6 new year’s resolutions for managers

If you’re a manager, I wonder if you’ve made any new year’s resolutions related to management. Unless you’re a perfect manager — and I’m pretty sure that none of us are — there are a ton of different areas you can resolve to work on. Here are six to think about.

1. Set clear goals. It might sound obvious, but too often managers simply tread water or get pulled in too many directions instead of figuring out what’s most important for their team to achieve and focusing there.

Try this exercise: Pretend it’s a year from now. Looking back on the previous 12 months, what would your team need to have accomplished for it to have been a successful year? Now ask your team members the same thing. Do your answers match? If not, that’s a clear flag that you’re not on the same page about where people should be spending energy and what success will look like. It’s far better to find this out now, at the start of the year when you can fix it, then to discover it in June.

2. Think about what your team shouldn’t be spending time on. There are probably all kinds of ways that you and your staff could spend your time, many of them quite worthy. But some will have more of an impact than others, and those are the ones you need to focus on – which necessarily means saying no to the others. Ineffective managers frequently say yes to anything that sounds like a good idea. Effective managers are rigorous about asking, “Is this the best possible way we could be spending our time and resources?” Vow to be in the latter group this year.

3. Delegate more. If you’re like most managers, you’re probably not delegating enough and instead are holding on to projects that someone else could do because the work is comfortable or you don’t trust anyone else to do it right. But refusing to delegate means that you won’t free yourself up to take on bigger and more important pieces of work, which will hold you back. This can also hold your junior colleagues back too, by denying them the ability to grow into the work you currently do. So start off 2014 by vowing to delegate more to your team,

Of course, that’s easier said than done, so how do you choose what to delegate, especially if you don’t trust anyone else to do the work as well as you would? Well, if you ever took Econ 101, you might remember the principle of comparative advantage, which says that you should be spending your time in the areas where you’re much better than your staff – not just a bit better – because the pay-off will be greater. In other words, you might be a bit better than your assistant at doing initial client screens, but given your experience and role, you’re probably far more effective than she would be at managing accounts, and as long as she can do those initial client screens well enough, your time should be spent on the pieces that only you can do.

4. Give more feedback. One of the most powerful tools you have as a manager is providing direct feedback, both positive and corrective. You should provide feedback on a constant, ongoing basis, in order to reinforce behavior you want to see more of, prevent bad habits from becoming ingrained, and foster an atmosphere of open communication. Providing feedback regularly can also allow you to address potential problems while they’re still small, rather than telling a staffer that something she has been doing for months is wrong.

But too often, managers don’t give regular feedback. In 2014, vow to give feedback at least weekly to each person who reports to you. Making feedback a regular part of your conversations with staff members (such as making it an item on every weekly check-in agenda) will help “normalize” it so that staff members won’t see it as a scary conversation that only occurs occasionally.

Remember, too, that giving feedback shouldn’t be a monologue; it should be a two-way conversation where you share your thoughts and solicit the staff member’s input. Make sure that you pause to hear your staffer’s thoughts and ask for her assessment. You might ask questions like:

  • “What do you think?”
  • “What’s your take on that?”
  • “What do you think happened there?”
  • “How could you approach it differently?”

5. Actively manage the makeup of your team. Managers often assume that the team they inherited – or even the team they built themselves – is the team they’re supposed to keep. But the makeup of your team has an enormous impact on your ability to get results, so it’s crucial that you’re proactive about shaping it. That means that you should put significant energy into getting, keeping, and developing high performers – as well as letting go of people who don’t reach a high bar. That isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s a critical lever in what you will be able to achieve.

Speaking of which…

6. Make sure that you retain your best people. As a manager, retaining your best people is a critically important part of your job. Since having the right people on board is key to great results, you need to make sure that your best employees stay. That means that you need to be strategic about retention, in the same way you’d be strategic about anything else you don’t want to leave to chance, like product development or financing. Treat your retention efforts like as much of a priority as anything else you care about, and include retention on your to-do lists or in your quarterly plans. Even just writing “do everything I can to keep Katie” on your plan for the quarter can help keep the goal on your radar screen.

From there, you can develop an individualized strategy for each person you’re working to retain. That strategy will vary from person to person, since different people are motivated by different things, but will usually include making sure that the person feels valued, is compensated competitively, has opportunities to grow, and feels a sense of progress in their work. You should also talk directly with the people who you most want to retain, telling them explicitly that you want to ensure they’re happy, and even asking directly, “How can I make sure that you stay for the next two years?”

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase. 

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. VictoriaHR*

    My friend is struggling with management at his job. He is in IT and a member (peer) on his team is running roughshod over everyone else, bullying and bossing around the newer members of the team. My friend isn’t the type to get involved, although he does pull the bullied people aside later and tell them to not let that happen again. He says his manager sits on the other side of the wall with headphones on all day, and has been told about the crappy coworker, but does nothing. Very frustrating.

