What Does a Manager Do?
Managers in small to mid-sized businesses are typically under-trained and under-leveraged. In fact, this is true about many managers in larger companies as well. For a business to scale, the owner MUST learn how to leverage the manager role. But what does a manager do?
Several decades of management experience has taught me a lot, but I still look back at the classic book The Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan, Steve Drotter, and Jim Noel. Many of the ideas I share here can be traced back to this seminal work. These authors have identified three core competencies that every manager should seek to master. Development in these three areas should be the focus of the business owner as he/she leads their management team.
What Does a Manager Do?
Master Three Core Competencies
The first thing a highly effective manager will do is define and assign work to be done. This begins by gaining clarity around the bigger picture. What is the project aim, the end goal, or the vision that must be accomplished? The manager must begin with the end in mind. This can’t be stressed enough.
A manager should not attempt to define and assign work without this clarity! In order to achieve this clarity, the manager should have a thorough conversation with their owner or senior leader. They should ask questions, define parameters, and determine the critical metrics that will drive the vision. However, this should not be just a “one-time” conversation. The vision or end game should be an ongoing conversation with the senior leader with predetermined weekly, monthly, and/or quarterly check-ins.
With this clarity the manager is now able to define the major tasks and critical path to achieve the vision. This big picture clarity will also be invaluable when communicating with the manager’s team.
In planning out the work the manager must identify the necessary resources, assess the talent and skills within the team, create systems and processes for efficiency, and ensure that each team member has the time capacity needed to get the work done. Once the work is defined and planned out, the delegation can begin.
Delegation may be a challenge for inexperienced managers. Most managers earned their role by being exceptional individual contributors. They gained recognition and reward by their individual performance. However, to succeed as a manager the focus must shift from one’s individual capabilities to achieving the desired results through others. This is no small shift for most first-time managers! In fact, many business owners struggle with this.
When assigning work to others the manager must communicate their expectations and answer questions in such a way as to engage the individual team members. This leads to the second thing a manager must do which is, enable direct reports to do the work.
To enable the team members the manager must pay attention and monitor the process. By doing this the manager will identify ways to support, encourage, and motivate their workers. The manager will also discover “gaps” in the skills and performance of individual contributors. As this happens it is essential that the manager provide whatever training, systems, or other resources that might be needed for success.
Enabling direct reports to do the work may sound easy but many managers struggle here. Some common signs that a manager has not mastered this skill include:
· They view questions from their people as interruptions
· They fix mistakes themselves rather than teach their people to do the work properly
· They refuse to take ownership and accountability for the success of their team, often distancing themselves from problems and failures
Truthfully, it is often easier to do something yourself than to take the time (and patience) to train and coach someone else. The manager must resist this temptation. They must embrace the responsibility of empowering others to be successful on their own.
Monitoring individual and team performance is essential. Being available is a must. Coaching others so they succeed is the key.
The third thing managers do is build positive relationships.
Most individual contributors can achieve high levels of success using their personal knowledge, skills, and talent. Relationship building is often of secondary importance. The more productive and effective an individual contributor is, the more they are allowed to work independently. Many relish that independence!
Managers, however, are highly interdependent. They need to build trust and open lines of communication vertically and horizontally. When they were an individual contributor, they may not have valued building relationships. However, it is essential that as a manager they be intentional about building positive relationships.
This can be more challenging than it appears on the surface because the manager must learn to value and build relationships with three different types of people.
What Does a Manager Do?
Master Three Types of Relationships
The relationship with the boss. While most employees in small to mid-size businesses understand the importance of a positive relationship with the boss, the manager has the extra challenge of greater expectations. The manager is expected to achieve bigger goals and have a broader impact within the company. Business owners want their managers to hold others accountable, produce significant results, and keep everyone happy. This can put a lot of stress on the manager-owner relationship.
Sometimes owners expect greater accountability and production from managers than they were able to achieve themselves before they had a manager. Managers and senior leaders typically have more difficult conversations. In addition, the boss is the lifeline to resources, information, etc. that are critical to the manager’s success. Sometimes it is difficult for owners to learn how to support and empower their managers. Many factors contribute to making this a more challenging relationship than the average employee-owner relationship.
The relationship with direct reports. The manager must build a mutually respectful and mutually supportive relationship with their people. Unfortunately, sometimes the direct reports do not make this easy. No matter how a direct report behaves, the manager must always set the example of personal integrity, loyalty, and compassion for the employee. Managers who are perceived as self-serving, devious, or manipulative will never form positive relationships with their people.
The relationship with other stakeholders. Other stakeholders include, first and foremost, the customers. The manager must ensure that customers are satisfied with the work of their people, and customer complaints must be handled with patience, empathy, and tact. In addition to customers there are suppliers, vendors, contractors, and other strategic partners. The manager must learn to value all of these relationships and learn how to build and maintain positive relationships in every direction.
To be successful managers must be learners. They must be production-oriented, people-oriented, and profit-oriented. They are often the glue that makes everything work together harmoniously. I thoroughly enjoy training and coaching managers. They are the ones who really make it happen while giving the credit to the team. If you are a manager who needs help mastering either the three core competencies or the three types of relationships, I’d love to talk to you.
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