grows. Everyone has to meet demands and it’s your role as manager to make that happen.
‘To be an effective manager means encouraging and inspiring all of your directs to higher performance even when they say they don’t want to – because you know that the organisation needs that to stay competitive’ - Mark Horstman
Horstman is clear on the need to challenge the status quo and keep average performers moving. That way, when the bar is raised, they’re less likely to become worrisome under-performers.
PUSH WORK DOWN
If there’s a task you can do but the same can be done by one of your direct reports – then push the task down. Sure, they might not do it as well as you, but if the quality will be close enough, enable them and hand it over. It’s empowering for them, and here’s the rub: it’s good for business too.
Once you’ve done that, turn your attention to what’s being pushed down to you – whether it’s from your boss or your clients. Show your employees that work is best shared not siloed. It’s a great tip for increasing productivity and creating capacity in your organisation.
That’s it in four. Know your people, talk to them, ask more of them and push work down. So-called soft skills which we prefer to see as a recipe for organisational health – and a way to lift your management game all round.