New to management? Not sure what to actually do? Do this.

Communication Managers

Lots of people become managers for the first time.  Then for training they’re sent to a course on ‘leadership’ which is actually about how to be a decent human in the world.  Which is useful.   But just like there’s more to being an aircraft captain than getting along with your crew, there’s more to being a boss than knowing how to get along with your people.

So here’s an email I sent to an experienced specialist who is a good operator who has recently become a manager.  They mentioned they would appreciate some advice on what to actually do. It’s the stuff I teach in tailored workshops and coach individuals and teams on. 

Hey there,

OK, this is the stuff that will get your team moving to where it needs to be:

1) Context & Planning – your job here is to make sure the team is clear on their mission – who they serve, by doing what, and why it’s valuable to them.  Included in this are the ‘minimal requirements’ – what does the organisation need us to produce this year, as a minimum, to ‘earn our keep’ (i.e. to make it worth paying us!).

If you can come up with the equivalent of a speedometer – a few measures that the team can tell whether it’s doing a good job or not….that’s ideal.

The Planning part is to discuss then write down any particular things that need to be done by any particular dates – mini-projects, initiatives etc.  Include bigger picture stuff that your team is involved in too so it’s clear (don’t make them have to read from multiple plans to figure out the work).

No need for fancy formal documents, just make sure all of the above is written up perhaps on a couple of bits of butcher paper or a whiteboard.  Make sure it’s clear what the NEXT thing is the team is working on at all times – the rule is ‘if you can help with this, or you are asked to contribute, then whatever is NEXT is the higher priority intitiative’

The way you do the above is through 1-3 sessions where you go through all of this.  Let me know if you want an agenda or two to follow.

Fundamentally, you’re convening meetings and discussing things to make sure things make sense to people.

2) Work Clarity– the job here is to make sure everyone has clarity on what everyone else is contributing toward the team mission.  Both regular work, as well as particular projects – who is involved in what, for who.  This occurs both as a team discussion, then also by you sitting down with each person and saying ‘I want to make sure we’re on exactly the same page in terms of what we need from you’.  This is where you can use CPQQRT to make sure things are clear (give me a shout if you want to go over what this is again) .

Remember to ask each person – ‘can you promise that, no is fine, lets talk‘, and ‘what do you need from me‘.  Keeps the relationship as a two-way adult relationship, not a sovereign decreeing from above.

(Your own key contribution to the team, by the way, is to ensure the specifications of what needs to be delivered are clear, to convene meetings if things aren’t on track, and to act as the broker to the organisation on behalf of the team)

The goal here is to elicit promises between people in terms of what they will provide to each other.

3) Team Work – the backbone of the team is the regular team meeting.  Weekly is good.  Go through the stuff from the mission and the contributions each person is making and see what’s on track and what’s not.  Things that are not, identify what needs to be done and who is going to do it.

The other main type of meeting is problem-solving or ‘team working’.  Call these as necessary, whenever you think something needs addressing.  Your job here is to name the conversation that needs to happen, then facilitate discussion to determine who is going to do what.  Use these to both address problems as well as to look for opportunities to improve.  The teamworking process is in the notes of the Leadership Program.

Once per quarter, do a review of the overall mission and the projects/initiatives to see what has to change.

4) Assuring Performance – the job here is add value to people’s work through providing feedback on what you are seeing, good or bad, and to sit down from time-to-time to discuss what you see each person might be able to do in the future with some focused development.

Doing the above requires decent relationships to be in place with everyone, this is where a 30 minute catch-up once per week is worthwhile.  If they don’t want to use the time, fine, but make sure it’s scheduled so they know they’ve always got 30 minutes of your time if they want it.  It’s an act of respect.  Use the time to talk about whatever they want to.

5) System improvement and change – your job isn’t just to get the work done, it’s also to facilitate the continual looking for ways to eliminate waste / do more / do it faster.  The way you do this is through both asking people to do this as they go about their work, and through regular meetings where you work through a list of possible ideas, choosing one at a time, then getting into it. Use the problem-solving process from our workshop on this.

Don’t get caught up in ‘who’s job’ it is to do this.  It’s everyone’s.  Your particular part is to make sure it happens, the contribute along with everyone else with your own perspective on things.

When change is needed or comes down the line, your job is to get the team together and make sure everyone has the chance to understand why, ask questions, then you provide as much choice as possible in terms of how the team delivers what is now required in the changed world (and where there is no choice, you simply say ‘there’s no choice here.  I know it’s rough, but I’m choosing to be part of the new future and I’m asking you to as well‘).

Overall philosophy

As you go about your business, keep up the conversation that you want them to take ownership of the team alongside you.  In return for commitment to results, you want to give them the authority to choose their own way of delivering what the mission of the team requires them to.   Let them know that you want a two-way adult relationship that is authentic, so that might be confronting sometimes, but you’re not interested in treating people like children.

The approach is this – you are all co-owners of the team, but you are the 51% owner.  Treat your team in all communication and decisions like co-owners, but don’t pretend that you don’t have the authority to make the final call.  Wherever you can offer choice and authority, do so.  And don’t do things ‘to’ the team without letting them know first (if there’s no choice) or giving them the option (if there is a choice).

Remember, the minimal requirements of the team from the Context are not negotiable.  But most other things are.  Autonomy in return for promises to deliver.

OK, there you go.  Have another read through, then hit me with your questions or with what further information would help.



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