I've been a manager in business for many years, and like most of you, I've also had my share of bad managers, as well as a few good ones.
As a result, I'm certainly convinced that engaging, retaining, and developing people for maximum performance is one of the toughest jobs you will ever have. I'm also convinced that the conventional wisdom for best practices isn't always right.
I was pleased to find a new book on this topic, "Managing to Make a Difference," by Larry Sternberg and Kim Turnage, which manages to highlight some of the more pragmatic but unconventional insights on how to get better results, and still grow the respect of your team.
Here are ten tips which may surprise many of you, but I have found to be real difference makers:
1. Go ahead, get close to the people you manage.
New managers are generally taught not to build personal relationships with direct reports -- in case you have to discipline them later.
I believe that a relationship makes it more likely they will trust your guidance, including corrective behavior, before anyone needs to resort to disciplinary action.
2. Don't get involved in mediating relationship conflicts.
In my experience, this is definitely an area where "no good deed goes unpunished." Managers often get sucked into relationship conflicts by trying to "manage" employees, instead of encouraging direct communication.
Focusing on problems only magnifies negativity in your organization.
3. Tolerate undesirable behaviors if results are solid.
If a person is a top performer, but always late to meetings, or takes extra time off, it's not smart to come down hard on annoying behaviors.
This may be seen as favoritism, but I believe earned favoritism based on superior performance will be seen by others as a good thing and emulated.
4. Kick butt to motivate a sense of urgency.
In these days of feel-good incentives and only positive feedback, there are still times to let people know strongly that their work approach is unacceptable. Kicking butt cannot and will not increase people's ability to perform better, but it can be very effective when they are not giving their best effort.
5. Solicit volunteers for unpopular tasks.
Most managers assume that unpopular tasks have to be dictated or rotated. In reality, the volunteer approach can be more effective, since you might be surprised by an unknown interest, or the appeal of a benefit, such as doing the task from home.
Volunteers will always be more engaged and more committed.
6. Invest more of your time with top performers.
Personnel people talk primarily about spending time with and coaching poor performers. Yet top performers are the most responsive to coaching, and can leverage your help much more effectively.
It's also the only way to key your best performers challenged, or from being recruited away.
7. Consider firing someone as the most caring thing to do.
In the vast majority of cases, when an employee is not succeeding, he or she knows it long before you do. Extending their time in that situation is not compassionate, diminishes self-esteem, and the stress often causes health problems.
Let them go to find a better fit, with real job satisfaction.
8. Don't chase hearsay, rumors, or gossip.
When someone gives you third-party information, it is almost always incomplete, out of context, or biased. Any attempts by you to "verify" this information, takes valuable time, with results equally unreliable. Even worse, people follow your example, causing greater damage to productivity and morale.
9. Take action on legacy employees.
Contrary to popular belief, doing nothing is not the easy way out. Be thoughtful and compassionate, but deal with the challenge head-on.
Carrying them, or allowing them to continue with no change until retirement, kills your credibility, as well as the productivity of the entire team. Taking no action hurts everyone.
10. Focus on hiring people who can replace you.
I have always sought to hire people I can learn from, rather than time training. It is easier to move up in your career when you have members on your team who can smoothly transition into your role.
In addition, that kind of reputation tends to attract additional high-performing people to your organization.
I find that too many managers get so focused on business goals, and their own personal agenda, that they lose sight of the individual needs of their employees.
Managers you remember and respect, even if their approach is unconventional, are the few who focus on making a difference in the lives of the people they manage. That's a win-win opportunity that we should all strive for.