Good Management Is An Art

Good management is an art rather than a science.

I started thinking about management skills today after I took a test for the website, Indeed.com. (Yes, I’m job hunting. Seriously hunting for a telecommuting, marketing job, director level or above. If you’re looking for someone or you know of a job…message me.)

But back to management as an art form.

Indeed, like many websites, offers skill tests. I’ve taken a few. Some are crazy hard, some aren’t what you think they are, and some, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, was just right.

The marketing tets – just right. The SEO test – just right.  But the management skills test? Difficult to say.

The test included multiple choice questions as well as audio clips that you listen to and then choose the correct response. The audio clips were strange. They were supposed to be a manager talking to her team. You’re then asking to evaluate her management skills.

My issue with the test is that I believe management is a nuanced skill. No two situations require the same approach. I once had an employee who was chronically late for work and showed up clearly hung over. His tardiness differed from another employee who also showed up late and seemed hung over. Her issue, I later learned, wasn’t overindulgence in the party lifestyle but rushing to drop off a cranky child at daycare every day.

Should I have immediately judged both employees similarly? You can’t apply the same response to each person. I knew, for example, that Employee B was a single mom. I suspected Employee A had been hitting the bars and dance clubs too often and too hard. But the only facts I had to deal with were 1) they were both showing up for work after 10 a.m. when business hours required them to be at their desk at 9 a.m.

My preferred approach is always to sit privately with someone and ask what’s going on. If I’ve built up enough trust with someone, they will tell me what’s going on. In all cases, I try to find a happy medium.

For Employee B, we agreed she could work through her lunch hour to make up the hour she missed. Her job required her to be on location, at the office, but whenever we could allow her to telecommute, we did. It seems clear to me that single parents, male or female, may need a little more flexibility to handle unexpected childcare needs.

For Employee A, after our discussion, he admitted he was having trouble with drugs and alcohol. That was a punch in the gut for me as I cared for him very much as a person and a friend. I’d worked with him for a long time and it was hard to hear him tell me some things. In the end, though, I worked it out with human resources to find him the assistance he needed to get treatment for his addiction problems. It was tough.

Management is really an art and a learned skill than a science. I’ve attended management courses throughout the years and all have been helpful, but the most helpful management training I received was direct mentoring from one of the best managers I have ever worked for in my career. He took me under his wing and coached me to be the manager I am today.

I would never say that I’m a perfect manager, by any means. But I successfully manage teams I’ve never met through remote, telecommuting work, because I ask the right questions, build rapport, and hold people accountable.

These are things that can be difficult to measure in a multiple choice test. But when all is said and done, no two people manage the same way. It’s really all about fit with a company’s style, culture, and the manager’s approach.

 

Making Virtual Teams Work

How do you make a virtual workforce a thriving part of your company?

work from home
Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

Many companies need extra help during peak season. Some require specialized skills or a temporary opening filled. In these cases, a remote worker, also known as a virtual worker, telecommuter, or telecommuting freelancer, may be the answer.

So why don’t more companies avail themselves of the miracles of technology and find the absolute best person for the job, allowing them to work remotely?

For the past ten years, I’ve managed virtual teams. I began managing editors and writers for a major website. In that role, I didn’t choose who I worked with–I inherited teams from the previous editors. The company had strict working requirements, provided specialized software, and offered clear guidelines and quotas for monthly content.

In this example, a virtual workforce worked very well for the company. Not only did they achieve their revenue goals, but they were able to expand into multiple content niches because they drew from an enormous pool of writers scattered geographically far from their headquarters. They didn’t care if you lived within 10 miles or 1,000 miles from headquarters.

How did they achieve what other companies fail to do?

Clarity. Communications. Accountability. These are the hallmarks of happy, healthy virtual teams. Layer in some flexibility and its sister, creativity, and add to it the notion of reliability from both the company and its workforce and you’ve got a winning recipe for a happy, healthy virtual workforce.

In my latest article for Medium, I distill ten years of virtual management wisdom into an eight-minute read. For those looking to expand operations or improve the talent pool, consider a virtual workforce. Not only can it work well, but it can also work exceptionally well for your productivity, profitability, and service.

Ready? Let’s go virtual. Read the full article: How to Build a Healthy, Happy Virtual Workforce.

Stopping Workplace Gossip

Stopping workplace gossip may be impossible, but it should be among your priorities as a leader. Workplace gossip wastes time, ruins reputations, and generally does more harm than good.

I’ve written a new piece for Medium this week Gossip in the Workplace – Stop Before Someone Gets Hurt.

I know that it is human nature to gossip, to share, to communicate. But I also believe that gossip can be the root of many workplace evils. It certainly wastes time. It can ruin good people’s reputations and cause damage that takes a long time to get over.

As a Virtual VP, a manager who heals and energizes teams for companies worldwide, I know that gossip flourishes in a culture of fear. Excessive workplace gossip is often a sign of poor communications. Employees, starved for accurate, honest information, speculate and share their guesses (gossip) for validation and feedback with coworkers. The result? Gossip, a lot of incorrect guesses, and a corporate culture that thrives on rumor. When the rumor mill takes over and is the best source of information in a company, you’ve got an unhealthy company environment that should be fixed.

