Friday, September 29

Understand the essentials of your management job 

Here's a piece for technical managers out there - it's not about bits and bytes anymore, folks... and you're much more in a business role than a technology role if you've been 'kicked upstairs' from the front lines of tech.

Understand the essentials of your management job

Have you ever wondered what you should actually do as a manager? Management can look vague and full of annoying variables — to the point of chaos even. It's not as concrete as cranking out lines of code, or products, or even reports. So, just what DO managers do?

The following list clarifies the role of manager for the new and the seasoned alike. Some of these skills look simple, but they're either tougher or more important than they seem at first glance. Your excellence in management depends as much on how you achieve your goals as it does on the goals that you achieve.

Skill 1: Communicate clearly and carefully
Communication underlies every other management activity and is an essential component of your success. You'll never find a successful manager who's a poor communicator, and you can often trace the root of a manager's failures to communication problems.
From communication comes community. How you speak with someone not only conveys information but also sets the tone for your group's culture. When you speak objectively, positively, and encouragingly, you foster an atmosphere that is objective, positive, and supportive.

If you master this practice, you will eliminate a range of interpersonal problems and create a culture that brings out the best in people.

Skill 2: Route information through the correct channels
As a manager, you're a network router of corporate data. You pass information from one point to another, filtering the content appropriately. Communication is the connectivity system of the organization, and you're the relay that keeps the data flowing.
How well you do this can affect how well your team performs and how key people and groups in your organization perceive your team.

For example:
When you inform your team members of key corporate or industry information, you show them the meaning of the big picture, which helps motivate them to achieve goals and helps them to make informed decisions.
When you inform upper management of your team members' contributions and needs, you promote members' value and justify the resources needed for their jobs.
When you share news of your team's accomplishments and requirements with other departments, you promote visibility and recognition of your team within the organization.
Routing information is a visible demonstration of your competence at work.

Skill 3: Set corporate-aligned goals to get everyone on track
Because you're the one in front, you're the one with the best view of where you're headed. It's up to you to steer your team toward the corporate destination.
Take your company's mission and goals and break them down into measurable, doable, and challenging objectives for the groups or individuals who you manage — in other words, set the agenda. Then direct the progress that accomplishes the corporate mission.

Skill 4: Motivate your team to reach goals
In contrast with a disenfranchised team, a motivated team can achieve far more with far less. Motivation isn't about money or incentives, although those certainly play a role. And although you look for self-motivation in the people you hire, motivation also comes from the leader in the form of inspiration. It's your job to put the spirit into the work force.
You create a work force when you inspire your work team to reach challenging goals in a workplace that's free from counterforce friction. In other words, you point the way, and you clear the obstacles along the way.

Skill 5: Prioritize activities and manage time
Somebody has to keep an eye on all the spinning plates, standing back a little to see which plate needs a push at which point. That would be you. Down in the trenches of a project, it's hard to know how to juggle work when everyone wants his or her deadlines met yesterday, and everyone thinks his or her project is the most important.
Good managers exercise disciplined time management both for themselves and for the people who report to them. You start by managing your own time and priorities and by overcoming any inclination toward procrastination or inertia. Then you help your workers overcome theirs.

Skill 6: Monitor and coach progress
Of course, you can't just assign goals, motivate everyone, and then sit back and wait for the progress reports. Things fall through the cracks if they're not attended to. As the manager, you continually monitor progress, checking in with people to uncover problems or obstacles. You invest in follow-up early on so that your team members know that you'll be asking about the status of their projects and that you expect their goals to be met.
A team left to its own devices will not achieve as much as a team that is coached to excellence.

Skill 7: Evaluate results
The end product of what you do is the output of your team. You need to evaluate your success in obtaining results. Corporations typically evaluate results through performance reviews.
But performance reviews don't always motivate and reward merit as intended. They frequently are stressful and discouraging instead. You can, however, make the difference in how your team members perceive performance reviews and in how useful their reviews are.
When you approach reviews as an employee advocate rather than as a judge, you help people succeed rather than pass judgment on their character. Think of it in this way: It's your responsibility as a manager to tell members of your team where they can do better at meeting the corporate standard and at succeeding in the organization — they count on you to let them know this.

Skill 8: Resolve conflicts
Conflicts are stressful — and they occur in every workplace. Despite our strongest wishes, they don't go away on their own. No one likes to work in a hotbed of conflict, but few people come to the workplace trained in conflict resolution.
Learn the principles and practice of collaborative conflict resolution, demonstrate those skills, and teach them to your team. When you reduce unproductive friction in the workplace, you smooth the way for better cooperation and results, which improves workplace quality of life for everyone.

Skill 9: Develop the team skill set
The demands on your team today are not going to be the demands of tomorrow. "Survival of the fittest" doesn't refer to the strongest, most intelligent, or most skilled but to the "best adapted to their environment." As a manager, you must anticipate the context of the future and develop the skills to fit it. This includes your personal skills and those of your team members.

