Managing other people is part of many people’s working life. It is also a skill set that is not necessarily intuitive, despite the reputation of the human as a social animal. Managers can determine if they are effective by comparing responses from their environment and their staff with the responses they want (assuming they have determined what they want in the first place).
Anecdotal reports suggest that managers are aware when requests and orders are not filled correctly or in a timely fashion, but do not know how to identify what stops this from happening. Staff complain to each other of intimidation, micro-management, inadequate supervision, incomplete instructions and lack of access to their managers, but have not discovered ways to change this.
Of course there are also stories of the Ideal Boss, who is accessible but does not micro-manage, who develops good working relationships, who frames requests with sufficient contextual background and intentions for the work requested, who allows workable time frames and is available to discuss resource requirements for completing the work. Then the Ideal Boss says “thank you” when the work is completed.
Formal training in managing people is a relatively new concept, and is often applied reactively when a manager becomes the subject of too many complaints. Most managers won their first positions by becoming sufficiently competent in their own field that they were promoted out of it to manage others.
“By observing patterns we can identify the various shifts that need to occur for an organisation to embrace change. It is possible to identify the priority functions, projects and teams to work with to move quickly towards desired outcomes and goals” - Penny Bannister, Principal/Owner of Self Determine, and NLP Graduate
The Big Picture
One of the marks of an able manager is the ability to articulate both their own and the firm’s intentions for the work they commission from their staff. Many managers understand how their function and that of their staff contributes to the organisation, so they try to ensure that their output fits the rest of the system. However, unless managers are aware, consciously, of the bigger picture and that others need to share it, they do not necessarily provide this essential information with their requests.
When staff receive requests and instructions without adequate contextual framing, they can be uncertain about what is required or produce work that does not fit the bigger plan, despite fulfilling the instructions given. If this is a regular occurrence, people become demoralised, lose motivation and their performance suffers. Part of the problem is that most staff members have neither the courage nor the skill to keep asking questions until they feel that they have a full brief, so they try, often in vain, to fill the orders they are given. They appear to acquiesce and attempt to comply or simply leave part of the job undone.
It is possible to create a culture in the workplace where staff and management are expected to ask questions of their superiors to clarify their understanding. An effective method was first used in a hierarchical, paramilitary type of workplace. It was devised to promote safety in the context of system wide fear of questioning authority figures. All personnel were told that the senior officer on duty would make a deliberate error sometime during each shift. It was up to any staff member to question the boss’s action or decision in the interests of safety and continued learning. Whether the boss made a deliberate error or not, the other staff were now free and expected to question anything they found untoward.
An intervention of this type prompts staff to ask for managers’ intentions and information to clarify unclear or unusual requests. Over time, the quality of communication improves throughout the organisation and dialogue becomes more acceptable. A built in by-product is that more work is done in a timely fashion as staff are operating inside a known context. This facilitates everyone’s capacity to make connections between what they are doing and how it is going to be deployed in the larger system.
Another intervention, one that partners with a questioning culture to create a systemic solution, would be to teach managers to identify and articulate their intentions to staff so work orders exist inside a frame of the firm’s direction. When this class of information cascades down throughout a firm, staff and managers at all levels carry clear representations of the firm’s direction and the destination and function of their own work and other related activity. Learning to identify and articulate intentions for all requests, instructions and orders is a simple matter as the benefits become apparent to learners immediately. Use of intentions can become an intuitive part of conversations with little or no effort for most people and it is an important distinction between user friendly managers and bosses from hell.
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