Workers are happiest—and most motivated—when they feel that they accomplish something meaningful at work. These accomplishments do not need to be major breakthroughs, but making sure your team is set up to succeed is the mark of a good manager in just about any field.
Here are a few fundamental ways to stack the deck in favor of your team’s success:
Set clear project goals. Once you have your team in place, it’s vitally important to communicate your project goals and any constraints that could potentially interfere with their realization. This will guarantee that each member of your team knows exactly what needs to be done and when. It’s an intuitive first step, but one that many managers subvert or even skip entirely.
Establish accurate metrics. Next, you must meet with your team to discuss and agree on reasonable metrics for the project. These metrics should represent criteria that are both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Again, sharing ownership of these criteria with your team will keep them focused and help to better illustrate what is most important about the project. This exercise is a great opportunity to discover which goals and metrics are most significant to the team, and can shed new light on overarching priorities for not only the project, but also your business in general.
Supply needed resources. Providing important resources like money, staff support and equipment will allow your team to operate efficiently and creatively. Ignoring resources or understaffing the project will create barriers to success for your team and serve as a possible point of failure on a specific goal or even the entire project.
And don’t forget your team’s most valuable resource—you. As a manager, you are an extremely important resource; it’s your job to fill in the blanks when needed and to share the breadth of your wisdom and experience. If your staff hits a roadblock with other units or outside groups, you should use your clout to clear the way.
Monitor without suffocating. Micromanaging is a problem that plagues more managers than you’d imagine. The worst part is that many don’t even realize they suffer from this affliction. We all want the work of our teams to reflect our own professional standards, but simply avoiding the classic manager “hover” over a team member’s shoulder is often not enough to avoid the pitfalls of micromanagement. If you’d answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you might be guilty of micromanaging:
- If there is a problem, do you take complete control and issue detailed orders?
- Do you tend to decline unorthodox or untested procedures to complete a project?
- Do your subordinates tend to follow every detail of your suggestions?
- When reviewing a project, do you search for every mistake?
If you just realized you’re guilty of some or all of these, don’t lose hope. It’s easy to address these habits, and you’ll be happier and more successful for doing so. The first step in avoiding micromanaging is at the start of a project. Give clear direction, but then let your team members complete the project on their own. That doesn’t mean giving up all responsibilities on a project, but instead withdrawing on a daily basis while remaining in the loop regarding project status. When you take this measured step back, your team will still see you as reliable support on the project, but will hone their independent problem-solving abilities by developing innovative solutions for the challenges they face.
Tolerate mistakes: There will be times when an employee miscalculates a task or solution, resulting in an error. You might think of this as a signal to pull in the reins. However, before doing that, evaluate the nature of the misstep. If the mistake was born of an honest risk that could have led to high reward, then it should not be punished. If, on the other hand, the failure happened because of a recurring problem or unethical act, then action may be required.
Honest mistakes should be seen as a learning moment—putting in place procedures to avoid those same mistakes from happening again. Smart risk-taking is a valuable quality in any employee, and part of taking risks is dealing with the fallout when they misfire. By accepting failure and treating it as an opportunity for professional growth, you are encouraging continued creativity. Fear of failure is crippling for many, and if you berate a team member for taking a smart risk, I can guarantee they’ll think twice before trying their next creative idea.
Focus on yourself. When managing a project, it’s tempting to focus mainly on the behaviors of your team members. However, evaluating your own strategies as a leader is just as important, if not more so. Just like your productivity is only as good as your team’s, theirs is only as good as yours.
Robert Pozen, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, recently published the bestseller “Extreme Productivity” and is readying to launch an MIT course based on the topic. Visit http://bobpozen.com for more information.
A longer version of this article appears in the May edition of Exchange.