If you want to be a better manager, Anchorage, Alaska-based consultant William Dann has seven questions to help. The questions are asked of direct reports, but designed to find out where the leader – not the subordinates – is going wrong.
The questions are:
- Do you know what is expected of you?
- Do you know what good performance looks like in your job as defined by your supervisor?
- Do you get feedback on the results that you produce?
- Do you have sufficient authority to carry out your responsibilities?
- Do you get timely decisions in the areas where you don’t have authority?
- Do you have the data, resources and support needed to meet what is expected of you?
- Do you get credit for the good results that you produce?
The first reaction of employees asked those questions will be to prevaricate – or lie. After all, who wants to tell their boss that he or she is less than perfect? And what subordinate wants to admit he is somewhat (or completely) lost figuring out what is expected, and lacks the resources or timely decisions from others to work effectively?
So the supervisor must set up an honest discussion by explaining that he wants to shift his management style to be more effective and needs feedback to figure out where to improve. "You need to get to the point where employees feel you are sincere – that it's not just a game in which you want yeses to every question so you can tell your boss you're great. You need to explain what's motivating you and why you are changing your style," he says. You might want to say you read it in Mr. Dann's book, Creating High Performers, or this article, for example.
He noted in the interview that the word "supervisor" traces back to the Industrial Revolution and the notion workers needed somebody looking over their shoulder to ensure they were working. But that's not the situation today. People want a mentor, coach or facilitator. "They want to be masters of their own domain. You need to get the barriers out of the way," he advises.
And the questions help to expose barriers in the following seven areas:
Research shows that managers undersupervise, in particular focusing on tasks rather than expected results. The direct report needs to know what must be produced. That starts with the job description, which should indicate the purpose – why does the position even exist and why is it important? It also must indicate the end results to be produced.
Building on that, the individual must know what is good performance as defined by the boss. Mr. Dann recalls being distressed when a new employee did not appear to show a sincere interest in the client and why the individual was calling. She was shocked; at her previous workplace, the boss wanted calls completed as soon as possible. Two different bosses, two different expectations about good performance. Employees need to know. "If it's not clear and you assess people, they will feel cheated," he says.
You need feedback on whether you are giving good feedback about results. Usually bosses aren't, because they hate annual performance reviews and shy away from giving employees what might be taken as criticism. As a result, employees are trying to read "tea leaves" from their boss's manner and expression.
People can't be given responsibility without the requisite authority. Don't assume they have it. Often they can't commit to contracts or hire the people they need (or discipline or reward the ones they have) to properly carry out their jobs.
When employees can't be given authority, they have a right to timely decisions on those matters beyond their control. Are they getting that? If you can't delegate more responsibility, you have to make sure you aren't a bottleneck.
He recalls an IT department head in a quickly growing organization where no extra resources were being allocated to technology. "It was fundamentally unfair and led to apathy by him – until eventually he quit," Mr. Dann says. Employees need the data, resources and support to complete their work.
In addition to feedback, employees need credit – rewards and recognition, when appropriate. It's a major annoyance when an employee or team does sterling work and the boss claims credit.
He suggests you ask these seven questions of each direct report every three months, in conjunction with setting 90-day goals. From the process will flow ways that you – and they – can perform better.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter