People Management: The Big 3

Helping your employees perform at their best should be the mission of every manager. Unless you’re prepared to do everything on your own, at some point in time, you’re going to have to rely on others. And if you’re going to rely on your employees, why not elicit the best from them?

When I’ve found myself managing people in my career, I went looking for advice on how to do a better job. According to my un-scientific count, there have been somewhere around 4 billion books written about managing employees! The list of recommendations, advice, tips and downright orders on how to manage people is long. Too long.

So I thought a lot about how I liked to be managed, I observed those managers who consistently brought the best out in others, I talked with good and bad managers, and I read half of those 4 billion books on the subject. And here’s what I found: If you do just three things well, you’ll be an above-average manager of people, and go a long way towards helping your employees perform at their best.

Here are the 3 things every manager should do:

  1. Set clear expectations: Rarely does an employee get up in the morning and think, “Today I’m going to do everything wrong, I’m going to mess things up, and I’m going to cause trouble.” In fact, most people do what they’re expected to do. The problem is that many employees don’t know what’s expected of them; they’re definitely not very good at reading the minds of their managers. So, sit down and write out exactly how you expect each one of your employees to behave and do their job, then meet with them individually and talk about your expectations. And let them tell you what they expect of you as their manager. If you do that, both sides will have clear expectations, and it’s likely that this will help your employees do what you want more often. For more information on setting clear expectations, go to this blog post.
  2. Give lots of feedback, especially confirming feedback: There are two kinds of feedback, and they’re not positive and negative. No, they’re confirming and corrective. If you think about why you give someone feedback (to get them to do more of the right stuff, and to correct the wrong stuff), these terms – confirming and corrective – make a lot more sense than the old “positive and negative.” People will do more of what they’re praised or rewarded for, so every time you give confirming feedback you’ve increased the likelihood of them doing more of it. Corrective feedback should be given in private whenever you need something done differently. I’ve written in more detail about giving feedback here, but a goal should be to give at least four times as much confirming feedback as you do corrective.
  3. Connect with your employees: Without even checking I bet your employees are human beings. And therefore, your employees have the same kinds of problems, challenges, ups and downs, and emotional issues outside of work that you or anyone else has. If you’re not willing to accept this as a fact of life, you should probably hand over the keys to the people management role. I’m not suggesting you have to become close friends with your employees (that can even be a negative thing), but you should understand them, know a little about their personal lives, and be empathetic to what they have going on outside of the workplace – connect with them. I’ve written more about this in another blog here.

By the way, this is not just to get the most out of people so your business/department succeeds. If it’s totally one-sided like that, you’re doomed. No, in my experience and the experience of researchers who really dig into topics like this, most people would rather do a good job than a poor job. They like to do well. It’s less stressful, more fun, and there comes a sense of satisfaction with it. It might take a little more work, but in most cases it doesn’t. So if you focus on helping people do what they want – perform at their best – you’ll be doing both you and them a favor.

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