Skill 10: Hire additional skill sets
Don't set up your team members for failure by aiming them at the moon without a rocket. Certain tools and training are required for any job; you can't drive a spike with a tack hammer. When you hire, look for skills that are missing in your group and that are needed to move forward.

Skill 11: Know when to be a worker and when to be a manager
New managers frequently plan on being the kind who isn't afraid to roll up their sleeves and do the work themselves when circumstances call for it. And you may well have to and shouldn't be afraid to when it's absolutely necessary. But you can't do all your team members' work for them. You have to focus on your own tasks while you guide and provide for theirs.

Guide your team to success
A manager is a performance enhancer, synergizing diverse parts and making a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. When good managers pull people together, set direction, motivate and communicate, support, supply, and clear obstacles from the path, the distributed energy of individuals concentrates in a surge of forward motion — because of the manager. That's you — that's what you can do.

Top 10 New Manager Mistakes 

This just came across my desk from the about.com management forum:

Top 10 New Manager Mistakes
From F. John Reh

Managing can be a little daunting at first. A recent poll found almost 50% of managers received NO training before starting the job. Here is a list of the most common mistakes new managers make so you can avoid making them too.

1) Think you know everything.
If you were just promoted to Production Manager, you may feel you know everything about production. Even if that were true, and it isn't, you sure don't know everything about the most important part of your new job, managing people. Listen to the people around you. Ask for their input when appropriate. Keep an open mind.

2) Show everyone who's in charge.
Trust me, everyone in your group knows who the new manager is. You don't have to make a big show about being "the boss". You do, however, have to demonstrate that, as the boss, you are making a positive difference.

3) Change everything.
Don't re-invent the wheel. Just because the way something is done isn't the way you would do it, it isn't necessarily wrong. Learn the difference between "different" and "wrong".

4) Be afraid to do anything.
Maybe you didn't ask for the promotion. Maybe you are not sure you can do the job. Don't let that keep you from doing the job the best you can. Upper management wouldn't have put you into the job if they didn't have confidence that you could handle it.

5) Don't take time to get to know your people.
Maybe you worked alongside these people for years. That doesn't mean you know them. Learn what makes them excited, how to motivate them, what they fear or worry about. Get to know them as individuals, because that's the only way you can effectively manage them. Your people are what will make or break you in your quest to be a good manager. Give them your attention and time.

6) Don't waste time with your boss.
Since he/she just promoted you, surely he/she understands how busy you are and won't need any of your time, right? Wrong. Your job, just like it was before you became a manager, is to help your boss. Make sure to budget time to meet with him/her to both give information and to receive guidance and training.

7) Don't worry about problems or problem employees.
You can no longer avoid problems or hope they will work themselves out. When something comes up, it is your job to figure out the best solution and get it done. That doesn't mean you can't ask for other's input or assistance, but it does mean you are the person who has to see it gets taken care of.

8) Don't let yourself be human.
Just because you are the boss doesn't mean you can be human, that you can't laugh, or show emotion, or make an occassional mistake.

9) Don't protect your people.
The people in your group will be under pressure from every direction. Other departments may want to blame you for failed interfaces. Your boss may want to dump all the unpleasant jobs on your department. HR may decide the job classifications in your area are overpaid. It's your job to stand up for your people and make sure they are treated as fairly as possible. They will return the loyalty.

10) Avoid responsibility for anything.
Like it or not, as the manager you are responsible for everything that happens in your group, whether you did it, or knew about it, or not. Anything anyone in your group does, or doesn't do, reflects on you. You have to build the communications so there are no surprises, but also be prepared to shoulder the responsibility. It goes hand-in-hand with the authority.

Tuesday, September 12

Back to the Well 

Back to the Well

Going back to an old customer can be awkward. Get over it. Former clients offer your best chances of all for making a sale. Here are a few tips to rejuvenate that old business relationship — the right way.

1. Never let relationships lapse Even if they haven't bought anything in a year, maintain occasional contact through letters and personal calls. When their economic situation turns for the better, you'll appear as the one who stood by them.

2. Keep databases current Your customer relationship management software is only as good as the salespeople using it. Make sure contact information and account status is always up-to-date, so it'll actually be helpful when you need it the most.

3. It's all in the timing If you're able to lure a customer back immediately from your competitor, great. If not, figure out when to strike again — perhaps when the next contract is coming up for renewal, even if that's a year or two down the line.

4. In with the new In the time that's passed, odds are your company has introduced new products and services to its repertoire. But does your old client know that? Figure out what the customer's needs are now, and shape the pitch accordingly.

5. Be careful with price breaks If you offer discounts only to those who've left, you're setting a tricky precedent. Consider offering additional, personalized services to clients instead, to lure them back into the fold without sacrificing your own profits.

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