Traditional management models stress the development of detailed project plans and the rigorous observation of disciplined models. Developed by engineering and manufacturing organisations they assume workflows with controlled variables and fixed inputs, in short they assume that you are managing machines, not human beings.
Any experienced manager knows that you can follow the Gant Chart and spreadsheet every element to the finest degree, but the human factor will always be the element which bites back.
Failure to effectively engage with people management repeatedly causes projects to underperform, miss targets and fail, leaving managers who adhered to the traditional management models confused and frustrated. But effective people management actually relies on only five key skills, the Five ‘C’s:
Build a team which is fit for purpose. Don’t try to use the wrong tool for the job and then complain that the hammer won’t make the screw work! This involves making the correct decisions on three elements.
The first is recruitment, the fundamental basis of the success of any business. If the right people aren’t coming into an organisation how can you expect the results to be successful? Hire the best people, hire the right people.
The second element is training. It is vital that you give people the skills they need to do a good job. If you have people who aren’t quite right, develop them. They will not only be better suited and more productive, they will be grateful for the investment and commitment.
Thirdly and finally a good manager must create the right team structure and set the boundaries. A robust set of measures for success, clearly explained and tracked with discipline will give your people the framework for success, and just as important, tells them how to succeed.
Understand the people in your team, their personalities, their motivations and personal goals. A good manager needs to be empathetic, not a slave driver. One person may be a natural completer-finisher, another could be great at concept development. By understanding the individuals, rather than treating them as identikit simulacra, you will find better ways to communicate, motivate and understand them. How do you do this? By spending time with them, the classic ‘management by wandering around’ pays dividends here. Invest in your people and you will gain the benefit of understanding. Once you begin to understand the people in your team you will be able to make better judgements as to where they will be most effective, how to get the most from them and how to develop them.
It is essential that you can convey your thoughts, concerns and needs to your team. You must be able to motivate them and lead them, tell them when you’re not getting what you need, explain when changes are made and congratulate them when they are doing well.
All of this requires effective skills in communication. This need not even be overtly verbal communication, influencing them through a simple smile or cheerful ‘hello’ can create a positive frame of mind. By ensuring that you always come across as positive you make your team feel positive about you and themselves.
When a more detailed communication is needed your message must be succinct and clear, getting to the heart of the matter and reinforcing your goal. To do this it is vital that your communication is planned: what is the best approach, the best time, the right media? The key is invariably to keep it as simple as possible. Planning not only makes communication more effective, it also saves time; by spending a little more of his/her time planning the manager can save a lot of both their and the team’s time in clarifying what was meant.
Communicate clearly and often. If things are going well it’s important to say so, and if not so well it’s doubly important. A good manager should never shy away from addressing issues as soon as they are identified. This doesn’t mean aggressive confrontation, but instead engaging with an issue collaboratively.
Give feedback, and when you do make sure you open with a positive and close with a positive. By telling someone what you value and admire in them they can more readily accept a criticism, and acceptance is the first step to resolution. Finally, make sure you ask for feedback as well as giving it and you will win yourself support and loyalty, and may well learn something of value about yourself.
A manager is not an island, he/she should be at the heart of the team. Ensure that you share and delegate to get the best results. People will respond to being given responsibility, they step up and by allowing them to develop into doing something that previously only you could do you free yourself to do something else and add value to the entire process. In short you multiply the effectiveness of the team.
Of course not everything is plain sailing and issues will occur, but by taking joint responsibility for any failures in the team (after all it is your team) you show everyone that you are all in it together, engendering respect, loyalty and commitment.
People are different, they see things differently and engage with issues differently, and where this happens there is invariably conflict. This can be overt, where two or more people argue over the best way forwards or, often more dangerously, it may be hidden when someone disagrees but does not feel empowered to criticise. Conflict can kill a team, it can create resentment, undermine cooperation and drive great people out. When conflict appears it is vital that the manager spots it, by having a good understanding of the people in his/her team (Comprehend), and then engages with it. Good communication, bringing the various ideas to the table and looking at them openly, can turn a threat into an opportunity. A team can walk away understanding each other better, feeling more cohesive and possibly having discovered a better way forwards. The manager’s role is to communicate and engage, and never be defensive, even if they are the subject of the criticism. By taking on the mantle of management you set yourself up for criticism, and a good manager can take it and learn from it.
Of course there are times when there is no resolution. Entrenched contrary opinions may not see a middle ground. In these instances a good manager must be able to not only walk away themselves, but lead others to walk away too. If a decision must be made it must be the manager’s decision. They must act as the lightning rod for any ill feeling; never let it remain within and between the team.
In the most extreme cases an individual will not back down and cannot be managed. Their actions undermine the team and threaten the project. Early and decisive engagement is vital. The manager must be robust and unswerving, bringing clear and irrefutable evidence of the negative behaviour and its impact on the project. The meeting with the individual should never be aggressive, but always be robust, explaining the issues clearly, using the evidence to back the manager’s assertions. The manager should be supported by higher management and HR, to reinforce to the employee the seriousness of their actions. Finally it must be accepted that not everyone is right for a role or a team, and sometimes the right thing to do is to move someone out. This is never easy, but if it is right it should never be shied away from. For a good people manager the team must always be more important than any one person.
These five elements; Create, Comprehend, Communicate, Collaborate and Confront, form the basis of an effective people management approach. Whilst each element is important in its own right they all interrelate with and support the others. By employing this approach effectively a manager will not only deliver the project goals they are tasked with, but in doing so he/she will be creating more rounded, effective individuals, developing a flexible and motivated team and cementing their own reputation as a manager not only of projects, but of people.
Jason Collings is Director of Quarsh, a leading UK Recruitment Process Outsourcing provider specialising in talent acquisition and HR support.
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