8 ways to be a better manager

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I meet so many apologetic managers. Managers who really wish they weren’t managers; who see entering management as a step towards the ‘dark side’. The truth is that as a manager, you can have a profound effect on how your staff experience their work, and how your clients experience them and your organisation. Embrace this responsibility with creativity, imagination, courage and a systematic approach and you can deliver positive results all around.

If you see management as a necessary evil, that’s just what it will become. To get the most from this material, I suggest that you use it to identify one or possibly two things that you can most easily do differently, or work on, to make a difference to your practice.

Choose one or two things and work on them for a week or so, then review the exercise and see whether you can shift your efforts to a different dimension of your management practice. Don’t try and work on all eight things at once!

And of course, if you need any help to put this stuff into practice, please do get in touch.

  1. Communicate clear performance expectations

Get really clear about what you expect from the people you manage and then find ways to communicate those expectations clearly and consistently. This is likely to include the results that you expect them to achieve in their work, but it is also likely to include some criteria for how the work is to be done. For most of us it’s not just about results, but also how they’re achieved. I’d argue that most managers spend too much time obsessing about results and not enough time creating the process, systems and cultures that allow the results to be produced.

  1. Provide regular performance feedback

By ‘regular performance feedback’ I don’t mean an annual appraisal. I mean daily, preferably more than daily, feedback that’s based on what people are actually doing at work. If you see someone modelling values and behaviours that matter to your organisation, then give them good performance feedback.  If you see someone modelling values and behaviours that undermine what your organisation is trying to achieve, give them constructive feedback. Giving this sort of feedback need not be a big exercise involving lots of emotion – it should take just a few seconds of your time.

  1. Consider all relevant information when appraising performance

Annual appraisals are great, but annual appraisals supported by quarterly mini-appraisals are even better. Quarterly mini-appraisals supported by documented, weekly 121s are better yet! But how can you get the voice of the customer to inform the appraisal process? What about the voices of other colleagues? Develop a culture and systems that ensure that you’ve considered all the relevant information when you’re appraising performance.

  1. Watch staff working with clients

You can’t just manage people – or manage them well – by monitoring performance data.. You might be able to prevent them slipping beneath minimum acceptable standards, but you certainly wont be able to help them do their best work. Take the time to watch staff working with clients. Observe the details, the mannerisms, the language patterns. Understand how they do what they do, and help them to reflect and improve – mostly by giving them timely feedback on performance, but also by coaching them where appropriate.

  1. Help staff develop self-improvement plans

You should not only expect people to ‘do their job’ but to get better at doing their job too. Self-development is primarily their job, not yours. Of course you stand by ready roll up your sleeves and help, but primarily the expectation is that they will be the architects of their own success.

  1. Recognise and reward high performance

More often than not when I see where managers spend their time, effort and attention, it’s on the underwhelmers;  the staff that come in late, leave early and do as little as they can get away with while they’re at work. Now, of course underperformance has to be managed,  and managed effectively, robustly and quickly.  However you should be rewarding and attending to those that are performing well – thanking them, praising them, developing and encouraging them in whatever way you can. Time spent recognising and rewarding high performance is likely to reward you with even more high performance. Leave it unrecognised and it is likely to whither over time….

  1. Provide help, training and guidance

This isn’t about the annual performance development plan. This is about building a culture of help, training and guidance. It’s about providing role models and ensuring that everyone is looking to learn from their experience. It’s about giving people the skill of self-managed learning and an expectation that they use it to improve performance.

  1. Build a (better) working relationship

This should really be number one on the list, because without a working relationship you can’t manage people. Take time to understand people and their motivations and aspirations. Be curious about them. Don’t judge them too quickly and work out your role in helping them to do the very best work they’re capable of. Build a two-way relationship where they respond to your management and leadership and you respond to their wants and needs too. Recognise where relationships aren’t working and commit to either making them work or ending them. Don’t let non-working relationships drag on.

Good luck!  We’re always keen to hear your thoughts and views, so please use the comments section to get in touch and let us know your own top tips.

