People commonly make the mistake of thinking that managing people is about meeting revenue targets or sales goals. That’s the product of good management—but how you get there is what really counts.
As a manager, you have to understand all of the small quirks and big ambitions that drive your people. You have to augment their strengths and help them improve their weaknesses.
In today’s data-driven world, we’re used to solving problems by digging into the data. If you want to ramp up user growth, you might analyze different marketing channels to see where your users are coming from. If you’re identifying a churn problem in your product, you want to find out how people are engaging with your product.
But management is something that’s less quantitative, and often more elusive. You won’t become a great manager by staring at spreadsheets all day—you have to put in the time and effort with your people. Luckily, as with any other craft, management skills can be learned, if you’re willing to put the time in.
1. Trust, but verify.
Empower team members with the autonomy and the authority to handle problems on their own—but double-check their work later to make sure it stays on track. This golden rule of people management is known as trust, but verify.
First-time managers often make the mistake of holding team members’ hands every step of the way and micromanaging their work, which ends up undermining their confidence. Worse, it creates bottlenecks, preventing stuff from getting done, because it trains team members to ask for permission before they take action.
Similarly, you don’t want to leave team members to run loose, unchecked. Following up on your team members’ work gives you the opportunity to provide constructive criticism and help them grow and improve. It gives you the ability to help them course correct before things go really wrong.
2. Practice good listening.
Good listeners all share key characteristics: They’re attentive, they make eye contact, they take notes, and they wait for the other person to finish before speaking. You should practice all of those things.
But the most important part of good listening begins before the conversation does. Go into a conversation with an open mind, and remember not to jump to conclusions before or after conversations. The goal isn’t to tell your team members what you’re thinking—it’s to get a sense of where they’re coming from and what they’re trying to achieve.
You won’t know what a team member is thinking unless you ask them. Go in with the intention of learning as much as possible rather than spouting off. Team members are often closer to the root problem than you are, which means that they’re also the best equipped to solve it. The worst mistake a manager can make is assuming he or she has all the answers.
This means you can’t assume what an employee is thinking, what their problem is, or what the solution to the problem is; you need to ask them. Even if you think the cause of a problem is obvious, listen with the intent to understand as much about the situation as possible, not just barge in with a possible solution. Prep for meetings, but don’t go in thinking you know all the answers.
3. Separate personal problems from company problems.
Empowering your team members to solve problems is key to being a successful manager. But problems vary in character and scope. Most problems can be separated into two categories: the personal and the organizational. Team members might talk about these problems in the same way, but the solution often depends on the type of problem you’re dealing with.
Personal problems can include
- a team member’s workload;
- a team member’s dissatisfaction with a process; or
- a team member’s dissatisfaction with a specific team member.
Personal problems are often confined to a specific team member, and they typically can be resolved without any major restructuring or organizational action. Organizational problems, on the other, have deeper root causes and involve multiple team members, or even the entire team.
Organizational problems within a team might involve
- a failure to hit KPIs;
- a delay in progress toward key goals because of issues with workflow; or
- an inability to agree on a course of action.
To solve an organizational problem, you’ll often have to make significant changes to an entire team and adjust course. You can’t fix a problem just by talking to a couple of different team members. At minimum, you’ll have to sit down with the entire team—and you may even have to restructure it.
Understanding the type of problem that you’re dealing with brings you closer to a solution.
4. Understand the purpose of each employee.
The goal of a company in a specific quarter might be “increase revenue by 2x.” The goal of individual team members is probably something completely different—“get a 20% raise” or “be promoted to senior product manager.” Achieving the broader goals of a company means aligning team members’ individual goals with the company’s greater mission, and to do that, you have to know what makes employees tick.
Team members want to work on projects that they find challenging but also that they can be successful in. If you understand what a team member’s core strengths are, you can apply that to motivate them toward a specific outcome. You want to show them how their individual goal of getting a promotion or a raise is tied to growing revenue for the company. This isn’t just about dangling a carrot in front of your team members—it’s about showing them how their work is meaningful and contributes to the bigger mission of the company.
Say that you have two marketers working on the same project. One of the marketers finds the project boring and lacks motivation. The other enjoys the project but is having a difficult time collaborating with the unmotivated marketer.
As a manager, your job is to resolve the problem. While the first marketer might need to be taken off the project entirely, if you take the second marketer away from the project, you’ll chip into their self-esteem and morale. You can’t assume that both marketers share the same motivations—you have to tackle the problem by understanding each as an individual.
5. Balance Praise and Criticism
Managers often make the mistake of either praising team members too much or criticizing them too frequently. Team members need a balance of both to thrive.
If you only compliment team members, you’re depriving them of crucial feedback that they need in order to improve. If you constantly criticize, you’re not providing any positive reinforcement for the things your team members do well.
According to Harvard Business Review, managers who praise more often than they criticize team members, at a 6:1 ratio, are typically more successful.
Of course, there’s no perfect praise-to-criticism ratio. You shouldn’t lie to team members and tell them they’re doing a good job just so you can give a compliment. Instead, make it a habit to simply recognize efforts by team members regularly through praise and other recognition. That helps build confidence and morale.
Take a similarly structured approach to criticism. Don’t just criticize every time you see something go wrong. Instead, help team members find solutions to problems and find the root cause of the problem.
6. End every meeting with a single question.
Grasshopper co-founder David Hauser recommends asking team members a single question at the end of every meeting: Is there anything else?
This is a simple, effective tactic that will allow you to keep a finger on the pulse of your team. Team members will often hold back on revealing their most stressful problems and instead stew over them and wait for them to escalate before bringing them up. By giving team members an opening to bring up these problems, you can deal with them faster.
More importantly, this helps you build trust and create a more open environment. It shows team members that you’re willing to listen to what they have to say, even if it’s a bullet point on the agenda.
7. Don’t wait for things to go wrong before you check in.
Regular meetings and one-to-ones set a cadence of two-way communication between managers and team members. Maintaining this cadence even when things are going really well allows you to proactively prevent things from going really wrong.
Nobody likes talking about their mistakes, especially not to the person who determines their salary and position. If you don’t check in regularly with your team members, when things go wrong—and they will go wrong—they won’t tell you about it. Maybe they end up finding a solution on their own, or maybe a small, easily fixed problem grows into a bigger one.
By holding meetings regularly, you open up a line of communication with your team members, and you give them the opportunity to confide in you when the going gets tough.
Generally, meeting once a week is ideal, but even twice a month will help you nip problems in the bud. Further, running regular one-to-ones gives you an avenue to celebrate wins, keep track of progress, and learn more about your team members.
It’s about the people, stupid!
Good managers keep a team on track, stepping in as needed to meet output. Great managers proactively help team members grow and improve as people. Every business is a people business, and people don’t magically resolve issues without some guidance—that’s why your job exists. Reaching out to your people proactively and helping them grow will increase your effectiveness as a manager.
This is a guest post from our friends at Lattice. For more tips on people management, check out the Lattice blog.
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