Why is managing so difficult? It seems like it should come as second nature for us as social animals (for some people it does), but the most cited reasons employees leave jobs are lack of recognition, lack of attention, and broadly bad managers.
First, let’s lay out why good management is necessary. The role is part productivity (the easy part) and part engagement (motivating employees and making them feel valued). Motivated employees accomplish more and help their team gel, resulting in a team that is more valuable than the sum of the individuals. With Gallup reporting that Millennials change jobs at rate 3x of other generations, improving their retention and engagement can make a huge difference in a given employee’s value at their company. Engaged employees not only have a larger impact on their team and company, they are happier and healthier, too.
For many years, it was believed that a command and control style was the most efficient way of managing. In retired Army General Stanley McChrystal’s book Team of Teams, he details how even the US military no longer subscribes to this. As we move into an economy where employees have greater mobility, what is commonly missing is employee engagement. There are myriad books on charisma and a whole host of different leadership methods, but what really matters most in managing is consistent application of few basic practices.
Ten basic practices managers should always remember to do include:
1. Always give employees credit for everything; never take credit for anything your teams did (even if you did it).
2. Listen, and make sure to do it well. Talk 20% of the time and listen 80% of the time.
3. Know your employee’s goals. You should be helping set and achieve them.
4. Smile. Being unflappable and positive in all situations helps people feel safe and secure.
5. Advocate for your people.
6. Praise them 5x as much as you think is necessary.
7. Always give praise before you critique. Criticism should be directed at their work, not the employee, and it must always be to help them perform better.
8. Never talk bad about one employee to another or even to senior management. This does not mean that you can’t be honest, but even discussing a person’s weaknesses can be done in a positive or at least neutral way.
9. Shield employees from the crap that flows downhill or sideways. Make their lives easier, not harder.
10. Praise should specific, timely, and tied to the bigger goals of the company or the team.
To accomplish these things, managers have a variety of tools at their disposal. These include big levers, small levers, praise, growth, and one-on-one meetings (1:1s). Routinely conducting these interactions is key to maintaining and increasing employee engagement. Usage of these tools should be tracked in order to remain consistent and help evaluate the performance of your employees, which can help you to proactively identify when employees are at risk of leaving.
Big levers are things like raises, promotions, and bonuses. Additionally, some companies also offer stock awards and clubs. There are optimal ways to handle these, but often these are completely controlled at an HR level. It is important to space big levers apart for maximum impact but changing company standards can be difficult and fraught with peril. If company policy is to jointly award raises and bonuses, and you decided to space them out by delaying the bonuses a quarter, you can anger employees. If changes are made, always err on the side of generosity. The most important part of big levers for a manager is understanding when and how to apply them.
Between big levers should be the timely use of many small levers. There are so many small ways we as managers can demonstrate that we value our people. These can range from a giving a simple gift card or approving the purchase of a tech upgrade, to dinner for the employee and their significant other on the company. Every manager has some leeway to apply small levers (even if they are truly small), and peppering them in with appropriate delivery is critical to ensuring engaged employees.
Praise is not small. Different employees need to be praised in different ways, and at different intervals. To be effective, praise must be personalized, sincere, timely, and specific. Learning to deliver high quality praise can involve some trial and error, but it is something that every manager can master, although few do. Tracking praise improves a manager’s pace of learning by helping them to avoid the same mistakes twice. Additionally, it can help increase the volume of praise, because managers often praise far less than they think they do.
Growth is a broad category encompassing all activities that managers use to help employees learn in their current role and move towards their ultimate career goals. This can take on many forms including mentoring (career, job, and even sometimes life), exposure to strategy and executives, training, continuing education, conferences, teaching, speaking opportunities, and generally activities that enable an employee to improve. Career and current role development must be tailored to the employee to be successfully deployed. Knowing an employee’s goals and tracking their progress forward is integral to their long-term engagement.
Finally, 1:1s are critical to developing personal relationships with your employees. These are opportunities to get and give feedback about everything from day to day issues, to career goals, to employee satisfaction, to your performance as a manager. Giving an employee your most valuable resource, your time, demonstrates that you value them. These regular meetings can inhibit performance and engagement if they are too frequent or infrequent, so make sure to identify the proper cadence for each employee.
With proper usage of these best practices, managers can establish highly beneficial relationships with each of their employee that result in increased productivity, longer retention, and better company morale.