Not many people know definitively what a good manager is anymore and it seems that less people care than ever. Listening to the rhetoric inherent in the constant feed of downsizing stories in the business media is the need to “trim the fat” from the upper levels of on organisation.
Managers are becoming the obvious casualties in staffing cutbacks where boardrooms are increasingly advising organisations to remove layers from their staffing charts.
What these shake ups can fail to notice is the often overlooked role of managers as a catalyst in the organisational equivalent of a results producing chemical reaction.
In his book entitled First, break all the rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently, Marcus Buckingham has said that the managers role, as with all catalysts, is to speed up the reaction between two substances thus creating the desired end product.
To perform this catalyst function, managers must be able to do four things extremely well.
1. Select a person
This sounds straight forward but to do it well demands clear headedness. Most important, you must know how much of a person you can change. You must know the difference between talent, skills and knowledge. You must know which of these can be taught and which can be hired in. You must know how to ask the kinds of questions that can eat through a candidates desire to impress and reveal his true talents.
2. Set performance expectations.
This activity encompasses more than simple goal setting. You must be able to keep the person focused on performance today, no matter how tempting it is to stare at the change massing over the horizon. You must know on which parts of a job you will enforce conformity and which parts you will allow an employee to exercise their own style. You must be able to balance today’s need for standardisation and efficiency with a similar need for flair and originality
3. Motivate employees.
As a manager you have only one thing to invest: your time. Who you spend it with and how you spend it determines your success as a manager. Should you spend time with your best people or should you focus on the weakest links, the strugglers? Should you focus on an employee’s strengths or attempt to fix their weaknesses? Can you ever give someone too much praise? If so, when? If not, why not? To excel as a manger you must be able to answer all of these questions correctly to help your employees excel.
4. Develop the person
When an employee comes up to you and asks the inevitable question “Where do I go from here?” or “How do I grow?” you need to be able to know the answers. Should you help each person get promoted? If you enrol them in some classes and pay their fees, is that the right thing to do? How do you determine if you are getting too close to your employees and how do maintain objectivity when you do? Alternatively, do you actually owe any of your employees anything? How you answer these questions will determine how you set up each employee for success.
These are the four core activities of the catalyst role and if a manager cannot adequately perform these activities, then the organisation will fail to produce the results it needs to survive.