Managing people has been and will always be challenging. Frequently, we promote our best technician to manager and then wonder why he or she doesn’t succeed. Being a good manager requires communication, organizational skills and a desire to get things done. It also requires patience and an understanding that not all of your employees think like you. Here are some thoughts on what you can do to be a better manager.
Look to control employee behavior not change personality.
Personalities are complex and a result of genetics, life experiences, habits and other beliefs. Remember that demanding teacher that took control of the classroom? When the bell rang, little Johnny Hellion’s personality didn’t change. He wanted to misbehave just as much in this class as others but the teacher’s methods didn’t allow it. Focus on controlling employee behavior, not trying to change who they are. If you have a whiner, don’t listen. If someone is late, don’t tolerate it. If someone is a gossip, don’t participate.
Establish clear production targets and monitor progress.
Phrases such as “work fast” and “bring the job in on time” are of little value. How can the job be late when you never established what “on time” was? Set realistic daily and weekly production goals. Monitor results and targets. Never set false goals or unrealistic production quotas as employees aren’t stupid and they know when you’re lying to them. Make sure the targets are achievable. Gain buy-in at the beginning of job. Anything we measure we get better at doing.
Coach and develop employees.
Everyone likes to be helped but no one likes to be criticized. Think of how many mentors you’ve had in your life. I bet it’s just a few. Think of how many critics you have encountered in the workplace; I bet its dozens if not hundreds. Frequently, we think we’re coaching employees but they see it as criticism. Try to coach people pre-task not post-task. Post-task is about what I did wrong or need to correct. Pre-task is before any behavior has actually taken place. Create a checklist of tasks employees should learn and gradually train them. Focus on the future and what needs to be done.
Don’t make it personal.
Try to avoid comparisons. Comparisons are particularly discouraging to people who are trying to improve and may not believe in themselves. It would be fun to play basketball with Lebron James but I have no illusions I would win. As a coach it’s not about making all players into superstars. It’s about getting the non-superstars to improve. Comparing them to yourself might discourage them. Instead of “I would do it this way,” try “have you considered this?” When employees disappoint you, I doubt they were doing it on purpose. Contrary to what you think, most employees are not trying to think up ways to frustrate you. Rarely is an employee driving to work thinking about how he or she’s going to mess with your head. It’s a byproduct of their behavior. Employees simply make mistakes due to work habits, lack of ability, poor communication from you as supervisor, and so on.
Develop a sense of urgency.
A good manager is someone that sees a piece of trash in the front of the office, and he or she stops to pick it up. Work to find pride in your accomplishments and promote such an attitude with co-workers. Focus on the end result and rejoice in the accomplishment.
Plan ahead and don’t become addicted to crisis management.
Firefighting can be addictive as you can get an adrenalin rush by being “the man.” Planning better and upping your organizational skills is the number one way to improve productivity. Set aside quiet time to think jobs through, finish estimates and layout production goals. Have a pre-job meeting on each and every project. Use this meeting to communicate estimate expectations. Set daily crew goals. Order material beforehand and have it delivered. Time consuming supply house trips should be avoided at all costs.
Use sound conflict communication skills.
It’s OK to disagree about tasks. It’s not OK to disagree about each other. Avoid “why” questions and focus on “what” and “how” questions. Stay future-focused. “Why did you do that?” makes people defensive. Instead use questions such as “what can we do to get back on track? Or how can we keep this from happening again?” Talking about how something should be done is better than talking about what went wrong.
Avoid poor communication practices.
Be aware of your body language. Don’t lean into people, fold your arms or point. Instead, talk with open hands. Be aware of your tone. We judge people by their tone, not necessarily the actual spoken word. If there’s a heated discussion and someone gets mad, postpone the conversation until both parties calm down. Allow the employee to state how he or she feels about the situation. Try saying, “I can certainly understand how you might feel that way but the situation we need to address is…”
In summary, becoming a professional manager requires learning new skills. Many of these skills are unconscious communication methods we learned from our parents and other bosses. Work at being a better communicator and planner. You’ll be happy with the results.