You might also like to read more and download our guides here for further support.

11 thoughts on “8 ways to be a better manager

  1. I’ve found this really insightful, I’m not in a management position (yet) but from the other side, recognising good management point helps with my leadership behaviours both as a member of the team – taking responsibility for some of the day to day activities and motivating others I work with, but also as a means of recognising the subtle techniques displayed by management to engage with the team. Recognising the foundations of the techniques allows everyone to engage productively and for a common cause.

  2. This is great 🙂

    Management is not an evil of any sort, and we need to stop pandering to this theoretic.

    Like all organisations in every sector globally, whether public, private or charitable… Business Leadership and Management are Absolutely Vital. Without these Skills, Knowledge and Behaviours all businesses would fail.

    Lets show our Clinical and Non-Clinical, Leaders, Managers and Administrators some well earned respect and inclusion as professional, valuable, scarce and vital resources within the NHS.

    I would really have liked to have seen something about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, given the documented disparate hiring, treatment, promotion and development of BME’s within the NHS (e.g. Snowy White Peaks).

    Thank you Mike Chitty, for a great article.

    1. Great point about equality,diversity and inclusion! I suspect that the best I can claim is that implicit int he ability to do all of this well and consistently is an awareness of bias and some approaches for managing it well.

      Management is not inherently evil. Nor is it inherently good. It is a means to an end. Sadly I think sometimes the ends that are being worked towards are not those that are publicly stated. Misdirection too is a managerial art….

      1. By the time “the ends that are being worked towards are not those that are publicly stated,” management have already evolved into a mistrusted clique. Morale sinks, output reduces and staff turnover raises. I think your statement that I have quoted is possibly the definitive test of managerial failure.

        1. I agree David. Closing the gap between rhetoric and reality, acting on what we say matters is critical to authenticity and integrity in management and leadership.

  3. Managers who appear reluctant to be in the role are not being at service to their staff. Being in their team is like being in a boat with no direction, a faulty rudder and a broken paddle. Strong managers take up authority in their role. They own it. They are not “authoritarian” but they are clearly doing the job of management.

    If people can reframe managerial roles as being “at service” to their teams, the ideological concerns disappear.

    1. Good to have you here Jim! Yep, I agree, yet the transition of identity from nurse or clinician to leader, is a hard one.

  4. These are good points but hard to follow when there is someone who never gives and tries to take everything. Thinks you are treating them differently & favourtising others, they constantly try to undermine your managerial authority and think they can behave in whatever way they like.

  5. Mike you do a very good job in Leadership Academy. You and others train, teach and write very well about management and leadership and NHS spends lot of money on this training which is important (not convinced it is good idea to spend so much money in making one person a leader) But sadly nothing is going to change as many of them are not able to make any changes when they go back to their Trusts or CCGs.

    NHS culture, Board level leadership, staff and patient engagement is poor and sadly many organisations we rarely see good BME leaders or managers at the top.

    NHS confederation, NHS England, CQC, NHS Improvement, GMC (except one), NHS Employers; None of them have senior leader from BME background! 45% of doctors and 20% of staff in NHS are BME! Snowy White peaks is rarely something we should be proud off.

    In value based organisation everyone feels integral part of the organisation and everyone is included. Until we have this anomaly changed and we appoint all values based leaders where inclusion and diversity at senior leadership and management is visible and there is good governance to everyone including senior leaders and managers we will not change anything much in NHS.

    Good to see Simon Stevens and few other leaders are working on this and WRES is going to be mandatory. NHS should avoid tockenism by appointing some ineffective BMEs to leadership position to tick the box.

    NHS is a great Institution and it needs fantastic leaders who always put patients at the heart, care for all staff and senior leadership and management reflects the staff ethnicity and gender. Then only we can all be proud and NHS can be safest the best and the most vibrant organisation.

    Good to see Leadership academy leading on this but please do not provide BME staff training separate from White as to tackle discrimination we all got to understand and respect each others culture and differences and work together. Our country needs all of us and let us make this country great by working together.