I’ve participated this week in a management forum and one of the hot topics was to discuss about what makes a person a good manager. Every person has ideas shaped by past experience and natural comfort zones that guide his behavior. However, almost everybody agrees that managers must take care of these 3 things:
This might look easy, but it is not.
Fairness means taking the right decisions. Give credit to your people for their work. Do what you say and say what you do. Apply rules to yourself, not only to your team. Assign work accordingly to experience and preferences.
“For what the king fundamentally insisted upon was that his authority should be respected. He tolerated no disobedience. He was an absolute monarch. But, because he was a very good man, he made his orders reasonable.” (The Little Prince, 10.15)
Respect means treating people right. It is the opposite of fear. Don’t use your position in the company to pretend being always right. Don’t use people, develop them. Being respected is key; being feared shows the result of management short-term strategies.
Trust means creating communication channels. Listen to your people. Don’t give lessons, give advise. Say thank you when people tell you the truth.
Can you learn management? Yes. Most of us can benefit from experts and learn what to do and what not to do. There are many techniques out there (for coaching, people development, communication, etc..) that will improve our chances of success. Getting a coach or a mentor might be a great idea for new managers. Is management for everybody? No. Managers must love being managers, and not everybody likes doing this. Of course, some people like taking the lead in specific circumstances and they do a great job (situational leadership) but they don’t like being the boss all the time, and this is ok.
Remember that the final goal of a manager is to develop people to their best possible level, even better than yourself. If you are not ready to do this, do everybody a favor and work in something else.
I’ve worked in many Lean and Operational Excellence initiatives and know that people is key. I know you know this too. It does not matter how well you apply Lean principles, they are useless if people are not on board. I call this “the F1 car without a pilot” syndrome. Your work will most likely finish like this:
Summary: You have to pay attention to people. Good news is that people tend to show their dislike and frustration; bad news is that they typically don’t do it verbally. How could you know? Observe how they behave. In many cases people don’t like change because they fear its consequences: “will I lose my job?”, “will I lose power?”, “will everybody know all the things I do wrong?” and many others. Most animals (including human beings) do one of these 3 things if they are scared:
- they hide
- they freeze up
- they attack
It is not very difficult to find out that something is going on if you pay attention. Any of these signs will tell you that you must take action:
- Hiding signs: people not showing up at meetings, people saying they don’t have problems, managers not showing their metrics when asked, nobody has improvement ideas
- Freezing up signs: people staying in silence at meetings, nobody wants to own actions, actions are not done on time, are done partially or not done at all
- Attacking signs: people saying “we tried that before” or “it won’t work here”, people blaming each other, direct attacks to the improvement initiative.
What to do? Keep calm and work to create confidence.
- DON’T put in place your favorite solution at any cost
- DON’T cut and paste the solution that worked somewhere else
- DON’T ask for ideas if you are not ready to listen carefully
- DON’T exclude people you don’t like or who don’t think like you
- DON’T use any type of passive-aggressive tactic (“well, if you are not interested in improving your work….”, “if this is the way you like working”, “nobody is apparently ready for modern management…”
- DON’T start the meeting if you are nervous, angry or unprepared
- Ask supervisors / managers to explain why this project is important and how it will impact the company / department. If supervisors / managers can’t explain this, don’t go on.
- Ask supervisors / managers to thank the team for the hard work (at the end of the project)
- Ask supervisors / managers to guarantee a risk-free environment. Explain what will happen if the project is a success (e.g. what will happen with the people you no longer need if the process is optimized)
- Ask supervisors / managers to participate in the team’s work: 80% listening, 20% talking.
- Let the team ask any question to anybody or challenge anything.
- Let the team try their solutions, no matter how wrong they might seem
- Let the team decide implementation dates
- Make team members commit in public to the action plan
- Let the team present their solutions to their colleagues and supervision
- Let the team decide how to measure success
- Let the team decide how to follow up progress (but there must be a follow up process)
- Let the team decide what to do if things fail
- Celebrate success / celebrate learning
Don’t forget the people aspects of Lean unless you want your project to finish pretty much like this: