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Manager Makeovers: How to Build a Better Manager

Posted by Elaine Varelas  June 4, 2012 09:00 AM

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One of the most important jobs for HR managers is doing periodic check-ins with managers. How are they performing? Do they need any other development, skill-building, or support? You may have exceptional managers in your organization, but there is always room for improvement. As the summer months approach, it may get less hectic at work, making it the perfect time to introduce the Manager Summer Institute. It could be your own version of Extreme Manager Makeover! Even if your managers don’t need a complete overhaul, it may be an ideal time to build on certain important skills with support from the human resources department. Here are some not-so-common strategies HR managers and other company managers can pursue that can drastically improve employee productivity, loyalty, and engagement:

Know what motivates your team—Discover that one thing that keeps each employee motivated at work. Is it a rearranged work schedule? Working from home two days a week? More salary? Positive reinforcement? A chance for development? Learning a new skill? A reach assignment? Talk to employees to find out what will get them jazzed about the job. Then develop individualized strategies to help keep them motivated.

Know what worries your team —What life challenges are dogging your employee? Is it an out of work spouse, that pesky two hour (each way!) commute, or an aging parent with medical issues? These are the concerns that consume your employees. They can’t stop thinking about them! And when they’re preoccupied with an issue outside of the job, it impacts their work. Managers may think these employee problems are none of their business, but the bottom line is that they impact productivity. Approach team members and create an open environment to talk about their life woes (of course with a guarantee that it won’t affect their standing at work). Sharing can help alleviate some of the burden they are carrying. The consequences of avoiding these conversations can mean a loss of productivity or even the employee. That out-of-work spouse may find a job across the country or a person may have to quit to take care of family or find a job with a shorter commute.

Address their needs—It’s one thing to know what keeps employees awake at night (and distracted at their desks) and another to do something about it. You don’t need to be Mother Theresa and solve all of your employees’ personal problems, but look for ways to make connections, introductions, or provide resources. Can you connect that out-of-work spouse with a recruiter or the HR director for an informational meeting? Can you make a connection on LinkedIn? Would you consider letting that commute-dreading staffer work from home one or two days a week or alter his work schedule to avoid heavy traffic times? Can you contact an EAP professional to lend assistance to the employee with an aging parent? Leverage your business and personal relationships to help out your team.

Be a chatty Cathy—Leadership teams often get together to develop a values-driven mission statement, a cutting-edge sales strategy, or a sound plan for growing the business with short and long-term goals and a timetable. Then that information stays at the top of the organization. Encourage managers to communicate important information to their teams. What is happening at the leadership level? How is this economy affecting us? What is happening with hiring? What are our leaders’ plans? How do we rate against the competition? How does each person’s role impact the organization as a whole? Treat each member on the team as if he or she is a stockholder. Communicating this information helps employees feel more invested in the organization and their work.

Give positive recognition in public, negative criticism in private—Don’t be a Bobby Valentine! Employees should be able to trust that their manager won’t throw them under the bus or bad-mouth them to others. The manager is ultimately responsible for the team’s success or failure. You want to present a united front to the rest of the company and the outside world. You should appear to everyone else (as well as strive to be in private) a cohesive team. Employees should also show their managers that same respect (no bad-mouthing at lunch!).

Ask for and use your feedback—Most organizations have multiple avenues, both formal and informal, for getting feedback—360 reviews, surveys, performance reviews and one-on-one meetings. What do managers do with this feedback? It isn’t always easy to hear constructive criticism, but it can be even more difficult to do something about it. Listen to feedback with an open mind and develop a plan for addressing your employees’ concerns.

Even if the managers in your organization don’t need an Extreme Manager Makeover, most can benefit from some development and skill-building. By following these six tips above, managers can become better at what they do and have happier, engaged, and more productive employees—creating a better work environment for everyone.

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About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.