        1. Ruffingit*

          That is what I read as well, but it could be interpreted in a couple of ways. Could be that she meant he pulls aside the bully and made a typo. Could also be he pulls aside those being bullied and gives them a talk about not letting this guy run over them. That makes some sense too.

          1. VictoriaHR*

            “Could also be he pulls aside those being bullied and gives them a talk about not letting this guy run over them.”

            Yep. That. He’s friends with the bullied coworkers so he probably just mentions it at lunch or whatnot. He’s a pretty passive guy and an introvert, so I imagine he’s not comfortable saying, “Hey, stop that, it’s not your job to tell them what to do!” Which is what I would do.

      1. Anonymous*

        Well he’s not getting involved so he’s doing something that is completely ineffective in order to not get involved?

  2. Lisa*

    My new director says yes to everything, making my job very reactive. I hate it and I thinking of leaving because of it. I’ve told her that I don’t work well like that, but the owner picked her and her style so no reason to try and complain anymore. I’ll just leave, and go somewhere that wants well-thought out work and not stuff slapped together barely scratching the surface. She’ll be surprised, but I’ve told her I don’t like this style that the department is moving toward.

    1. Ruffingit*

      That is irritating. There’s a reason people don’t typically pick more than two majors in college or work in more than one or two fields. In order to really do great work, you need to focus your attention. Saying yes to everything means you get 10 projects done at, say, 70% whereas if you said yes to what really matters, you would get 3 things done at 100%. It’s hard to be in a workplace where people don’t focus on what really matters and, at the end of the day, your work product is basically shoddy because of it. I can understand the frustration you feel.

  3. Former Usher*

    Number 4 (feedback) really struck a chord with me. Weekly feedback would be awesome, but at this point I’d settle for monthly or even quarterly feedback.

  4. Joey*

    Take time to celebrate the positive.

    So often we as managers are hyper focused on what went wrong and moving on to the next task. The problem with that behavior is that you (and your team) become known for always stumbling.

    But if the focus becomes the wins, both large and small guess what you become known for? Getting stuff done well.

    So how do you celebrate wins? Want to know who does it right? Look at sports teams. Every first down is celebrated, every touchdown is celebrated, every good pass and dunk is celebrated. Every single game that results in a win is celebrated.

    In the business world this means sharing positive news with your stakeholders, sharing the nice email, make a big deal out of finishing an important project, recognizing specific tasks that specific employees do that you want others to emulate.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Totally agreed. Celebrating all wins is awesome. As a society in general, we focus a lot on the negative. Let some joy in.

    2. Anonymous*

      This is a great one. We look a lot at well it’s just our job to do X so when we do X we never pause to go, hey look at how awesome X is! Which means all we ever see are problems. And if we were robots that would be totally ok. But unfortunately we aren’t yet so we still need some accolades and encouragement when we succeed.

    3. Cath@VWXYNot?*

      My team’s weekly meeting has a standing “celebrations of success” item on the agenda – for successful grant applications and manuscript submissions, that kind of thing. Every announcement gets a little round of applause. I’ve loved it since the first time I witnessed it – and I have a success to announce at tomorrow’s meeting, yay!

      1. TeaBQ*

        That is an awesome idea. I’m going to ponder how to incorporate it when working with my direct reports.

  5. Ruffingit*

    This is a hard one to describe, but it’s something a manager I had used to do and it was really annoying. She was “fake nice” for lack of a better term. I went to another country for a vacation and when I got back, she said “Oh, we’ll have to go to lunch and you can tell me all about the trip!” And I just said “Sure, that would be great” but I knew we would never do that because she said that kind of thing all the time, but then never followed through with making lunch plans or whatever. It’s like she was trying too hard to be nice. And since she was kind of a biatch in other ways, the fake nice thing was even more irritating.

    Again, hard to describe this, but hopefully someone knows what I mean.

    1. VictoriaHR*

      Kind of like when you go to Christmas with extended family and everyone says, “oh we need to get together more often!” and you agree but you all know that it’ll never happen.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Yes, exactly. And that wouldn’t have been such a big thing with this manager if she wasn’t also just generally fake in other ways. She would compliment people, but then treat people like crap and the way she complimented them, it always sounded so fake. It’s super hard to describe this, but you just know when someone is being sincere and when they’re not and when you couple it with other general behavior that is rather crappy, it all just comes off as totally insincere. And I wouldn’t have cared about the lunch invite thing, except that she did that all the time. She said it to me at least five times (oh let’s go to lunch and talk about your latest vacation/etc) and then she never followed through so after awhile, it was like “Seriously, stop saying that, you don’t intend to do it so no need to act like you care.”

