Planning, people and performance: The top traits of effective managers

Many people, when they get promoted, become ‘accidental managers’. They’ve had previous training, or have learnt well in a particular role, and someone has thought – they’ll make a good manager.

If this is you, it can be good to think about the skills and attributes you now need to focus on, to turn yourself from a good manager into an excellent one.

What does the role mean?

Before you can develop as a manager, you need to be clear about exactly what it means to be a manager. What does it look, sound and feel like?

Usually, being a manager means being put in a position where you have a strategy or plan that needs to be implemented. It’s your job to ensure the team can implement that plan effectively.

In practice, ultimately this usually means one of two things:

  1. Establishing and maintaining the status quo, or
  2. Creating change

As a manager, there will be specific tasks – to manage budgets, suppliers, processes, customers, etc. This means that you’re operating both inside and outside the organisation. But it’s likely that your main responsibility will be towards people – your team around you, and a leader or director above you.   

What does an effective manager look like?

An effective manager is a role model – but this is easier to say than do, and in some cases you have to challenge the status quo to create change. It’s about inspiring people, motivating people, and creating new thinking. To do that, you need to be able to plan methodically, to communicate well, and to identify, motivate and reward effective behaviours in others.

You cannot be a good manager without good planning skills; and that planning is likely to centre on objectives. A proven method of effective management is to give your team SMART objectives – any task should be Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Achievable and Timebound.

Understanding how people work well together and individually

It’s a cliché to say that your best assets are your people – but it’s a cliché because it’s absolutely true. In order to manage people well, you have to understand that different people thrive in different ways, and it’s essential for you to be able to communicate with them effectively to understand how they’ll work best themselves, and what they can bring to the organisation.

For example: not everyone is motivated by money. So you need to create those motivators yourself and ask for regular feedback from your team; that way, you’ll understand what’s important to them and be able to motivate them more effectively.

You need to think: how can I motivate and empower, and leave people satisfied? Generally speaking, this involves leading by example, and recognising that most change comes from nurturing behaviours.

Those behaviours revolve around five elements:

  1. Communicating
  2. Empowering
  3. Delegating
  4. Inspiring
  5. Mentoring

Where managers really come into their own is when the organisation’s business plan cascades down into an operational plan.

Ensure you can see the wider picture, as well as the detail – part of your role as manager is to help the individual understand what they do and how it fits into the team. As things cascade upwards, they become more strategic.

Moving into pole position

Management guru Peter Drucker once said that as a manager it’s easy to set tasks, but you only reach objectives in partnership with the individual.

Key point: In other words – don’t decide who’s doing what and then send them an email. Instead, sit down with them and say five things. This is what we’ll do as a team; this is what I would like you as an individual to do; these are the targets; this is how we’ll measure success; and what do you think?

At this point, if there’s resistance or things don’t go entirely according to plan, be proactive and positive about that; don’t just criticise people or ignore a problem.

Where there are weaknesses, which we might rename ‘development areas’, put those into the plan and offer training. That’s how you enhance capability, and how you continually ensure that your people are an asset and can enhance the organisation’s growth or development.

Consider how that would look in your business. Does everyone know what’s expected of them? Do they have the skills to deliver? Are they motivated towards delivering? If you can answer yes to all those questions, you have some context to work towards.

How to become a truly great manager, rather than simply an excellent one

To do this, think behaviourally. Many managers think the job is about giving tasks – but there might be behavioural objectives too, such as asking a team member to consider values or ethics.

Decide what your priorities are, and which objectives are more important than others. If there’s a sequence, help team members understand that others in the team are relying on them to do things in a certain order. The key is to ensure people feel part of a team, rather than at the bottom of a series of jobs.

Good management behaviours can be remembered as being ABCD:

ABLE – Leaders demonstrate competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their roles

BELIEVABLE – Leaders act with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. 

CONNECTED – Trustworthy leaders care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. 

DEPENDABLE – People trust leaders who honour their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of dependable leaders.

Being an effective manager – 5 key takeaways

  1. Know the organisation’s culture. This is ‘the way we do things round here.’ Without understanding it, you can’t make changes – you need to translate the culture into ‘this is what I need to do’ when you speak to staff.
  2. Be knowledgeable about frameworks. These include the legal and regulatory framework in which you operate; the economic and political environment in which you work; and the social and technological opportunities and threats to the organisation’s business.
  3. Get the best out of your people. People work in different ways and have different strengths. Know when to discuss things face-to-face, in team meetings, by email or phone, or over the Intranet. Don’t rely on one particular channel, and make what you’re doing relevant to each person.
  4. Interpret, translate and make relevant. Then, ask for feedback. When your staff tell you what they think – good and bad – it can influence and help you adjust what you’re doing going forward.
  5. Gain the staff’s trust. Trust is the most powerful single quality you can engender in your staff – but it takes time and integrity. Give time and resources; and reward positive behaviours, not just results.

This article is an excerpt from an AAT Knowledge Hub webinar. You can listen to the full webinar here (log in required):

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Jean Dowson is a Senior Consultant at the Chartered Management Institute.

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