When it comes to navigating today’s competitive business landscape, effective management can be one of a company’s most important assets – both in terms of the managers themselves and the systems they put in place to get the most from employees. Managers need to develop a full arsenal of skills, such as: delegation; conflict management; setting goals and objectives; conducting performance evaluations; coaching; and leading a diverse workforce. If they fall down in one or more of these areas, the company may stagnate and possibly lose key employees.
“When you look at advances in technology, changing demographics, and global trends, they’re all impacting the world at work and how companies are competing,” says Bill Castellano, chair and professor, Center for HR and Leadership Development at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR). “Managers deal with all of these challenges, so they have to be more strategic and look at how the trends are impacting the work environment.”
With a multi-generational workforce in play, managers have to juggle different skill sets and personalities, which can be challenging, but can also create new opportunities for growth, says Dr. George Vellios, managing partner at Straxo in Red Bank, and an expert in behavioral profiling and leadership development. “It’s the first time you have five generations in the workforce: some remnants of the silent generation; baby boomers; gen-X-ers, millennials and newly introduced gen Z-ers,” he says. “When you have diverse personalities, backgrounds, experiences and styles, it can be a positive. They bring more to the table and, if managed properly, you can be a more effective unit.”
When it comes to delegating professionally, a good manager should clearly define the task at hand, create a timeline, and follow up with employees on a regular basis, says Susan Carrero, president of 7 Star HR, a division of Triton Benefits & HR Solutions in Woodbridge. She believes managers should voice their requests in a positive manner and offer feedback, whether it’s to tell employees they’re doing a great job or that improvement is needed. “You have to be respected as a leader before you can gain traction in delegating,“ she says. “The key is to be careful not to ask them to do something you would not do, or that you don’t know how to do.”
Rosa Schmidt, an instructor at the Center for HR and Leadership Development at SMLR, defines delegation not as assigning tasks to employees, but instead enhancing their skills and giving them a chance to grow. It’s about teaching and coaching employees in something above and beyond what they would normally do on the job, she says, adding, “A lot of managers say they don’t have time to train, but if you train an employee to do some of the work you do, it gives you more time to do additional value-added work. Long term, it’s a win-win for the employee and manager.”
Schmidt’s department recommends this four-step process to delegate effectively: Assess what you need to delegate and to whom; communicate the task so the employee can be successful; monitor their work, making sure they have the support they need; and evaluate their progress, ending with a quick debriefing to determine what went well, and where they could have done better. “Most employees want to continue to improve, contribute and add value to the company,” she says. “Delegation helps a manager to do that so that employees have opportunities to develop in their jobs so they’re ready for promotion in the future.”
Conflict is bound to arise in the workplace, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to Vellios. If a manager leads employees to work together toward a resolution, it can be a team-building experience. “The manager needs to empower the team to figure out what the conflict is, what caused it, how to solve it, and what can be learned from it,” he says. “If done properly, they go from being a group to being a high-performing team. And the job of a manager is to create high-performing teams within the organization.”
Carrero classifies conflict management as a “senior skill set,” saying an experienced manager will know how to investigate, document, mediate and follow though with an action plan. She strongly advises managers to get HR involved with any and all conflict management so they can act as a third party/mediator and can be a confidential voice. “They see every side and help develop a solution before mediation begins,” she says. “The employee is more able to open up about how they feel with a third party.”
Jim Pantall, a senior instructor at the Center for HR and Leadership Development, SMLR, recommends a “cool-down period” before a conflict is addressed – whether that conflict is between two managers, a manager and employee, or two employees. “If you’re all wired and stressed, you’re probably not thinking clearly. You want everyone to stay calm and logical,” he says. “The idea is to move on to the future, which means setting goals – what I’m going to do differently and what you’re going to do differently – so you don’t keep running into the same problem.”
Most experts agree that employee goals should be specific and align with the company’s mission. For example, a goal should not be to increase revenue in the year ahead and open new accounts, but to increase revenue by 12 percent and open 36 new accounts. “Numbers attached to the goal should be very clear,” Vellios says. “Employees should also understand how the goal relates to the business and how it will help to advance their career.”
