Effectively managing people is difficult, and no one is born knowing how to do it. Fortunately, management can be learned. We suggest following these four steps, which are simple, but time tested:
1. Set appropriate goals.
Goal-setting is essential. It helps employees prioritize their activities and focus their efforts. When setting goals with employees, you should make sure that they are SMART goals (specific, measurable, action oriented, realistically high, time and resource bound). The goals must also be meaningful to the employee. Sufficient rewards for goal achievement and consequences for failure should be specified. This will ensure that the goal and what’s needed to achieve it will rise to the top of the employees’ “To Do” list.
Near the end of his life, H.L. Hunt, the self-made oil billionaire, was asked to name the requirements for success. He answered, “There are only two real requirements for success in life. The first requirement is deciding exactly what you want [setting goals]. Most people never get to that point. The second requirement is determining the price that will have to be paid to get it, and then resolving to pay that price.”
2. Develop a plan to achieve the goals.
After setting goals with the employee, put together a plan to achieve them. To accomplish any individual goal, the employee will need to commit to a set of actions. A goal without an action plan is just a dream. It’s not real, and it’s not likely to happen.
Most people don’t understand how to break larger projects, goals or tasks down into actionable steps. As a manager, you can use your experience and knowledge to guide the employee. Keep the number of actions from becoming overwhelming by limiting them to what the employee can reasonably accomplish within two weeks. Set dates and even a deadline that makes sense, for when the employee will complete each action step. This will create the urgency necessary to complete the work in a timely manner.
Finally, holding a meeting that occurs at the same day and time each week will give you a mechanism for checking on progress and creating a natural deadline for your staff. The meeting can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour, but should be comprised of three segments. First segment: Have the employee report to you on his or her progress. Second segment: Give the employee feedback and help him or her overcome obstacles that stand in the way. Third segment: Set new actions, including dates and times for completion.
3. Empower the employee.
To maximize the probability that your employees achieve their goals, empower them. That means three things. First, you must properly train your workers to do the tasks necessary to achieve their goals. This includes giving the employee enough time to practice the new skills so that they become proficient.
Second, motivate your people. Rewards for success and consequences for failure should be specified. But keep in mind that an environment that relies solely on either rewards or consequences will create a dysfunctional culture: You will have employees who either become used to a country-club existence or live in fear of making mistakes. Neither is conducive to long-term productivity.
Finally, remove roadblocks that are within the company’s control. Make sure that people have the tools, equipment and information they need to do their jobs. Removing roadblocks also includes developing effective policies and procedures.
4. Assess performance and make adjustments.
Once the above three steps are complete, you will need to assess performance and make any necessary changes. We’re not talking about annual performance evaluations. A formal review may happen only once a year, but effective management requires assessing performance much more frequently.
For employees who are new to the organization or learning a new task, you may need to assess performance daily or perhaps even more frequently. Get away from your desk and computer screen and walk around the area where your employees work. Stop to talk and ask questions. Be available and interested. Employees who have demonstrated competence may require only a weekly meeting to stay on track. But, in either case, you should take an active role in monitoring and commenting on performance, to benefit both the organization and the employee.
Managing people is difficult. It’s not an exact science, and there is no magic wand to ensure you always get it right. In fact, you won’t always get it right. Even outstanding managers make mistakes. The good news is that managing people well is a learned skill. With work, you can improve your capability in this area. A concerted effort on your part is required. But if your company is going to thrive, your skills as a manager will be of paramount importance.