“Describe a team when you had to work with others to complete a project.”
Name a more iconic competency question than this one. Knowing how to work with colleagues, superiors, and those under you is a critical skill for any employee, but it becomes even more important when you’re a direct supervisor or manager. Not only are you judged on your own job performance, but you’re tasked with getting the best out of your team as well.
This isn’t always easy. There will be hiccups along the way as you try to build, grow, inspire, and lead your team to glory. But by using the following tips to hone your management skills, you can ensure the road ahead has more ups than downs.
Listen, listen, listen
This is our number one tip for a reason. It’s been shown that good listening can explain up to 40% of the variance in leadership quality. Employees that feel listened to are more likely to be honest about their problems and feel that you care about them. True active listening is done when you sit down and initiate a conversation, but not all of it. Coming into the discussion with an open mind and avoiding preconceptions can be just as important as what is then talked about.
Understand employee motivations
Another key part of successful communication with your employees is understanding why they’re in the job. This will help you to assign them to projects and tasks that they will enjoy, become invested in, and ultimately perform better at.
Typically, these will be jobs that utilize their skill-set and suit how they work best. For instance, a high-energy, sociable employee with great interpersonal skills is likely to be great (and happy) working face to face with customers and colleagues, but their energy levels may mean that they might not enjoy slow, precise tasks that require concentrated effort.
Delegate to the right people
Once you know the roles and jobs that your staff enjoy and excel at, it becomes far easier to delegate jobs effectively. Delegation is a vital skill for any manager, as handing off less important tasks frees up your own time and decision-making efforts for the areas that really matter. But it’s not just about getting rid of your least desirable jobs either. Giving those beneath you a greater level of autonomy over their own work shows trust in them and can improve their performance.
Balance praise and criticism in feedback
When your employees do complete the tasks or projects you’ve assigned to them, you should provide feedback on their performance. The importance of this has been demonstrated through numerous studies. 82% of employees appreciate positive and negative feedback, and 40% of those who don’t receive feedback are actively disengaged.
Finding a balance of criticism, which will help employees to grow and learn, and praise, which will relax and motivate them, is key. High-performing teams have been found to thrive on a ratio of more than five positive comments for every negative one.
Striking the right balance is critical when it comes to filling in the dreaded performance evaluation. Happily, there are great tools out there that have revolutionized the process and made performance reviews quick and easy. Online response tools like markthejob allow you to pick and choose the questions you want to answer and collate these into a simple PDF report.
Check in regularly
There is a time and a place to delve into employee motivations and provide both criticism and feedback. And the setting will likely be different depending on the individual involved, with some preferring a more formal setting, while others will happily hear what you have to say at any time.
But even if you don’t have information to pass on, it’s worth checking in out of the blue regularly as well. Employees may not always want, or think, to come to you when they need help, even if they’re struggling with something that may be a simple fix. By encouraging open and frequent communication, you demonstrate to your staff that you’re there for them whenever they need work, a formal setting or not.
On a similar vein, even formal meetings should finish with an open-ended question like, “Is there anything else?” Staff may not want to interrupt meetings with off-topic issues, but this gives them an opportunity to bring other issues to your attention.
Add a personal touch
With all this communication you’re doing, it’s inevitable that you’ll get to know your staff better. Some managers shy away from this, adamant that things should stay “strictly professional”. But rapport is important, and staff will perform better for you when they relate to you as a person and not just a manager. If there’s a human connection, they’ll understand when you make mistakes—since we all do!—much more readily than if you’re just the face of corporate power.
As we head into the holiday season, a nice way to build a more positive working relationship is to send your staff a Christmas card. Charity e-card sites like Hope Spring aren’t just a great way to give back, but they do away with the hassle of writing, addressing, and sending paper cards, which are better for the planet, and they’re easy to personalize too. Sending a personalized e-card can be a great opportunity to let your staff see more fun and care-free side of you—just be sure not to send anything you wouldn’t be happy seeing again at work once the holidays are over!
While it’s important that the staff you’re managing see that you have a human side, there are still certain things they will expect from you as a manager, and one of those things is your ability to make decisions. After all, that’s why you’re in this role in the first place, isn’t it? Managers need to call the shots on important business decisions, using their knowledge and experience to determine the right course of action in any situation.
Now, we know you’re human, and your staff does too. Mistakes will happen and be forgiven. But the worst thing a manager can do is allow themselves to be frozen by indecision when action in either direction will be less damaging, or at last, bring problems to light faster. Acting on your decisions is what staff expect to do, and if you’re not providing clear direction, there’s a chance they’ll end up lost at sea too.
If, having made a decision, you realize it was the wrong one, don’t be too proud to change your mind if that’s possible. But you shouldn’t go back and forth either—as long as you make informed choices, stick with them, see them through, and then deal with the results.
Part of making informed decisions is to get other opinions, so asking staff their thoughts can often be a healthy solution, but chances are, your business isn’t a democracy, so at the end of the day, it comes down to you.
With these staff management tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to leading a more engaged and productive workforce.
About the Author
Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he’s always talking on Twitter.