Archive for the ‘People management’ Category

Excellent Management – How much should I tell people?

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

A common problem for managers is how much to direct people what to do and how much to leave it to them. Too little direction and at the least you may have to answer lots of questions. At the worst, you may have to spend a lot of effort on crisis management and a demoralized member of staff.

In a course recently, a junior manager asked how he could prevent people he was supervising coming back to him with lots of questions about the work he had asked them to do. He realised he probably needed to brief them in more detail, but how could he know how much was enough? I suggested that he brief them in two stages. First, provide a short brief about the task and the required outcome and ask them to go away, make a start and come up with questions. Second, meet again and ask for their questions. You cannot know what the other person does or doesn’t know, and the question they come up with may be something you haven’t thought of. Albert Einstein said his mother asked him each day when he came home from school, “Did you ask a good question today?”

Too much direction may prevent your member of staff from developing and using their own initiative and dampen their enthusiasm. Measures of engagement and job-satisfaction always include people wanting to have the ability to have some control over how they do a job.

In a recent discussion about a team event with the team manager, she told me that she had had to use a “commanding”* management style for the first few months working with her team because of the need to get some standardized procedures in place. She now wanted to get members of the team to take initiative and produce new ideas, and was finding it hard work. I suggested that developing her coaching style of management could encourage staff to trust that she wanted them to develop and put forward their own ideas.

Managers’ behaviour creates expectations in the minds of their staff. Managers can create an expectation of initiative and responsibility by the way they communicate with their staff.

* one of the styles described in The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman

How do I raise this with my manager?

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

This is a question I am often asked during training sessions. Many people find it difficult to talk to their managers about things they are unhappy about, feel are not going well, or do not like about the manager’s style. Often, the situation has been going on for many months, with resentment building. Partly this seems to be related to the way many people feel their managers “should” behave. Comments include:
“But she’s my manager; she should know that.”
“My manager just doles out work without any discussion and we don’t like it, but we don’t know what to do.”
“I’m worried if I say something it will ruin my relationship with my manager.” In this case the relationship didn’t seem to be great anyway!

To some people, the manager represents an authority figure and they believe that authority figures should know the “right” way to do things and shouldn’t need to be challenged. I think this comes from a subconscious alignment of people in management roles with the way we are often taught to think about parents or teachers as children.

This situation is difficult for the member of staff. It is also a real disadvantage to the manager, who needs staff to be able to discuss problems and issues so that they can feel engaged and motivated at work, work well in the team, and contribute to the smooth working of the department.

Partly it is related to a lack of practice in speaking up for oneself and taking responsibility for oneself at work. One of the solutions is to provide staff with an opportunity to learn and practise how to raise and discuss difficult issues with managers by:
• Being respectful but honest
• Describing the issue with examples and how it affects them personally
• Saying what they would like to be different

For example, the employee whose manager “doles out work without any discussion” could learn to say:
“I would like to be able to have some choice of tasks. At the moment, you decide what we will each do. What I’d prefer is if we could discuss the options and decide together who does what. What do you think?”

Contrary to the belief that the manager “should” know how do things “right”, many managers would benefit from a bit of upward coaching of this kind from staff. This manager, who may not have had any training, may see the role of manager as “doling out” the tasks. Whatever the actual situation, the dialogue may clear the air and provide an opportunity to explain boundaries and show some flexibility which suits the tasks involved.

These are the sort of skills which are still often called “Soft” as if they are not as important as others. However, I hear of departments and teams reduced to a silent, simmering paralysis by this kind of inability to talk it through – a real threat to their productivity. For information on how I can help with these sorts of situations in organisations go to my website page on Communication.

Performance Management – two important skills may be the key

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Performance management isn’t only about how a manager communicates with staff, but out of nine qualities employees rate in reports of good managers in best companies to work for (, qualities of communication come into all of them (more details below).

