It's all in the scaffolding
Management is complex job because we have tasks to perform, results to deliver, plus we have to juggle all our skills to get our people firing on all cylinders. The truly successful managers are the ones who have a set of processes in place to make that happen; “scaffolding” that allows them to easily and seamlessly do all those management things like big picture planning, delegating, motivating and so on.
And just because you are in a small business doesn't mean you don't need scaffolding; you just need less of it. And remember you can build some and then take part down. Try it out and if it's not right change the shape.
A handful of simple mechanisms or actions impact on the effectiveness of any organisation because they literally enable and encourage managers to use all the basic leadership skills.
The top 5 pieces of scaffolding
1. Context: Set a clear vision for where this company should be heading, in your mind, and then communicate to employees. A clear purpose - what are we here for? And finally what sort of behaviours will get us there? This all sets the context and the tone. Think -Do we want to be an Aldi or a Waitrose or a niche food retailer? High end , fast turnover, experts? Grow like topsy or steady as she goes?
Your people need to know this so that they can be the people you want them to be. They need to understand the ambition or the level of service that your business must give to succeed so knowing the direction and position in the market gives them clarity.
And you can make sure you recruit the right people in the first place; square pegs in round holes are never a good idea. Which leads us on to number 2.
2. The Job Description: Usually a long winded document full of vacuous statements and woolly verbs, something to write in a hurry on recruitment and then put in a filing cabinet never to see the light of day again, until 10 years down the line when you realise that Flossie has just turned the job into the one she wants it to be, and not the one you had in mind when she started.
If you write a good, concise job description that actually specifies outcomes for the job role you have then got the basis for a robust interview (looking for evidence to meet those outcomes) and also a live document to manage and assess performance against. (email me for a great template)
3. A communication framework: We all tend to believe that very small teams don't need meetings or formal communications but this is valid only to certain extent. If you can all fit in one minibus to go to the pub most useful stuff will get communicated somehow. But actually people need regular messages and in different formats for different reasons. For example if you only communicate informally about tasks and social then you may be missing the opportunity to talk about the big picture; the context, the vision, the overall behaviours required.
So to get the right communication framework you will need the right mix of meetings, one to ones, and big picture days. It actually worth sitting down and doing a comms plan - just a chart - which topics will we talk about in which format?
4. Performance Reviews are next: Everyone one of us deserves to have our boss's undivided attention at least once a year; a chance to reflect on our performance, our aspirations, maybe even get some good quality praise. Chances are you good at the thank yous and well dones but are you any good at specifying exactly what they did right? (email me for free booklet or have a look at our elearning module). Performance management is not complicated, you just have to be doing it all the time, and start from the beginning.
Which takes me to the fifth dimension...
5. The 5 Top Tips On Successful People Management
(Too many fives? Stick with it for now...) It's just that you need to start with the scaffolding but you could ruin it all if you don't do the people management piece right. So success, and an easier life, comes from the two circles intertwined.
1. Clarity: People need to know exactly what is expected of them; not to be told what to do or necessarily how to do it, but what the results should be (the outcomes). They could have a better way of doing things then even you, so take care to be clear on the results you want, and help them work out how to achieve that if they need help, but ultimately agree outcomes.
Which is why a good job description is a useful tool. And also the skill of how to delegate; agree outcomes not a to do list.
With clarity comes transparency. I was told as a young manager that I needed to feel that I was managing in a goldfish bowl so the justification for every decision was obvious, clear, which does mean sometimes you have to explain your thinking. Just think about what people say about politicians; clarity and transparency are not words usually associated with some of them.
2. Integrity: People can see right through manipulation and waffle. You need to be seen as trustworthy and it's the little things that you do that build up to the whole integrity image. For example, never talk about one person in the team to someone else, never expose confidences, never make promises you can't keep, treat people with respect. And do it consistently...oh and be consistent.
3. Feedback: The big one so let's cut to the chase here. Feedback is the wrong word. Always start with a question; never, ever, go straight in to feedback.
So use the wide frame approach instead e.g. "I thought we had decided the report would be with me by Friday; was there a problem?" This recognises a problem but allows the employee the opportunity to put their case first. You listen, maybe ask another question and decide what next. If they have obviously learned from their mistake you don't need to be hard on them at all. If this actually someone else's mistake you won't have egg on your face.
People will take feedback if they feel that the feedback process is fair. By asking them first you are showing the highest level of fairness.
4. Immediate feedback - or as soon as. Don't leave it a month, or a year. And do it for poor and good performance. Yes immediate, specific praise is essential. Which leads us to the final tip:
5. Catch them doing something right - not mine, it originates with Tom Peters. Don't spend all your time telling people off. In fact if you have to do that something is very wrong, and usually it will be your fault.
Some feedback on this from our clients:
“I like the concept that scaffolding need not be permanent, which is a new way of looking at an old problem, particularly for us.”
Steve Boast, OD Manager, HM Prison Service
“You gave me an excellent idea, which has now been implemented in our organisation.”
Jacqueline McGuire, Employee Development Manager, Cambridge Assessment
Leadership Scaffolding was originally commissioned by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and published by Chandos.
ISBN 1-84334-205-7 £35
Available on Amazon