Management Is About Communication

The art of management and communication is interchangeable. You can’t hold employees accountable for something that you have not articulated as an expectation. And if you don’t ask for what you want in a specific and concise manner, you may never get the desired result.

Don’t assume, for example, that employees know what you mean when you ask them to operate as a well-functioning team or demonstrate outstanding customer service. Your definition of teamwork or customer service may be different from employees. Therefore, it 1s imperative that you develop (with employee input) specific standards of performance that describe what results look like in measurable or observable terms.

An example of teamwork is: “When you’re finished with your own work, unless it’s your break time, you will make offers of assistance to others without being asked.” An example of customer service is: “When you meet a customer for the first time, you will smile, lock in eye contact and introduce yourself by name and position.”

If you can’t see it, hear it or count it, you can’t evaluate it because it’s not a well articulated standard of performance.

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Stay Goal (Not Personality) Focused

As a leader, you probably like some employees more than others, but you evaluate them based upon the quality of their performance, not on your feelings toward them. You strive to be fair, objective and consistent in your application of policies and procedures. You understand that even the appearance of favoritism can be dangerous to your credibility. 

Employees don’t have to like you either. But you are a legitimate authority figure in their work life. Based upon your position, you have the  right to tell them what to do (providing your expectations are job related and reasonable). In the military, when a private salutes an officer, he’s not actually saluting the person; he is saluting the rank. He is legitimizing and sanctioning the chain of command.

Finally, employees don’t have to personally like one another to be effective team players.  The organization’s mission and work unit priorities transcend their personality conflict. They have a role to play in setting each other up for success and making each other look good in the eyes of the customer.  They can say “Hello” to each other in the morning and “Good-by” in the afternoon. They can offer each other help without being asked.  They don’t have to go home together, but they are expected to fully cooperate and keep open the lines of communication.

It’ easier and nicer to work with a person you like, but your character and interpersonal skills are put to the test when the relationship is strained. Your ability to remain goal focused and task oriented under such conditions is a mark of maturity and professionalism.

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Credibility: A Precondition for Facilitating Change

Leadership is the art of attracting voluntary followers and harnessing their collective energy in pursuit of a common goal. People follow you not out of fear based on the potential consequences of noncompliance.  They follow you because:

   They identify with your vision and values.

   You are a positive role model

   You demonstrate a strict adherence to honesty and trustworthiness

   You are worthy of belief and confidence. You are genuine.

Once you have established personal and professional credibility, specific management principles must be applied to secure employee ownership of needed changes. These include: (1) honest communication about the need for change, (2) an atmosphere of trust and open dialogue, (3) employee input into the decision-making process whenever appropriate, and (4) recognition for contributing to the success of the change.

The next time you want to make a change within your work unit, consider asking yourself the following questions:

   Have I told them why the change is needed/desirable?

   Am I open to their opinions?

   Am I being respectful and considerate?

   Are my deadlines real?

   Have I provided them the resources to succeed?

   Have I demonstrated confidence in them?

   Can they count on me?

The best leaders are always strict disciplinarians. Most people think of discipline in the pejorative sense: to punish, reprimand, rebuke, and force compliance. But the root word of discipline is “disciple,” meaning that people follow your lead because they identify with you and your vision. They respect and even emulate you.

There are no shortcuts to attaining credibility. It comes from developing a track record of  quantifiable results achieved through ethical conduct. To determine the characteristics of credible leaders, simply identify the best leaders for whom you have worked. Next, list their admirable traits. Then make a commitment to be more like them.

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Your Primary Objective Is Not To Make Employees Happy

As an employee, your goal is not to be happy. It is to be successful. Job satisfaction is a bi-product of success. It comes from taking pride in your work, knowing that you have done everything within your control to create a high quality product or service. As a professional, you’re not doing a good job for your manager or organization. You’re doing it for yourself. You want to be able to look in the mirror and sleep at night.

Bad bosses can dampen your enthusiasm through a litany of management sins, but they can’t motivate you. Motivation ultimately comes from within. For example, your manager can’t motivate you to care. Either you get a kick out of doing something nice for someone or you don’t.

