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A wakeup call from my own staff: I need to be a better manager

Manager effectiveness surveys critical, but what do you do with the results?
Manager Effectiveness Survey
The report cards in life never stop coming - sometimes the grades can be surprising, and serve as a valuable lesson for managers on areas that need improving. iQoncept/Shutterstock.com

By Todd Humber

Here’s a fun fact for all the kids out there — you never stop getting report cards.

Sure, you don’t have to take them home to get signed by your parents. But once you’re outside the hallowed halls, the judgment on your work never truly ends. It just goes by different names — performance reviews, 360-feedback, manager effectiveness surveys.

Instead of an A+ (or maybe the odd C), you get scores. Instead of glowing comments from teachers, you get constructive feedback from peers and bosses. Instead of a gold star, you get a raise or perhaps a bonus. (OK, that part is better.)

I’m fresh off completing my performance review self-assessment, and still digesting the results of my Manager Effectiveness Survey. I always find this process fascinating. But here’s the rub for me in 2017 — my effectiveness as a manager declined from past years.

It went down noticeably in a few areas — which I don’t mind sharing:

• “Removes obstacles that prevent the team from getting things done.”

• “Creates an environment that supports experimentation and curiosity.”

• “Delivers timely, candid and actionable feedback.”

• “Recognizes people for their contributions and performance excellence.”

• “Demonstrates a genuine interest in employees’ career development.”

This is the Mercer Sirota assessment, so the wording in yours may be slightly different. But these ratings really struck a chord with me, and it raised a question: What do I do about this?

My role has changed quite a bit in the past year. I spend less time on editorial issues and more time on short- and long-term strategy. In real terms, that means I’m spending less time with my employees and far more time with our customers. And while I wouldn’t say I neglected my team, there are certainly more days than I can count where I never interacted with them.

The areas where I regressed are significant — core engagement items where I was letting my team down. Sure, I can point to numerous accomplishments for the business and a healthy bottom line. But that’s not the only part of my job that matters, and it’s why I’m thrilled we do these types of surveys. It’s a reality check.

So what did I do? I called my team in to my office, one by one, for an informal, open and honest conversation. I told them my scores had slipped, I showed them the bar charts and highlighted the problem areas. I made it clear I had no interest in determining who gave me what score — that would be a disaster and completely misses the point of these anonymous surveys.

I asked each of them a very simple question: “What can I do to make you more successful?”

The answers were not only genuine and honest, but also extremely helpful. A few things I learned, that I agree with and take to heart:

Sometimes, I am the obstacle. I get a lot of email. Hundreds upon hundreds flood my inbox every day. Sometimes in that sea of information, I miss an item or two (or 10). Sometimes those items are internal emails that need review or signoff.

If I’m not around, or if I miss the emails entirely, it causes delays. And then it causes people to go hunting for me, or someone on my team, to get an approval. I need a better system to track and address emails, whether it’s blocking off time in my calendar every day to read email or coming up with a new classification system.

I need to ask more questions. There are quite a few introverts on my team (being led by my own introverted self). They’re not likely to storm into my office and tell me about a great new product idea or a new, more effective way to get the job done. I need to formally nurture that process, which means perhaps setting up a brainstorming session — giving lots of notice and ensuring each of them is called upon to speak.

I need to call out good work. The team at Canadian HR Reporter does phenomenal work. We have talented editors, writers, videographers, art directors, sales and marketing professionals. I’ve been here for nearly two decades, so it can be easy to take this for granted. When I read a particularly good story, or the team pulls off an exceptional event like the National HR Awards, I need to loudly brag about that internally.

When I finished my work as the emcee of Canada’s Safest Employers, our CEO took time to come over, shake my hand and tell me I did a fantastic job. It meant a lot. As leaders, we all need to remember to do that when warranted.

I need to challenge my staff. It can be difficult, in a day and age where there is often not a lot of job movement, to discuss career development. If there is nowhere to go, then maybe it’s better to not even open that can of worms. But that’s a mistake — even if there is no obvious promotion opportunity in the next 12 months, you can still challenge staff to grow and learn new skills. This will keep them engaged, challenged and ready to step into any new opportunity.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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