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7 steps to successfully recommit to strong, engaged management

Bruce Tulgan for Progressive Dairyman Published on 29 September 2016

Managers tell me all the time: “I’ve been managing the same people for some time now. I realize now that I’ve been too hands-off. Is it even possible to change my whole management style after all this time? How can I get my employees to take me seriously?

How can I avoid them thinking I’ve bought into some gimmicky flavour of the month?” Let your employees think whatever they want in the beginning. You can live with anybody’s doubt but your own. Step one in convincing your employees will be your own belief in the change and your determination to stick with it.

Over time, the doubts will recede, and the doubters will come along or else move along. That’s why you cannot afford to make a half-hearted effort at change. You are better off making no change at all than a half-hearted effort. But it takes more than a full heart to succeed.

I’ve seen many full-hearted efforts fail due to a lack of preparation. A well-meaning manager who decides to become a better manager can painfully underestimate the challenge of making a big change in management style, especially after a long period of weak management.

Often, the manager in question has read a book or been to a seminar. I often receive emails from managers: “I’m ready. I’m eager. I’m going to become a strong, highly engaged manager!”

My first response is always: “Wait! Step back. If you are really sure you want to do this, don’t take it lightly. This is going to be a big change. Take some time to prepare.” More often than not, the response is something like: “You don’t understand. I’ve already started!”

Typically, the manager says, “If all that’s missing is the fundamentals, I might as well just jump in and start.” (Ah, yes – and yet, isn’t mastering the fundamentals in any field a lifelong enterprise for even the greatest practitioners?)

Seven ways to prepare before you reboot your management style:

1. Prepare yourself psychologically. Are you ready, willing and able to commit the time, energy, effort and consistency it will take to change? Your role at work is going to change. Your relationships at work are going to change. Your experience at work is going to change.

You are going to be the person who is all about the work, who is setting people up for success every day, who is helping every person earn what they need. Make sure you are sure. Expunge any of your own doubt first.

2. Prepare yourself tactically. The biggest impact of committing to highly engaged management is that you are putting a big chunk (or a couple of medium-sized chunks) of highly structured time into your daily schedule. That is what makes the whole thing work.

If that big chunk of structured time is something that is not currently part of your day, you are going to have to get into the habit. Start building the habit in advance:

Find the one hour a day that works best for you and set it aside every day for two weeks before you actually plunge into managing employees in one-on-one sessions. During those two weeks, use this one hour a day to continue with your preparations.

3. Prepare yourself by gathering some intelligence on your employees. What are all the things you really should have known all along? What are some things you’ll need to keep in mind going forward? Gather information and start tuning in informally to your employees and their work.

Stop shooting the breeze at work and start talking with your employees about the work. Start asking more questions. And do a lot of listening. You will get some surprises early on, no doubt. Some people will be put off that you are even asking.

That’s a good sign that you’ve been too hands-off until now. Some people will give vague answers. Others will tell you more than you would have guessed. You will start to learn who is doing what, where, why, when and how.

4. Start keeping a people list. This is a running list of all the key people with whom you need to be engaged in a one-on-one dialogue right now. For each one of your direct reports, take note:

  • When and where was your last conversation with that person? Regarding what?

  • What should you be talking about with this person?

  • When and where are you going to have your next conversation?

  • What do you need to do to prepare in advance?

5. Research possible tracking systems to monitor, measure and document each employee’s performance. While your people list is a very good tool for remaining thoughtful and purposeful about your interactions with your direct reports, it is probably not a sufficient system for proper tracking of employee performance.

You just need to be able to track, for each direct report, the expectations you are spelling out and how their concrete actions are lining up with those expectations, every step of the way.

The most important thing about your tracking system is that you come up with a system you will actually use – a system that works for you, that you can stick to. The sooner you figure that out, the better.

6. Start working on a preliminary schedule for your regular one-on-ones. When are you going to meet with each person and for how long? If you’ve been using one hour a day to prepare for this change in your management practices, then you are well on your way to making that hour-a-day management a habit.

Now you need to decide how you are going to divide that time among your employees. (Remember that at first you may have to dedicate more time than one hour a day until your one-on-one meetings become routine and brief.)

7. Prepare your “good news” message. You need to be prepared to discuss the impending management change with key people. You don’t want to act as if you’ve been failing as a manager until now.

Instead, adopt a simple message: “Good news! I’m very committed to becoming a better manager, stronger and more highly engaged. Here’s what that’s going to look like. I’m going to build a regular, ongoing, structured one-on-one dialogue with every person who reports to me.”

Remember, you are delivering good news. You are about to be spending a lot more time setting people up for success and helping them avoid unnecessary problems.

You are going to provide more guidance and direction and support, helping your employees do better, work smarter and faster, and earn more rewards. That is good news! Make sure you feel that so it guides your tone every step of the way.

Once you’ve thoroughly prepared, it’s time to go public.  end mark

Bruce Tulgan is a keynote speaker, seminar leader and author, as well as the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking Inc., a management research and training firm. He can be reached by visiting his website (RainMaker Thinking).

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