Yes, good managers can inspire employees to be great by modeling the attitude and behaviors expected in others. However, as a precondition of success, employees must first demonstrate the will to succeed, a spark of positive energy that indicates intrinsic motivation. Good managers can then bellow this spark into a fire and channel that energy toward realizing a common vision. But no spark, no fire.

Effective managers understand that securing employee job satisfaction is an important objective.  But it’s not the ultimate goal. Good employee relations are a means to an end; they grease the results channels for achieving work unit goals. For example, a work unit will never achieve seamless customer service if there is polarization between manager and employees or a breakdown of communication between shifts and departments. Customer service falls through the cracks when employees don’t cooperate with one another or when they are primarily focused on their own satisfaction.

 As discussed in my book, “The Power Of Self Management,” employees must take complete responsiblity for their own work ethic, service orientation, self-motivation, positive attitude and constructive conduct despite everyday work frustrations. Employees must always be held accountable for what the say, do, think, and feel particularly under stressful and conflicted situations.

Do happy employees make better employees? Yes, but then you have to ask, “Who is ultimately responsible for their happiness?”


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You Can’t Make Employees Do Anything

Control over employees is an illusion. You’re not actually managing them. They’re managing themselves. You’re managing their performance. All you can do is:

   Communicate your vision, values and performance standards

   Ensure that your expectations are job related, reasonable, safe, legal and fair 

   Let employees know the rewards and consequences of their actions

   Provide the resources to succeed (materials, supplies, equipment, training , etc)

   Monitor and evaluate performance

   Provide timely performance feedback

   Recognize, coach and discipline as appropriate

Once you have successfully performed these managerial responsibilities, the burden shifts from you to the employees. They must have the will and the skill to succeed. Don’t try to micromanage them. Let employees find their own route to accomplishment. Hold them accountable for results, not necessarily how they achieved those results.

In the last analysis, if you wind up having to “terminate” employees, you really did not fire them. You did everything you could to facilitate their success. They knew what your expectations were. They knew the rewards and consequences of their actions. They simply lacked the motivation or ability to meet your expectations. They resigned by delegation.

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A Word to “Managers of Managers”

Be very mindful of those activities for which you recognize and hold middle managers and first line supervisors accountable. What you reward or penalize them for is a clear indication of your values.

Many managers come to work early, leave late and take work home with them. They would not mind working long and hard hours for sustained periods of time providing the activities were in alignment with their work unit priorities. 

Most managers want (and need) to spend more time on their work unit  developing customer and employee relationships, monitoring and evaluating activities, offering a helping hand when the need exists, providing timely recognition, coaching  for performance improvement, maintaining a learning culture, and building a cohesive work team.

But because of upper level mandates, they find themselves spending an inordinate amount of time away from their work units engaged in organizational maintenance tasks. For example, they are busy attending management meetings, participating on committees, writing reports, and completing  projects.

To be sure, these activities are important because they ensure that the organization functions in a timely and efficient manner. But when managers are consumed with organizational maintenance activities, (1) employees complain about the lack of management accessibility or support, and (2) customers complain about the lack of timely response to their problems.

I can tell what administrators value in part by reviewing their managers’ calendar books. Do you recognize and hold your managers accountable for spending quality time on their work units effectively interfacing with their employees and customers?

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No Surprises On Your Next Employee Satisfaction Survey

Just as employees don’t like surprises on an annual performance appraisal, you don’t want to discover through a satisfaction survey that your employees dislike some aspect of your leadership style.

Therefore, maintain a retribution free communication environment in which employees are able to share concerns with you in a direct and timely fashion. Don’t burn anyone who tells you what you may not want (but need) to hear. The goal is to address and secure closure on issues at the earliest and most informal level so that animosity will not build up.

Create forums that encourage employees to play the role of devil’s advocate when you are considering changes that directly impact their work. Test out ideas with them. Include them in decision-making processes whenever possible. Be accessible and approachable.

Teach employees assertiveness and problem solving skills so that they able to engage in crucial discussions with you and their peers.  They need to learn how to package their ideas without inducing defensiveness. They also need to learn how to listen without getting defensive.

In my latest book, “Time To Lead,” I have included several practical exercises that facilitate positive manager-employee engagement. By using these exercises, you minimize the chances of being surprised on the next employee opinion survey.

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