10 ways to become a better manager

7 Aug 2017 By Michael Armstrong

From being strategic and resilient to treating people right and keeping an open mind, author Michael Armstrong reveals the secrets of smarter management

Good managers get things done through people. They know where they are and know where they are going. They know how they are going to get there and know how they will know that they have arrived. They plan ahead, maintain momentum and make things happen. This is all familiar – but there are 10 lesser-known attitudes that mark out the great managers from the mediocre ones.

1. Be business-like

Managers who are business-like understand the organisation’s business model – the basis upon which its business is done. They appreciate the imperatives of the organisation: its mission and strategic goals, and the characteristics that move it forward. They know about the factors that will ensure the effectiveness of the organisation’s activities including profitability, productivity, financial budgeting and control, costs and benefits, customer service and operational performance.

2. Be strategic

Managers who act strategically will think about what the organisation wants to be and become, and what they can do to ensure this happens. They will have a broad view of where they are going and are capable of seeing ‘the big picture’ – of looking beyond the confines of their immediate problems to what lies ahead, and how they will help the company to get there.

3. Treat people right

Treating people right means treating them fairly and with respect. But it is not about going soft on them. It is necessary to be firm as well as fair, to set standards and to ensure that they are met.

4. Gain commitment

As explained by professor Richard Walton of Harvard Business School, improved performance results if businesses and their managers move away from the traditional control-oriented approach to managing people, which relies upon establishing order, exercising control and achieving efficiency. This approach should be replaced by a commitment strategy, where staff are given more freedom: “[Employees] respond best – and most creatively – not when they are tightly controlled by management, placed in narrowly defined jobs and treated like an unwelcome necessity, but, instead, when they are given broader responsibilities, encouraged to contribute and helped to achieve satisfaction in their work.”*

5. Handle challenging meetings well

Good managers are able to handle challenging meetings with people. They get the facts in advance and plan the meeting on the basis of those facts. They adopt a calm, measured, deliberate but friendly approach, and allow people to have their say. They keep an open mind and don’t jump to conclusions. They acknowledge the individual’s position and any mitigating circumstances, ask the employee for proposals to resolve the situation, discuss the options and as far as possible agree on action by the individual, themselves or jointly. If agreement cannot be reached, they define the way forward, with reasons – they are in charge.

6. Manage performance – all the time

Managing performance is what managers do all the time. It is not something that they only do in an annual meeting as part of a performance management process. It is about good management – not ticking boxes on a form. Good managers manage performance by ensuring that their team members understand what they are expected to achieve, work with them to review performance against those expectations, provide regular feedback on results and agree with individuals what needs to be done to improve performance and develop knowledge and skills.

7. Be both consistent and flexible

Managers should behave consistently but they also have to be flexible. In different circumstances they have to do things differently. But it should be flexibility within a framework that consists of a logical and consistent approach to problem-solving and decision-making.

8. Be resilient

Managers carry out their work in conditions of turbulence, uncertainty and ambiguity. This is stressful and good managers have to learn to be resilient.

9. Be reflective

Effective managers learn from their experience. This means deliberately reflecting on what has gone right or wrong, and storing up the outcome of those reflections for use in the future.

10. Actively network

Increasingly, more fluid and flexible organisations get things done by networking. To network effectively, managers need to identify people who may be able to help and seize any opportunity that presents itself to get to know those who may be useful. They must have a clear idea of why they want to network – to share knowledge, to persuade people to accept their proposal or point of view, or to form an alliance – and know what they can contribute.

* Walton, R E (1985) ‘From control to commitment in the workplace’, Harvard Business Review, March-April, pp 77-84

Michael Armstrong is an author, managing partner at E-Reward, and an independent management consultant. The 10th edition of How to be an Even Better Manager, published by Kogan Page, is out now

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