You may see yourself as a warm, easy-going boss with a high level of concern for your people. Or you might picture your managerial style as hard-nosed and highly oriented to the tasks you’ve assigned to people. And you may be correct.
What counts most as you enter your new job is NOT how you see yourself, but rather how your people perceive you. Their reactions and job performance will be based on what THEY believe you want from them.
Let’s recognize up front that performance in any group is bound to show some slippage in a crisis situation, such as welcoming and getting used to a new boss. Even if your department was producing excellent results prior to your arrival, you can expect a temporary drop-off while everyone gets accustomed to your methods and standards.
There’s an effective three-step process for managing people during a period of transition. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Direction
Begin by letting your people know exactly what you expect of them. Tell them what’s to be done and (if necessary) how, when and where to do it. Supervise them closely to make certain their performance meets your expectations. Take corrective measures quickly if you see any evidence of performance drop-off or obstacles to specified accomplishments and deadlines.
Some managers think that being “directive” with their people requires a stern, unsmiling style that keeps them coldly distant from their subordinates. Nothing could be farther from the truth; you can be directive and warmly supportive at the same time. In fact, under normal circumstances you should be both. Your staff needs to feel that you have high standards….but also that you believe in their ability to produce the results you want. Expressing confidence in your people is usually a self-fulfilling prophesy.
However, you need to remember that smiles and pats on the back are rewards, and rewards should follow performance. If you appear a “softie” who gives rewards without first requiring satisfactory results from your people, you’ve lost one of your most powerful managerial techniques. In effect, you’ve rewarded non-performance instead of waiting until you see the results you’re looking for. When incentives are given away in advance with no need to be earned, they lose their power to stimulate performance.
You didn’t get this far without acquiring some ability to deal with people. With some forethought you can maintain a balance between friendly support and premature rewards. Once your people see that top-performers are treated differently from others, they’ll know exactly how they must perform if they want the same rewards from you.
Step 2: Relaxation
As each of your employees begins to show a willingness and ability to take responsibility for his/her actions, you can reward performance and stimulate further progress by relaxing your directive behavior. People who readily agree that you should involve yourself closely during the early stages will also become resentful if their satisfactory performance does not earn them some operating freedom.
This concept – called “positively reinforcing successive approximations” – is an effective strategy for helping your people develop professional skills and motivation. First you “lay on” the structure (direction); then, as soon as you notice the slightest step in the desired direction, you rewards the satisfactory performance by easing your close supervision. You praise them for their results. Continues progress brings more rewards, which generate more progress, and so forth.
Since your objective is to “accomplish organizational goals through the efforts of your people,” this relaxation phase is vital in developing your subordinates to the point where they can think and act for themselves.
Step 3: Delegation
Once your employees have demonstrated that they are able and willing to function on their own, your development strategy is nearly complete. Now it’s time to sit back and watch from a distance as your self-motivated and self-directed people run their own show.
To be sure, you still need to be informed and in control. The ultimate responsibility for their activities still belongs to you. Delegation is an excellent managing strategy as long as your people are functioning effectively, but you have to be ready to step in at the first sign of trouble. To an authoritative manager, delegation seems to be a risky way of doing things; but consider what happens when your people are operating on their own and producing satisfactory results:
- You have less time required for close supervision and more time for thinking, planning and brainstorming new ideas for improving your operations or reaching for higher goals.
- You have fewer “people” problems because your staff is motivated toward achievement rather than self-protection, unproductive competition, or other distracting behavior.
- You’ve taken a giant step toward identifying a potential successor or two for the day when top management has another career jump in mind for you.
The three-step process can work for you, but it requires a careful distinction between group accomplishments and individual achievements. Not every member of your staff will develop at the same pace, or to the same degree. The “direction-relaxation-delegation” strategy only works with individuals and groups that are moving forward together. Be careful not to let your positive reinforcement spill over the non-performers as well as those who are delivering satisfactory results.