My observations from studies on successful management in organisations, and from my work with staff and managers, is that the core of performance management is getting the best from your people and there are two main skills which good managers need which apply to most performance management needs, whether it is the annual review, the everyday briefing of individuals and teams, the feedback on a project, etc.:

1. Share information (not opinion!)
2. Ask questions (and listen to the answers!)

It sounds simple but I am on the side of managers when I say that I don’t think it necessarily comes easily to people for very good reasons:

1. Managers feel that their role requires them to make value-judgements – about the work of the department, the performance of the team and of individuals. And that is true, but in making the value judgements, they need to make sure that they are standing inside the situation and not making assumptions from the outside.

2. Managers think that giving feedback is about expressing value judgements. Fine when things are going well, but when they’re not, this feels uncomfortable – they wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end themselves. Being clear with people about what you need them to do and how they are doing it means holding the value judgement in mind, but not leading with it in what you say. Feedback needs to follow the information/questions model to be effective.

3. Managers don’t want to give people bad news, let alone consult them on it. This, too, feels unpalatable. You know it is likely to be uncomfortable, people may be angry and they may be justified. However, learning to deal with the situation constructively while managing your own emotions will be better for your relationship with your staff than hiding behind an email.

4. Most of us equate the management role with the parental role (both managers and staff) and indeed the exerting of social responsibility as a manager is very close to the role of parent. Our experience of our own parents, or of being a parent, doesn’t necessarily prepare us for being a successful manager.

I have found that an understanding of these key issues and working on the skills of sharing information and asking questions, using examples, discussion and role-play, provides managers with the tools and the confidence they need to do a good job of managing people. Seven out of ten people who leave organisations leave a manager. These are important skills and acquiring them requires a mixture of:
• Self-awareness
• Insight into others
• Behavioural skills

For more information on my work with managers on performance management please go to

If you are still wondering about the nine top qualities of a good manager as rated by employees of best companies to work for, they were:

Talks openly and honestly
Shares important information
Expresses appreciation
Supports and cares
Listens more than talks
Helps fulfil potential
Motivates us to give our best
Is a good role model
Demonstrates leadership skills

Valerie Fawcett (

Managing people working under pressure – survey results

Friday, April 17th, 2009

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) recently announced the results of its four-year research project into how managers need to behave to prevent and manage stress at work amongst their staff. Their findings are not surprising but it is good to have it confirmed that key management skills are:
• treating people with respect
• communicating job objectives clearly
• involving staff in wider objectives
• talking one-to-one
• managing conflict

The psychologist Eric Berne (founder of Transactional Analysis), proposed that people have a need for:

Stimulation and
Recognition (which he called Strokes)

in life in general and at work. It’s a simple formula which is reflected in the management behaviours identified by the CIPD study. I use it as a basis for developing new managers, and helping them to identify how they can help staff to feel motivated to work effectively and go the extra mile, not just prevent stress. In 21st century terms, we are talking about “engagement”.

Structure means being clear about job roles, boundaries and objectives, reporting lines and career paths. It doesn’t require complicated competency frameworks; it does require managers to be able to be informative and descriptive and to co-create understanding with their staff about the requirements of the job.

Stimulation can mean many different things and will reflect different people’s values and interests. For some it will be pride in doing a good job, following a well-known work routine with expertise; for others it will be challenge and variety; good relationships with manager and colleagues; developing skills; using strengths.

Recognition includes being paid, but pay doesn’t engage the emotions in the same way as praise for good work and a working atmosphere that respects people for who they are as well as what they do. More in depth research has found that a warm “Thank you” from a manager or a team lunch to celebrate a job well done are more effective forms of recognition than an “Employee of the Year” award which is too impersonal and comes too late.

The term “engagement” which has now become the way to describe a mixture of motivation, loyalty and good performance reflects the real recognition that performance is not just about what people do, but what they feel at work. The management relationship is key to that engagement, and thinking about boosting provision of Structure, Stimulation and Recognition can make all the difference to that relationship.

Valerie Fawcett