MANAGEMENT: Managers choose their style: effective or easy

November 27, 2006

My business Q: has grown to 32 people and $2.7 million in revenue. My managers have been promoted from within, but they had no previous managerial experience and they are not getting the most out of their direct reports. How can I help them become more effective?

Managers either choose to be effec-A:tive or choose to do what is easy. Effective managers set clear expectations for performance, confront employees when they veer off track and coach with consequences. Ineffective managers don't.

Most successful business owners want a company that can operate without them. Therefore, your objective should be to build a strong management team that is focused on results. Hold them accountable for achieving results and require them to hold others accountable. If performance and behavioral expectations are ambiguous, you won't get what you want.

When you or your managers aren't getting the results you expect, you need to become comfortable in giving prompt, consistent, specific and honest feedback. Do so face-to-face, in private. Be respectful and don't humiliate.

And don't wait until the dreaded annual performance review. Once-a-year sessions conveying positive or negative information do little to change performance or behaviors in a timely manner.

Feedback comes in five varieties: positive, neutral, constructive, empty and negative.

Positive feedback acknowledges good performance. Managers who claim they shouldn't recognize people for doing their jobs are missing a big opportunity to reinforce the performance or behavior that is producing the desired results. Everyone wants to know they are doing a good job and contributing. Tell people how their efforts have benefited the company.

Neutral feedback identifies a problem with performance or behavior. Many employees never know they were doing something inappropriate because no one ever told them. They also may think they are good at a task when they are marginal. Once told, they have the opportunity to make course corrections. Tell people what they need to work on.

Constructive feedback points out the problem areas in performance and provides solutions. It asks "what" and "how" questions such as "What can you do differently to get results?" or "How can I help you achieve results?" These are coaching and teaching opportunities for managers and provide the greatest opportunities to make a difference. Your primary job as a manager is to help your people get better. If you can't help them to get better inside your company, help them move on. In the long run, they will benefit and the company will benefit.

Empty feedback is when poor performance or behavior occurs and there is no acknowledgement of it. Management imposters engage in this approach and then blow their tops when their frustration boils over. They are afraid of confrontation and don't want to rock the boat. Failure to act affects the company's strong performers because they keep asking when the manager is going to address problem performers, and they wonder why they should be taking up the slack for others not doing their job.

Negative feedback asks "why," "who" or "when" questions instead of a useful exchange of information. Questions such as "why do you keep making the same mistake?", "when can I count on you to deliver?" and "who is responsible for this problem?" don't improve behaviors or performance. They seek to blame instead of resolve.

Effective managers spend time helping their quality employees become more productive. They also make tough choices when mediocre workers don't deliver expected results.

Clegg is president of Carlisle Group Inc./CEO Partners, a consulting firm serving owner-managed businesses. He can be reached at 450-0262; dclegg@comcast.net.
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