        1. Sascha*

          I understand completely, my current manager is like this. He always puts on this very polite front, but then he gets easily irritated with others and really lets it show through. He also makes backhanded compliments and will send nasty emails. And oddly enough, he’s also an over-praiser. He rarely gives negative feedback, and when he does, it’s very ambiguous and sugar-coated, unless you’ve pissed him off, in which case he’ll lash out. I would so much rather have sporadic praise and solid, critical feedback than pats on the head every day and the fear of seeing his unpredictable bad side.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          That’s it right there she is insincere. Okay, she’s two-faced.

          My father gave me a tidbit that I hold on to. I had an upper boss that I actually liked. She was soooo stretched with her work load, that was easy to see.
          Sometimes she would say “SO Good to see YOU” or something similar to a visitor. It sounded fake, insincere.
          I said to my father “I don’t know what to make of this, a likable person sounding so fake.” My father pointed out that she had enough of her wits about her to know she had to say something nice/engaging/whatever. So every time I heard that questionable sincerity I thought “she has a ton on her mind but on some level she realizes that she should remember to say something warm/kind in this particular situation.”
          Then I went on to find people that were sounding insincere but they were not likeable, rather they were backstabbers and users. They would throw out a few kind phrases once in a while like dog biscuits just to keep people hoping for a good personality to eventually bubble to the surface. The problem that comes in when this personality becomes a boss is that they cannot sustain relationships over time. They have to keep finding new suckers… I mean, new people. This is because people catch on and then move on. This does not work out well- in personal relationships nor professional relationships for anyone who does this. The ability to keep long term relationships is an important skill to have.

    2. some1*

      I had two bosses like this! Both were female and first-time supervisors. It’s like, of course I’m going to be friendly but don’t pretend you want to be my friend.

    3. Clever Name*

      I know what you mean. As someone who takes everything literally and has difficulty reading between the lines, I really struggle to interact with people like this. I start to question everything they say, or worse, have no idea they don’t actually want to go to lunch (or whatever).

      1. Ruffingit*

        I can imagine it would be horribly difficult to interact with someone like this if you took everything literally. For me, I had worked with this person for many years off and on so I knew what she was like and I never took her lunch “invites” with any seriousness. It just got old after awhile when she would say things like that with no intent to follow through. I just wanted her to stop saying it.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        A rule of thumb I hang on to is the way people talk about others to me, is probably the way they talk about me to others.

        Of course, this does not work with every single person. So I use look for patterns. There are some people that I cringe because I know the conversation will be a bunch of negative remarks about other people. Ugh. Give it a rest.

  6. Sooz*

    This might be snark but I hope my manager’s reaolution is to not be my manager anymore and get re-assigned to a non-management position like she did before!

    1. Ruffingit*

      Doesn’t sound snarky to me, sounds like you’ve got a manager who stinks. A lot of us can relate.

  7. inkstainedpages*

    Not New Year’s resolutions, but my list of goals for my next review period includes delegating more. I am a control-freak and know I need to work on delegating!

    After reading this, I will add a New Year’s resolution of providing more feedback. I am a new, very young manager with a quiet personality, so this will be quite the goal, but I know I need to improve on this. Even just adding weekly 1:1 meetings with staff members will help (we don’t currently do this).

    As always, thanks for all you do, Alison!

    1. Sascha*

      I’d like to add, make sure it’s solid, concrete feedback. As I commented above, my manager gives a lot of positive feedback, but he gives too much, and it doesn’t really have substance (“Doing great!” is not substantial, whereas “The way you handled that client was really good because of X” is). He does it so often it doesn’t really have meaning anymore. But when my director, who rarely compliments, give me a good, solid piece of positive feedback, it just makes my whole week. Same goes for negative feedback. And kudos to you for wanting to do this. :)

    2. Graciosa*

      Make sure you notice the good things first – as managers, we have so much else to think about that it can be easy to overlook areas that are not problems. If you need a place to start, make it a part of your to do list every day that you identify a specific item of good, positive feedback for an employee. An honest storehouse of good feedback makes the conversations about problem areas much easier.

      Also think about ways to give feedback – sometimes it’s verbal, but even a one line email can work as well. Some people like it when you mention their accomplishments in a staff meeting or in front of an audience, while others are embarrassed, so think about the mechanism.

      I know a non-manager who made up his own awards (just printed on the computer at work) and gave them out to people who helped him. This was amazingly effective, and they were quite sought after. It’s a good reminder that people really do want to hear that they’re doing well.

  8. Vicki*

    Here’s one:

    If something happened once, it doesn’t go on the annual performance review. Resolve the issue at the time and move on.

    Obviously, if something happens over and over and doesn’t get resolved, that should go into the review, but don’t save niggling nothings just so they can be dragged back out at annual review time to give you a “needs improvement” section.

Comments are closed.