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Advice for Managers: Be Clear About What You Want

Being in Human Resources, we do a fair amount of placement. One of the standard questions we pose during a first interview is, “Can you describe your dream manager?” Here, we’re looking for the management style that brings out the best in the prospective employee, in an effort to determine if we have a match. By far, the most common response we hear describes not what qualities the candidate wants in a manager, but what he/she doesn’t want: “I don’t want to work for a micromanager.”

A micromanager is one who monitors their employees every action, providing real time responses to their every move. Micromanagers convert desirable professional attributes (attention to detail with an emphasis on accuracy, efficiency, and goal attainment) into counter-productive actions that are inappropriately critical, frustrating, and demoralizing to their employees.

Yet the other extreme is just as damaging. An absentee manager is one who assigns a task or project then disappears until the deadline rolls around. The consequence of this type of management style is that the manager becomes frustrated when his/her employees are not on target, while at the same time, the employees are frustrated because they find themselves in a no-win situation without any clear understanding of what their priorities should be and if they are going in the right direction or not.

According to the stats, employees who are given specific performance goals are almost eight (8) times more likely to be engaged in a given task or project than those who aren’t.

Said another way, it is clear goal setting that facilitates employee engagement (and therefore productive and successful employees), not micromanaging or absentee managing. So the question is: how do we set clear goals? Consider the following:

  1. Engage your employees in discussion. Talk about the level of independence the task or project calls for, versus when your input will add real value and is required.

  2. Emphasize what to do, not how to do it. This is called “freedom of path” and is something employees who are micromanaged lack. Set expectations and goals, but do not dictate exactly how to achieve the desired results.

  3. Do not command and do not demand. Asking your employees for their understanding of the expectations, and receiving an affirmative response, secures buy-in. It takes two to communicate!

  4. When in doubt, ask employees to summarize the task or project before beginning. This will enable you to confirm that there is a meeting of the minds; that you share the same understating of the goals.

  5. Predict and identify potential roadblocks. These might include time constraints, conflicting priorities, or lack of resources. Address them at the onset.

  6. Explain why the task or project is important. Offering context gives the employee line-of-sight and increases the likelihood that the end result will hit the mark.

  7. Give feedback at predetermined intervals, and do not wait until project completion to evaluate success. By doing so, you will be missing the opportunity to reset as necessary.

  8. When possible, assign tasks according to each employee’s strengths. Employees normally excel, and therefore add the most value, when working on tasks that they enjoy and are good at.

In summary, set your team up for success by providing clear expectations, together with the necessary resources and appropriate level of support. Do not hover, yet do not disappear. Set job-specific goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timely. Share those SMART goals with each employee when the task or project is assigned, and evaluate periodically to determine if expectations are being met at each stage of the task/project. Finally, don’t forget to be a role model for your team. Set goals for yourself and share them, when appropriate, with your direct reports. Let your team see that you are holding yourself to the same standards of performance!

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