The COMPOSE Problem-Solving Model
Of course, the world won’t always rotate precisely as you want it to. Your attempts to “relax” your directive control of people’s activities, or to “delegate” tasks when your people appear ready to handle them, may not produce the results you expect. Performance problems can occur in the best-managed functions and, when they happen to you, you’re going to need a simple and quick method of deciding what’s wrong and providing a solution.
Further, you won’t always have the luxury of taking your time to analyze problems on the job and figure ways to get your people back on track. The COMPOSE Model is designed to help you identify quickly whatever performance problems have occurred, and then to develop “change” strategies aimed at solving them.
Acronyms are easy to remember. That’s why I’ve arranged the seven common sources of performance problems into the world “COMPOSE” (which happens to be synonymous with “putting things into proper order”):
Competence – inability to perform as expected
Overload – too much workload
Motivation – lack of proper incentives
Perception – not understanding what’s required
Organization – insufficient resources
Supervision – lack of direction from you
Environment – problems with outside factors
If one of your people is having difficulties performing up to your expectations, the problem is probably associated with one of these seven factors.
Sometimes the problem is caused by lack of ability to complete the task as assigned. It’s important to remember that employees are not universally competent: some have more skill and talent in certain areas than others. Usually, job competence is a function of education, experience on the job, or aptitudes which specifically qualify certain people for certain jobs.
If you employee has a competence problem, ask yourself first whether he/she is assigned to the proper tasks – that is, could his/her talents be better utilized elsewhere in your group. If the ability is present, you might spend more time giving the employee direction: specific instructions (from which he/she can learn how to deliver the results you want), and close supervision to assure success while the employee is learning. You might identify training or development courses that would contribute to employee’s competence in the future. At times it’s constructive to assign the employee to work closely with someone who already possesses the skills, and watch those abilities “rub off” on the person who’s having problems in that area.
Managers often assume that “if I can handle the workload, so can anyone else.” That’s not always the case, and y our first clue comes when the employee’s work begins to suffer because of overload. People become disorganized, and lack timely answers to basic questions. Deadlines are missed even though the employee has the necessary abilities to perform the tasks.
Often a case of overload will show itself in a short temper, or even physical illness caused by the continuous tension of trying to handle too much work.
If your employee suffers from an overload problem, you’ll want to re-examine the delineation of duties throughout your group and re-assign tasks more evenly. If this cannot be done, check your staffing in general to determine whether more people are need to achieve the goals of your department.
It’s difficult to succeed with tasks if there is no motivation or incentive to perform that task. It’s important to realize that not everyone is equally motivated to perform: some folks can see their personal goals being realized by accomplishing the task, where others cannot. Some employees have a problem with willingness – the desire to do something well. Others have problems with won’tness – “I don’t like the work and I won’t put forth my best efforts.”
If incentive problems exist within your organization, check your use of rewards. Your people should clearly understand that successful performance on this task will gain them the rewards they seek – more enjoyable assignments, more pay, opportunity for recognition among their peers, or promotion later on. Positive incentives often take the form of public praise for work well done, and all your people are sensitive to how you feel about sharing the credit and giving everyone a “boost” within the group and in the eyes of your boss.
Some people don’t really understand what’s required of them in a given situation. They may possess the competence to succeed, and the motivation to try their best, but find it difficult to interpret your directions or comprehend the results they’re striving for. To be fully effective, the employee needs to know (a) what the job consists of; (b) the objectives accomplished by the task; and (c) how you want the task accomplished. There’s also a need to clarify which tasks have priority over others – what should be done first, for example.
Usually a return to the “Action Plan” will remove questions of perception regarding an assignment. Make sure your instructions are given in specific ways, to avoid misinterpretations by others. Review instructions if necessary, so that every member of your team understands what to do and why it’s important.
Every employee needs some degree of organizational support to accomplish assigned tasks. If you expect your employees to return their tools to the supply room before leaving, you’d better make sure that the supply room is open at the proper times. If your employee needs to produce a typed report by Wednesday, be sure there’s a typist available between now and then.
If there’s a problem in getting the required support from the organization, you may find yourself talking with your boss or others to find the solution. In such cases, other priorities may prevent you from getting the help you need. When this happens, you’ll have to revise your expectations regarding the employee’s assignment to avoid holding someone responsible for circumstances beyond his/her control.