Terrence Seamon, an instructor at the Center for HR and Leadership Development, SMLR, references research from the Harvard Business Review that singled out goal setting as the No. 1 key to success in business. He emphasizes the importance of formulating goals and communicating them to employees, saying, “Everyone on the team should know what the goals are and what part they need to play. It connects to team building and accountability – having clear roles and having a solid basis for managing performance.”
In his “Goal Setting” course, Seamon teaches the SMART process: S is for “specific” goals; M is for “measurable” goals; A is for “alignment” of goals; R is for “realistic” goals; and T is for a “timeline” to accomplish each goal. Not only does he advise managers to meet with each employee to discuss personal goals and how to achieve them, but he also recommends having an annual team meeting to look at what the group is trying to accomplish for the year and revising goals periodically. “You want to drive the goals down to each individual so each sees a clear line of sight from their own performance to the accomplishment of the goal,” he says.
The days of once-a-year evaluations are waning in favor of more frequent meetings that address problems before they get out of hand, while also giving credit for a job well done. At the same time, many companies are moving away from the five-point rating scale (5 being best, 1 worst), focusing instead on development and a plan to help employees succeed. “There still are objectives and goals that need to be met, but the emphasis is on feedback and development rather than a ranking,” Castellano says. “Things are constantly changing, so it puts a high premium on a manager’s ability to be more of a coach and provide regular feedback.”
Pantall recommends quarterly evaluations where the manager and employee can look back at goals and how the employee is doing against expectations. He believes an evaluation should be a “two-way street” that engages the employee in a discussion and is linked to goals, job responsibilities, mission and values of the company, and expected behaviors. “If the company’s mission is to serve customers, and their performance evaluations say nothing about servicing customers, there’s something wrong,” he says.
According to Carrero, established employees should have an evaluation annually with some quarterly review of benchmarks or goals, while new employees should meet with the manager once a month through their first 90 days, particularly if they’re having trouble turning a corner. “During an employee review, you need to get in the trenches and talk about specific duties, open the door for employee feedback, encourage inner development, and allow them to set some goals for themselves,” she says. “If there are areas for improvement, you might want to surround them with positive feedback first. Otherwise, they get upset and you lose their attention.”
Vellios defines coaching not as telling an employee how to do something, but identifying the person’s strengths as well as areas for improvement. “If you have a good runner and good jumper – don’t try to make her a good swimmer. A manager should recognize strengths,” he says. “You want to be a coach people respect, one that empowers people to do what they want to do. An effective coach is malleable, not tunnel-visioned.”
Carrero agrees it’s about recognizing the difference between discipline and coaching, while showing a level of support, educating employees, and helping them move the bar. “The best coaches are good listeners who allow employees to provide feedback,” she says. “During the counseling, you have to set benchmarks, goals and realistic timelines. Sometimes you have to offer a final warning with the expectation that if it’s not done they could be transitioning to a different position or be on way out the door.”
It’s also important that a manager keep the lines of communication open and counsel an employee whose performance is lacking, Carrero adds. “When the day comes to terminate, it should never be a surprise to someone who was struggling meeting the company’s expectations. If it is a surprise, management did not communicate well.”
In the context of dealing with a diverse workforce, managers need “cultural agility,” Castellano says, pointing out that what motivates someone from one culture may be different than what motivates someone from another. “You need to be aware of those differences and be able to adjust your management style to meet those needs,” he says.
Finally, managers today are leading up to five generations of workers and need to be mindful of their different skills sets, experiences and philosophies. Schmidt also points out that an employee who has been on the job for 35 to 40 years and has a lot of skills, may not need as much handholding and guidance as someone just entering the workforce. “Knowing your employees, their abilities, confidence levels and skill levels will help you to manage effectively,” she says. “Being able to flex your style according to the individual employee is what leadership is all about.”