A lot of people become managers because they’re good at what they do, and the next step up the ladder happens to be a management position. A talented software engineer may find herself leading a team when she knows little about managing people, rather than writing code, which she’s great at. It can be a tough transition.
Often, new managers are not given the support they need. So advice from seasoned managers can be very welcome, in whatever form it takes.
This was the impetus behind Robert Purse’s new book, “The Management of People,” a slender volume that combines management basics with personal insight, gained from his 40-year career as a manager in organizations large and small, in the public and private sectors.
The book covers communication, recruitment and selection, compensation and benefits, and learning and development, among other topics. Running throughout is Purse’s heartfelt belief that successful people management depends on one simple rule.
“Treat people the way you would hope, and wish, to be treated,” he says. “Treat them with dignity, treat them with respect, and treat them with honesty. If you get those right then I would suggest that you’re probably 90 percent of the way there already.”
In our Expert Interview podcast, we explore what that looks like in practice. For example, a lot of problems can be avoided if you continually assess your team members’ performance, he says. Check in with them regularly. Don’t bottle everything up for the annual appraisal.
“Over the last couple of decades, we’ve got hung up on having the annual performance review,” he reflects. But done right, “the annual performance review is just a summary of conversations and discussions that you’ve had on an ongoing basis, right the way through the last 12 months, or whatever the review cycle is.
“You should never get to the annual review and there be lots of surprises. All of the key issues should have been addressed when they arose. Don’t wait until, let’s say, April 1 every year before you let somebody know, ‘By the way you’re not actually performing very well.’ You need to give them the opportunity to improve during the performance review cycle, not leave it until the last minute.”
With careers at stake, it’s important to wield your influence fairly, and to give all your team members a level playing field. But how do you know if you’re getting your assessments right? Sometimes strong or weak performance is obvious. Other times, it’s less clear-cut.
If you particularly like someone on your team, are you more forgiving when he misses deadlines, or consistently leaves work early? Do you choose to focus instead on that one great presentation he gave to the board back in March?
If you’re not so keen on a team member, are you quicker to reprimand or discipline her? Do you think more about her barbed comment in the meeting last week than her reliability, or her willingness to volunteer for unappealing tasks?
Once you start reflecting on this, it may cross your mind that your team members are merely reacting to you and your management style. Your prickly team member may be sweet as pie in her dealings with other colleagues. Perhaps you haven’t been fair in your assessment of her.
Purse offers a useful tip to help managers support all their team members equally, without partiality creeping in.
“[Managers] should make sure that they are self-aware [enough] to understand their own personality, so that they will understand the potential impact that their behaviors have on the people around them,” he advises. “Then, they can put in place strategies to ensure that any adverse impacts are minimized.”
He suggests that managers take a personality assessment, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, to “get a very detailed insight into his or her own personality.” Once you know what your own tendencies are, where your potential biases might be, you can bring that awareness to the management of your team. Fit your own oxygen mask first. Only then can you begin to help others.
Running regular team briefings is another way to engage and nurture your team. In this audio clip, from our Expert Interview podcast, Purse explains why he sees these meetings as a vital component of good people management.
What top tips would you give a rookie manager? Join the discussion below!