As mentioned earlier, different people require different levels of supervision. To some, your continuing attention is a reward, because they want to spend time with you in the course of their work. To others, your close supervision can appear threatening to their perception of their autonomy. Some employees react to supervision by saying “What’s the matter? Don’t you trust me to do a good job?” while others will wonder if you trust them out of your sight.
The balance between too little supervision and too much is a matter of judgment. You need to give people sufficient operating latitude if you want to stimulate their incentive, yet too much “rope” can cause you to lose control. The best strategy is to maintain open communication with each of your employees, paying attention to feedback and adjusting your supervising style according to their wishes and your evaluation of their ability to perform on their own.
If a problem exists, and none of the preceding factors seems to be the cause, take a look at the external factors that may be influencing your employee’s performance. In some “hourly” situations, peer pressures can limit output. Gas shortages or baby-sitting problems can hamper your employee’s ability to get to work on time. Personal beliefs or political sentiments can occupy a person’s mind and interfere with productivity.
If there’s an environment problem, it’s useless to reprimand people for circumstances beyond their control. However, if outside factors are interfering with performance – and the control is clearly with the employee – a counseling session is called for. In any case, close communication with your people will create an atmosphere in which external problems can be identified and discussed so that each employee can perform without distractions.
Try the COMPOSE Model with your next managerial problem. It gives you a system for approaching problem identification and analysis during the first few months, even if you don’t have complete familiarity with the function or the people. Its orderly approach not only provides a basis for action – it also encourages your people to cooperate, since they can recognize the logical strategy you’re using.
No systematic approach to entering your new job would be complete without an official closing exercise. Earlier we discussed the need for a “no surprises” strategy of keeping your boss informed of your activities and progress. Presumably you’ve been maintaining this contact, and using the feedback to alter your direction and techniques.
Your contract for disclosure with your boss needs a wrap-up to signal your readiness to be your first opportunity to acquaint your boss with some of your operating methods, close observation has ended. One way to accomplish this is formal “debriefing” meeting at which all pertinent subjects are resolved. The objectives of this meeting are:
- To bring your boss up to date regarding all phases of your transition into the new job;
- To cross-check your conclusions about goals, and the resources available to achieve them;
- To describe the improvements you’ve made since joining the organization;
- To gain your boss’ confidence that you’re in control.
Your debriefing meeting should be scheduled within 90 days of your arrival on the job. It may be your first opportunity to acquaint your boss with some of your operating methods, Action Plans, personnel allocations, etcetera. It can lead to changes of strategy if certain approaches are not working as expected. It can be the basis for a review of staffing requirements for the future. In short, the debriefing meeting can be used to accomplish whatever purposes you’ve identified during your first few months on the job.
Most important, the meeting also establishes the potential of a long-term working relationship in which each of you can obtain the results you want.
The timing and length of the meeting are not half as important as being thoroughly prepared for it. Remember, you’re asking for your boss’ time, and a measure of your effectiveness is your ability to manage the time he/she will give you. Use charts, graphs, and other aids to clear communication. Leave materials behind to help your boss remember what was discussed.
Before departing from this meeting, get your boss’ reactions to everything presented. Set the stage for future meetings. Later, analyze what happened and plan for regular reviews and “no surprises” discussions. Identify suggested areas of improvement and make sure you’ve attended to them before the next meeting – at least to the point where you can show some progress.
Following is a “Debriefing” checklist to help you structure the meeting. Add whatever special items are necessary to customize the format to your situation.
- Give your boss some honest reactions to being involved in the organization, and express your appreciation of support received thus far (if applicable).
- Highlight major areas of concern.
- Review the contents of your “First Meeting” worksheets and report on progress to date.
- Review the subjects discussed at your “Ice-Breaker” meeting with employees.
- Present your Action Plans and explain your strategies for achieving results within the specified deadlines.
- Add any additional Items for your discussion.
Best of luck in your new position/job and enjoy the benefits of a great start!
-Sharon Jenks, CEO/President – The Jenks Group, Inc. http://www.thejenksgroup.com