What do Good Managers do?

What do Good Managers do?

With the recent pandemic forcing a large number of organisations world-wide to move to remote-work, it seems the current discussion spotlight is around what has this change meant to organisations. I have been seeing articles stem around the culture required to manage a remote work force, where the ability to physically monitor your employees’ performance has diminished. Seems most companies and leaders are now forced to assess the way they measured and motivated their employees’ achievements, when it is not as easy to observe their working hours.

Speaking to friends, past colleagues, peers – it seems some are still attempting to exert their power on employees, attempting to ensure work gets done through fear. Some by monitoring the online status of the company messaging tool, others by calling continuously or having continuous video conferences.

Other companies and leaders however have started, or continued, to measure their employees’ performance by targets and milestones reached, via key performance indicators that feed into the business’ bottom line. We are seeing the spotlight shine on Netflix and their objective-driven culture, where the company has embraced the fact that in this information era, value is not measured by hours but by the transformation of knowledge into a product or a service.

The below is an opinion piece leveraging experience of being managed by leaders with different managing styles, within companies with varied culture, but also through my own experience of being a manager and a leader. I wrote about a key competency that I believe all managers should have. I thought about what motivated me to be a better employee but also a more successful leader. When writing this piece, I also took the opportunity to refer to academic research I read about whilst doing my Masters degree. I make specific reference to the academic term “fair process” and the writings by Kim and Mauborgne in 2003, as the term explains a leadership style that I firmly believe in, where being a good leader does not necessitate a state of consensus, but requires a state of shared understanding.

What is Fair Process?

Fair process has been deemed a powerful management tool and it refers to a manager’s ability to influence attitudes and behaviours critical to high performance. A manager who follows a fair process is one who inspires the kind of commitment from employees, which is unaffected by the employees’ opinion on the managerial decisions made. This commitment results from the knowing that the process followed to reach a decision was fair, and even though it may not be what the employee wanted, the decision was understood.

An important aspect of being a good manager and leader is about being transparent and fair in your choices and decisions, making the “why” in your argument clear and evident. Whilst not everyone might agree with the “what” and the “how”, knowing that the “why” behind your choice was fair helps acquire commitment. I do believe that taking the time to actually explain why you have decided to go with that strategy, that plan, that decision shows that you respect people’s opinion and moreover, for anyone who actually needs to execute your plan and choices, it shows a respect to that person’s time. Finally, being a very objective driven leader, I do not believe in telling anyone how to do something. Explaining the objective and the reason and context behind that objective should be enough to delivery optimal, measurable delivery of that objective. In this manner, whoever is delivering can better own the execution of the project, and hence commit to it like it was their own.

Managing people in a knowledge-based economy

In most organisations today, a business’ main asset is the knowledge and expertise of their employees. Employees are the company’s means of production making people the most important resource of a business. People are key to gaining competitive advantage and hence people management has become more important than ever.

In the past, a manager’s worth was measured by the individual’s ability to achieve good results, acknowledging a manager’s value to be directly proportional to his or her capability to reach company-set targets. Research shows that organisations have long assessed an employee’s performance by measuring the fulfilment of repetitive tasks or by the ability to generate a specific output. However as we move on to a knowledge-based economy, where organisations are no longer viewed as information-processing machines and success is no longer just measured by increased efficiency and lower costs, but also with the ability to create a product or provide a service that creates competitive advantage,  what now defines a good manager is the ability to motivate and inspire a commitment from employees to create knowledge. 

Success is now measured by an organisation’s ability to create new knowledge and then turn this knowledge into a new product, service or technology. Subsequently, since this knowledge lies with the company’s employees,  employees now own the company’s means of production. This fact is what makes people the most important resource that companies have. This is why striving to inspire commitment from employees, a commitment which motivates them to be innovative and in turn create new knowledge, is what makes a manager worthy of the job.  The process of achieving such commitment i.e. “the fair process” is key to effective management.

Why follow a Fair Process ?

Economists’ assumption that people only focus on outcomes has slowly transpired into the way organisations manage, which resulted in the lack of “fair process”. However, since it is a fact that people do not just care about the outcome, but also about the way with which these outcomes were reached, and because of the fact that people are now the highest- valued assets in an organization, being able to provide for this fair process has become necessary to provide for good management 

In an era where successful companies are companies which are constantly looking to build on employee knowledge in order to deliver new technologies and products,  the employees’ commitment is crucial. It is this commitment which makes employees want to co-operate, driving their performance and making them want to go the extra mile, by not just finalising their tasks but by sharing their knowledge and using their creativity to create company value.  A manager who is able to inspire such a drive in employees, is a manager who inspires the creation of exceptional knowledge.

The ability to acknowledge the importance of implementing a fair process in an organisation, and then actually implementing it – resulting in effective management – mainly transpires from an individual’s personal characteristics. In this knowledge-based era, where managing is all about people, effective management is now related to a manager’s behavioural competencies i.e. the personal characteristics that define the way the manager manages.

 

Personal competencies of a Good Manager

These personal characteristics define the methods used by a manager to inspire personal commitment. Personal characteristics of a good manager include the ability to inspire, motivate, lead and understand the needs of employees. Such characteristics are needed to build an environment of trust,  to make your team feel comfortable with the process of achieving the outcome, to motivate them into engaging and into giving their input in the decision-making process.  Subsequently, a good manager should be able to explain the decisions made to employees, allowing them to reach an understanding as to why their input was or was not followed. A good manager prioritises mutual trust and respect with their people. 

Finally, a good manager should be able to articulate clearly the responsibilities that come with the decision made, and the importance of following the new set targets and goals. 

In understanding that it is a manager’s personal characteristics that allow for the smooth implementation of a fair process,  organisations should emphasise the importance of the behavioural competencies of a manager.  A manager’s personal characteristics play an important deterministic factor in a company’s success.  A good manager is able to inspire employees’ personal commitment and enable them to create the best knowledge that they can create.  Therefore it can be said that a knowledge-creating company’s success is greatly impacted by good management of knowledge, and in turn by good managers. 

Figure 1: Good Management

There is no one framework nor one set of characteristics that define how to be a good manager.  However one can easily perceive that to be a good manager one has to have a basic understanding of what people want. Being a good manager is no longer about how much you know, or how technical or effective you are, but it is about giving your people the respect they deserve. It is about making the time to actually let your employees know they are heard and respected.

 

The process of acquiring your employees’ trust and commitment might be lengthy and it might not seem as important as the outcome of making a profit, but it is slowly becoming the only way of being a good manager and moreover an inspiring leader. 

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