Previously published on LinkedIn.
One of the most important skills that a leader must develop and practice is people management. And as a lot of research shows, how you manage your team can have the biggest impact on your organization’s ability to retain top talent. Regardless of the kind of organizational structure you lead under, there will always be human resources involved. Effective management is essential to your success and the success of those who work under your leadership.
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
― Harry Truman
Effective managers start from a premise of trust. Once you’ve recruited the right people and developed that trust, it’s time to use that as a springboard to ensure your direct reports’ success and job satisfaction.
Here are four practices you need to have in place to do just that.
Give your reports well-defined requests or projects with clear goals.
Success comes easier when your team members or reports have a clear vision of what everyone is trying to achieve. This might sound like common sense, but I am no longer surprised by the amount of work and the number of projects that are started and completed without a clear view of the objectives. This can lead to, at least, some spinning wheels and, at worst, total derailing of the project. If you don’t define the objectives or goals clearly, your team will—and they may not get it right.
An effective manager does the legwork of clarifying the goals or objectives before delegating a project and articulates or documents the request in a well-defined manner. This gives management well-defined “goal posts” by which to measure performance and provide feedback and helps the team know where they are going, giving them confidence to move forward.
Be clear and consistent on the priorities and timelines.
If there is one constant in business, it is that everything is always changing. Effective managers stay aware and informed of the changes coming down the pipeline and provide team members with clarity around the priorities and deadlines.
“If everything is important, then nothing is.”
― Patrick Lencioni
There are always times when the workload is going to be intense and require extra time investment to keep up, but if this is the standard operating mode, then there is something wrong with your processes or organizational health. Good managers “go to bat” for their team members, ensuring that the team understands the priorities and that they are given the time and space to complete their work.
Prioritization starts with leadership. Having a laser focus on what is the most important work needing attention will allow you to provide your team with clarity and help them make smart, on-target decisions as you entrust and delegate projects and tasks. The same applies to timelines. Make sure you understand other team dependencies, and make sure your reports have the visibility and information they need to stay on track.
There are two edges to this sword.
First, don’t ever say negative things about your team members to your peers. There is no quicker way to sabotage a group or team’s health than through gossip. If performance requires improvement, engage your team member directly, and address it in a healthy and productive way. Even top performers make mistakes. Innovative thinking and outside-the-box solutions often require some amount of risk-taking. Openly criticizing or over-reacting to those mistakes or the risk is demoralizing and, worse, will scare away your creative thinkers and top talent.
“Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.” ― Patrick Lencioni
Likewise, don’t idly complain about organizational issues; address them to the appropriate people. No organizational process is ever going to be perfect. Address the issue with the person who can fix it, or identify it as a challenge that can’t be resolved in the present, and spend your time discussing how to succeed despite the issue.
“Complaining to your teammates is disloyalty, and it fosters a negative spirit that will trash the organization.”
― Dave Ramsey
Ramsey talks about how his organization sees this important topic: “Gossip is defined as discussing anything negative with someone who can’t help solve the problem. If you’re having computer problems, and IT is slow about helping you, you don’t complain about it to the sales rep in the break room. You talk to your leader because he or she can and will do something about it.”
Gossip and idle complaining may feel cathartic, but it is unproductive, destructive, and hindering to trust. Problems can be solved by talking to the right people.
Provide high-visibility assignments with the resources and support needed to win.
Very early in my career, as a shift-manager in a QSR business, I asked, “What do I need to do to get a promotion?” The answer has stuck with me over the last 20 years. I needed to develop someone to take over my job so I could move on to something better.
In many ways, effective management and team leadership are the same—regardless of whether you’re looking for a promotion or not. Everyone benefits from the growth of a team member—the leader, the follower, and the company as a whole. And one of the best ways to motivate and inspire the continued development of a report is through successful high-visibility assignments.
To ensure success, effective managers will assign a project or task; provide the information, resources and support needed to succeed; and then facilitate the communication and visibility to upper management to ensure the success is properly recognized and celebrated. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate thing; sometimes a simple email to the right leader highlighting the win is enough. Other times, it involves facilitating and scheduling a meeting with leadership for your team member to present the results. It’s important not to skip this step, though; there is little else that can make a top talent feel more recognized (resulting in greater productivity and creativity) than this sort of high-visibility work.
As a team leader, this is easy to do with team members who have experience or a track record of success. But assigning high-visibility projects is more challenging with newer reports who have shown promise but lack the proven experience. Delegating the right task or project is the most important first step. Either way, an effective manager ensures success by providing all the relevant information needed and ensuring the resources are available to complete the work successfully.
“Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form. Its rewards are inestimable.” ― Loretta Young
This is not an exhaustive list by far, but these four practices can have a strong and long-lasting impact on your team’s morale. Ultimately, people may still choose to move on to other roles or jobs, but effectively supporting your top talent with these four practices will ensure that they give you and your organization their most productive results—and speak highly of you well into the future of their careers.
What else would you add to the list?