Managing People Near and Far

I frequently hear people desiring a job as a manager or supervisor, while simultaneously hearing other people complain about their managers. Managerial positions are attractive for both the respect they often command as well as the higher salaries that are typically associated with them. Some organizations have policies and procedures for selection of managers, while others simply interview what they believe to be “good candidates.”  What makes a “good candidate” can vary a great deal. There are some organizations with the common “good old boy” mentality where a certain number of personal characteristics influence selection. These can include interests and knowledge in sports, religion, family, hobbies, and can also carry unspoken requirements of attending a certain college or type of degree.

The selection process in some organizations only includes senior management, while other more progressive organizations will include the employees the new manager will be overseeing. They essentially gain an opportunity to be a part of choosing their new boss. Sometimes people move into management positions because it was “their time” and seniority protocol steps into play. Regardless of the way in which managers get into their positions, there are some key elements of being a good and successful leader.

  1. Hiring of employees: It is important to hire employees who will mesh or meld with current staff. This means taking a look at not only the resume, but the personality as well, and contemplating whether this person will work well with others in the organization. Too often people are placed into positions to fill a void, or because they have the credentials, but they may not always be a good fit for the group. If there is a potential promotion instead of a new hire, these should be scrutinized even more. Sometimes people are moved up because they excel at the job, but they may not have the skill set to manage others. Does the candidate have the respect and the trust of the larger group or is a higher executive, far removed from the group itself, making a blind decision? Reviewing a resume and discussing achievements are a typical part of any interview process, but to really know the candidate, it is very helpful to ask questions related to real scenarios they may encounter in the position, and asking how they might handle these. This should include questions around expected performance metrics, quality, and interpersonal challenges that could occur in the workplace with coworkers. Is the candidate “teachable?”
  2. Set expectations: While one should never advocate babysitting capable adults, employees do need to know the expectations. Never assume any employee should automatically know anything. Set expectations with the group around daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly expectations. This should include any deliverable work, product, quality, etc. Expectations around time off, tardiness, and sick days should also be well established and known by all employees.
  3. Manage your own publicity: How a manager relays information is just as important as the information itself. One should never come off as a dictator. The great Maya Angelo once said, “When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.” Who are you to your staff? Are you their punisher, dictator, sheriff, or are you their leader? A great way to foster support and respect simultaneously is to show respect and or appreciation for what each person who reports to you brings to the equation, while communicating with them what the challenges are for the entire team. Managers who withhold knowledge or information can be poisonous to an organization. Some believe that if too many regular employees know the recipe to the “secret sauce” or know how to do something, that this might threaten the manager or another employee’s position. This is just false. Sharing knowledge and information is a way to build that knowledge base with everyone, and in turn helps foster cross training as well as new ideas that can make things more efficient in the future. It also gains respect of those working for you.
  4. Foster a team mentality: Managing people is not about gaining a title with a private office to sit in. Good managers get out and work in the trenches with their team. When the manager is involved, this sets an example for everyone, and helps foster a team mentality. Managers should never have an employee doing tasks that they themselves do not understand or have not done before. A good manager will step into such occasions and figure out what is needed and then relay this to others while working with them.
  5. Know those who work for you: Managing people is not just about knowing who has what degree, certification, or skill set, but really knowing them as people. Knowing if for example, employees are involved with local community events, if they have small children, what hobbies or activities they enjoy, etc. The easiest way to quickly understand a problem an employee brings, is to first know the messenger. Knowing them also helps when there is a need to communicate clearly with them.
  6. Develop your people: Good managers should always be thinking about developing people based on their skill sets and personality types combined. This might include: encouraging a person or group to create a training module, encouraging a person to give a speech on a topic, asking a person to create an excel file or word document that is needed, or creating a PowerPoint. While not everyone has the temperament or the ability for all tasks, stop and consider which employees show commitment and a willingness to grow. Nurturing new talent, while sometimes even teaching it, adds to the value of your organization as a whole and speaks volumes of the manager’s leadership skill.
  7. Be accountable: Employees need managers and supervisors who are accountable. If a directive or decision is made that others are required to follow, the manager should place his or her name on a memo, policy, or email to establish this is from the manager. Always look for potential domino effects when making policy and procedure changes, but once they are made, own them. Explain why something was decided whenever you are able. This doesn’t mean that the manager needs to explain themselves to the employees, but it does help foster an understanding of what elements were considered when the directive was made.
  8. Forward thinking: A great manager is one who is forward thinking. Every single deliverable or work process often has some potential area for improvement or efficiency. Great managers are always thinking. I once had a fortune cookie message that read: “The eye of the master will do more work than both his hands.” This doesn’t mean the master isn’t working with their hands, but they are doing that in addition to even more work through ongoing thinking.

There are more and more entities offering remote work opportunities to include full time work from home jobs as well as a work from home day once a week. Much deliberation occurs around how to properly manage these individuals and there may be more observational controls in some places than others. The best method involves combining the team mentality mentioned above along with the setting expectations mentioned above. The very purpose of allowing people to work from home is that it personally benefits the employee or it benefits the organization (by not requiring more office space). Setting expectations on deliverables and estimated work that needs to be completed should be all that is necessary. Some employees can get more done in two hours than others complete in a full day, and this is just the disparity of the human factor in work. Simultaneously, some employees are more motivated early in the day while others are more creative and refreshed late at night. This is yet another human variation in biorhythms and as long as the mission of the organization is not affected… “when” someone gets something done by time of day really isn’t as big a deal as some would like to make it.

Overall, managing or supervising people is not an easy task. It is not just a title or salary, but a new responsibility. A manager or supervisor is not just responsible for himself or herself, but they are then also responsible for every person who reports to them and every deliverable or piece of work the department or office or organization is creating. They must thoroughly understand what each individual on their team brings and know how to communicate with each person individually. They are responsible for the shortcomings as much as the successes.