Monday, August 17, 2009

How to Develop Competent Managers

Every organization has its share of good managers and bad managers. Unfortunately, in some companies the number of bad managers may exceed the number of good ones.

Some people have the title of “manager,” yet never seem to effectively fulfill the manager’s role. Instead they act as glorified workers, receiving supervisory pay, but doing very few real supervisory tasks. They do the work, but they do very little managing.

True managers, good managers, competent managers, know how to manage. They know how to motivate their employees to perform at the desired level and to maintain that level on a continued basis. They communicate their expectations and hold people accountable for their actions. They regularly assess the performance of their employees and give constant feedback so their employees know at all times where they stand. They recognize the accomplishments of their workers and actively coach people who need improvement.

There are Eight Core Competencies of Management® that separate real managers from those who merely are managers in title only. If you, as a manger, cannot perform these eight tasks competently, then you are not really managing.

The first area of management competency is the ability to identify the performance you want from your employees. This includes the specific job skills, job knowledge, work behaviors and proper attitude necessary to perform at the desired level. It literally is the ability to identify what you want your employees to look like, sound like, feel like, and act like when they are performing their job tasks. It is being able to specify exactly what you want, when you want it, how you want it, where you want it, and why.

When expectations are not clear, it’s almost impossible for employees to perform at an acceptable level – unless you expect a low level of performance. Of course, only an incompetent manager would accept unsatisfactory performance from those in their charge.

The second competency of true management is the ability to effectively communicate what you want from your employees so it is completely clear to the employees what is expected. The best time to communicate your expectations is while you are interviewing job candidates for open positions. Doing so lets people know, before they are hired, what is expected and helps you and the potential employee to decide whether or not the individual matches your expectations.

Once employees are already on staff, communicating performance expectations is an ongoing process. It starts in the new employee orientation, is reinforced during on-the-job training, and continues in the daily interactions between you and your employees. Performance expectations ought to be reinforced in staff meetings, emphasized in interoffice memorandums, and noted in departmental and company publications.

After you know the performance you want and can communicate it to others, you can either hire what you want or train to what you want.

It would be wonderful, of course, if you could find enough people who already match your expectations, and then just hire them. But usually that’s not possible. Consequently, as a manager you need the skill to both hire the right people and to train less competent performers so they can attain the level of performance you expect.

It takes a special skill to be able to identify during the interview process the exact qualifications and competencies the job candidates possess. Many candidates are adept at telling you exactly what you want to hear during the interview while hiding their weaknesses. Later, after these individuals are on staff, you discover you purchased a flawed product. When that happens, you need to be skilled in raising the proficiency of less competent employees through properly designed and executed training processes. Competent managers are good trainers.

During the hiring and training processes you also need to provide the employees with the information, tools and resources they need to perform to the expected level. Employees who have the necessary skills and knowledge, but who lack adequate information, tools or resources, cannot perform their jobs as well as they could.

Once employees are hired, trained and performing their job tasks, you should regularly measure and monitor employee performance to ensure you’re getting what you want. This is more than empirical or assumptive analysis. It is the ability to competently assess the cause and effect relationship between what an employee does and what he or she produces. It is the ability to discern outcomes and results as they directly correlate to the actions and performance of the employees.

The ability to tell exactly how employees achieve their results is a key component of managing performance. If you, as a manager, lack the competency to identify how work behaviors impact production, you have no way to replicate the behaviors that achieve positive outcomes. You also lack the insight to discard those behaviors that are non-productive or dysfunctional. Competent managers are adept at measuring performance.

In order to focus your employees’ performance you also must have the ability to give effective feedback to your workers. Not surprisingly, many managers are deficient in this core management competency. Some managers seem incapable of expressing their gratitude and appreciation to employees who perform well. They act as if their feedback philosophy is one where “no news is good news.” Other managers are hesitant to reprimand those employees who need corrective counseling. They act as if ignoring the problem will somehow make it go away.

Competent managers, the ones who are real managers, constantly interact with their employees. They reinforce and encourage workers who are doing well. They give ongoing support, guidance and instruction to those who need improvement. They are not hesitant to confront poor performers. They do not shirk the primary responsibility of a manager, which is to ensure employees are performing at the desired level.

Consequently, if you are an effective manager you have the ability to recognize and reward those who give you what you want or to coach, counsel, discipline or terminate those who don’t.

Amazingly, some managers reward employees regardless of the level of their performance. They write generic performance appraisals and give blanket pay increases with no noticeable link to actual performance. They allow off-purpose behaviors and unacceptable job performance to continue rather than confronting problem employees. Or, worse yet, they ignore both poor performers and exceptional employees, creating disheartening conditions where good performance goes unrewarded and bad performance goes unchecked.

Finally, the last competency is the ability to provide career counseling and developmental opportunities to increase the proficiency levels of your employees so they can give you even more of what you want in the future.

The level of your success, or competency, as a manger is determined to the extent to which you increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your employees so they can produce more. Your success is measured by your employees’ success. The more productive they are, the more competent you are as a manager.

You were hired to improve your department, to take it to the next level, to go beyond what is currently being done. Your department, and each employee within it, ought to be better because of you. You need to ask yourself whether your department is better now, with you as the manager, than it was before you became the department head. Is it better now than it was last year? Are your subordinates better than they were before you became their leader? Are the employees better this year than they were last year?

Competent managers constantly assess the strengths and weaknesses of their employees. They understand each employee’s known and potential capabilities. They meet with their employees to discuss their personal and professional goals. They know what each person wants to achieve in his or her career. Good managers help their employees map out a developmental plan and/or career path. They design developmental opportunities that raise their employees to the next level and get them to produce even more for the company.

To be deemed a competent manager, you must be proficient in all eight of these critical skills. A weakness in one or more of the core competencies will adversely impact any relative strength in the others. Your adeptness in giving feedback is diminished if you haven’t clearly communicated what you want beforehand. Being good at measuring and monitoring performance is meaningless if your recognition and reward systems are not tied to specified results. And, of course, if you can’t hire properly or train your employees to perform at acceptable levels, all of your competently designed discipline processes will be of little worth.

Competent managers constantly monitor their own performance. They introspectively assess whether or not they are doing all they can to competently manage their employees. They realize that competent employees are a result of competent management.

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