The Management Blog
Tips & advice to help you improve your performance
One thing that differentiates average managers from the really successful ones is their devotion to excellence.
When we ask managers how committed they are to excellence in their role, the majority tell us that they are ‘very’ or ‘totally’. But when we probe a little further and ask what they specifically do to show excellence in their work, there is a distinct lack of clarity.
Let me ask you the same question; how committed are you to excellence in everything you do?
Those we have worked with over the years who have demonstrated this commitment to excel in all they do, share one particular emotion that makes them stand out. And that is the passion they show for excellence.
By that I mean they see opportunities to show a very high work ethic in everything they do, and the passion they show for that level of performance outweighs everything else. All they do is stamped with high quality, and they approach their tasks with a resolute mind-set that creates a confidence in everyone who works with them.
So can you raise your standards whenever you need to get results? If you do that consistently, there is every chance you have a ‘passion for excellence.
If you are an empathetic and thoughtful manager, chances are that at times your staff will approach you with their personal problems that might be affecting their work, or home life, or both.
Here are some ideas to help you in these sometimes awkward situations;
* Make sure your team member sees that you take such problems seriously. This means you may have to leave the office and go somewhere quiet. Constant interruptions from phone, emails, other employees, etc. show that you aren’t really concerned. If it’s really not a good time for you, say so, and immediately set aside a specific time to discuss it with them
* Encourage your team member to talk by listening actively. Be re-assuring by not judging, and by rephrasing and summarising. Ask questions to clarify, if necessary. Your behaviour is the key to a successful session. Try to be empathetic and supportive
* Note any hidden meanings, like blame or over-sensitivity. Listen to expressions and mannerisms and especially watch body-language
* Isolate the problem. Having got through the web of detail and emotions, identify the core problem and its probable cause. Analyse the true problem, not just the symptoms
* Work towards solutions. Remember that the aim is for your team member to solve the problem for themselves. Ask what options they see. If necessary, make tentative suggestions, like ‘how about this for an idea…’ or ‘one option might be….’. Decide what the pros and cons might be
* Encourage them in whatever decision they make. Naturally, there will be many areas where you simply aren’t able to offer advice, and you may have to suggest they see a professional to sort out some of the deeper problems they may be experiencing
* Finally, never betray a trust. Your team member will appreciate it if the discussions are kept private, unless they agree to having someone else help out. Remember your purpose in all of this…to help the team member through the situation.
Sometimes, all they want is a hearing ear, someone to bounce their problems around with. Resist the temptation to give advice in areas you are unfamiliar with. Just asking the right questions can sometimes help. When you’ve done the best you can, your team mate may be able to solve it themselves, or at least find a way forward. And you might gain yourself a high-performing employee again.
One of the best-known management models to come out of Japan is the technique called the Five Whys, and it should be part of your management armoury.
It’s a solid way of getting to the root of any problem you may have. When you have a problem, you ask the question ‘why?’ up to five times, by which time you should have reached the root of any problem you are dealing with. Learn More
I know it will be controversial, but I don’t think the expression work/life (as if you can split work from life – surely they are part of the same thing?) is entirely accurate.
I prefer to think of it as work/social/home life split. But many people tell me that they find it difficult to switch off from work when they are at home. Does this include you? Here are some ideas that may help:
Commuting: Use this as a sort of transition time between home and work. If possible, think through what your plans are for the day, but also spend some of that time reading an absorbing book or listening to music that will set you up for the day.
Actually switch off when you are at home: If you find yourself mulling over stuff from work, make a specific change at home that will switch your brain from work-mode to home/family mode. Get a soduko or crossword puzzle, or do something physically challenging. It will get your brain engaged in something different to work.
Avoid the ‘Blackberry Always On’ syndrome: This links in with the previous tip, in that, while your phone is on, your brain is still mentally connected to work. If you really want that family dinner un-interrupted, take the plunge and put the phone away.
Have an agreed finish time at least two days per week: Agree a time with your boss and stick to it. That will keep you in control and give your family a specific time to plan things in the evening without the worry of cancellations.
Actually take time off: I know it will exasperate many of you, but research has shown that you are actually more productive on the Monday if you have actually taken the weekend off doing things YOU want to do. You know it makes sense!
Take regular breaks during the day: If you come in early and work late, having regular breaks will stop you from thinking you’re working all the time. Even 5 minutes of down time two or three times in the morning, and an extended lunch break, can convince your brain you are actually working efficiently and will avoid overload.
By identifying what you can do to create a barrier between your work and home life, you will be able to spend more focused time on doing what is important at work without it causing problems emotionally at home.
This exercise shows how difficult it is to really take notice of things we see every day. Use it with your team in your next meeting, just to see how observant they are.
Pick someone who has a lot of confidence. Make sure they are wearing a watch. Without telling them what you are going to do, ask them to place their right hand over the watch face on their wrist.
Get them to stand up and approach you, still with their hand covering their watch. When they get to you, ask them to turn their wrist over, undo the watch strap and pass it to you.
Ask them how many times they look at their watch, on average, every day. Then ask them how long they have had their watch.
If they say they look at it on average 10 times a day, and they have had it for 3 years, then they have actually looked at their watch over 1000 times. Work out the figures quickly in your head for whatever numbers they tell you.
Now, while you have the watch and they can’t see it, ask your team members some questions about it. Obviously, the more complicated the watch, the better the exercise.
Ask such questions as
– what colour is the strap?
– what words are on the face and where are they?
– how many numbers are on the watch?
– does it show the date, and if so, where?
– describe any distinguishing marks or features on it
Alternatively, you can ask them to describe their watch in detail. When they have done so, ask them questions about any details they have missed out.
After the questions, feedback how they did. Most people will get at least two or three answers wrong.
Don’t embarrass the person, but clarify the point that we all see the same things every day but can often become blasé about them because we don’t pay attention at the conscious level.
Ask the group; are there things that we do every day in the workplace because we have always done them that way without thinking? Could it be that we have become blasé about the quality of work we produce? Is there a way we could become more aware of the standards of our work, simply by becoming more observant?
Maybe if we all noticed what we can do to improve the quality of our work, we would all be able to support each other effectively.
By the way, make sure you thank the volunteer and ask everyone else there if they would have done any better if they had been the one chosen to describe their watch!