Continue reading “Stopping Workplace Gossip”

Nice Managers Finish First

picture of female manager holding glasses

It pays to be nice, at least according to a new study from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

In the study, researchers examined the leadership styles and results achieved by 1,000 members of the Taiwanese military and 200 people in corporate America.

The results?

Leaders who emphasized human relationships, empathy, and consideration for the well-being of others achieved better job performance than those who took an authoritarian, performance-only driven approach.

This is welcome news for those of us seeking to bring greater compassion and empathy into the workplace. We’ve all had those bosses from hell like the editor in the Devil Wears Prada, memorably played by Meryl Streep, who don’t seem to care if we get a bathroom break, a weekend off, or a second to eat lunch.

Those bosses – the ones who don’t give a darn about their workers but only care about the results – finish last. The ones who care whether their employees have what they need to do their jobs well finish first.

It’s like we’ve told you so all along….

Read my piece on Medium with more information on this intriguing study: Leaders Who Demonstrate Compassion and Empathy Get Better Workplace Results. 

 

 

Project Management Tips: What to Do When Deadlines Slip

 

deadlines collage

 

 

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” – Douglas Adams

 

Love them or hate them, deadlines are a part of life. As a freelance content marketing writer, consultant and marketing teacher, deadlines are as much a part of my life as a cup of strong coffee in the morning; in other words, I need them to survive.

 

When you’re working with a group of people on a project, however, deadlines can be tricky to navigate. The larger the group, the more difficult it is to get everyone on the team to adhere to a schedule and meet deadlines. Even when the willingness is there, conflicting priorities, unexpected delays, and life events like someone coming down with the flu can derail the best project schedule and make deadlines impossible to meet. What then?

 

Here’s a short primer on what to do when you see a deadline slipping on a critical project. Of course, your reaction to the problem may change depending on how critical the project is, your role on the team, and whether or not someone else can fill the gap and help meet the deadline. Only you can decide which of these methods will work for your project and team.

 

5 Project Planning Tips to Help Teams Meet Deadlines

  1. Make sure all parties understand the reasoning behind the deadlines: Many years ago, I was brought into a marketing agency as a consultant to help the agency understand why their direct mail pieces were being delivered after the offer expired on them. The client was justifiably angry that their mailings were a waste of money, since by the time customers received the offer, the coupons inside had expired. When I spoke with the creative and production departments, the issue wasn’t that they didn’t understand deadlines, it was that the mailing client itself didn’t understand the time requirements for direct mail. The coupon vendor was submitting projects without adequate time for the production team to meet the deadline; even by working around the clock to design and mail the coupon-filled envelopes, the way the United States mail works they couldn’t possibly get the coupons into the customers’ hands on time. By working with both the client and the account managers to help them understand the need for more flexible deadlines, the problem was solved. Make sure that your team members not only understand what the deadlines are but why they’re critical, especially when factors such as mailing times are completely out of your control.
  2. Allow adequate time for each project component to be completed: Another problem with meeting deadlines is under-estimating how long each task on a project plan will take. If you’re not sure, find out from previous project documentation or other team members how long this or a similar task took in the past. Then use that figure as your baseline.
  3. Build cushion time into a schedule: Always build more time than you think you need into a project schedule. A little cushion goes a long way to helping teams meet deadlines.
  4. Check on the progress of project milestones as well as the overall progress: One way to ensure that deadlines don’t slip is to check project milestone completion. Milestones, or small sub-goals leading to a larger goal, are a good way to ensure that projects stay on track. It is also helpful to spot issues in a project or individuals who may be over burdened and unable to complete their tasks in the future.
  5. Don’t over commit. The biggest flaw in any project plan is over committing people’s time. It’s a common flaw, especially among top performers. When someone is good at what they do, managers tend to fight for their time, which ends up overburdening them and over committing them to too many projects. Then deadlines begin to slip and projects fall behind. Spread the work out and be sure to check with other managers before scheduling someone’s time to ensure they have adequate time to work on your needs, too.

 

What to Do When Teams Miss Deadlines

 

When a deadline starts to slip and you noticed project milestones lagging behind, ask:

  • Will more people working on it help?
  • Can the project component be cut without sacrificing the quality of the project?
  • Can you make up time in the schedule in other areas?
  • Can the task be outsourced to someone else?
  • Can the task be broken into smaller portions and handed off to several people?
  • Does the person adequately understand the task itself?

 

Many years ago, my marketing department was working on a major marketing plan for a new product launch. Our advertising coordinator kept missing his deadlines on the project. It turned out that he was both over committed and unsure of his next steps on his deliverable.  I worked with him to re-negotiate his work load and priorities, as well as to break down his task into smaller, more manageable milestones. Another team member, eager for a project to help her add to her resume for a potential promotion, asked to tackle a portion of the advertising work, so she was able to help, too. We were able to guide the project back on track and meet the deadlines with a little team work, quick thinking, and trust.

 

Such a scenario only works with the last item – trust. Your team members must trust you enough to ask for help or guidance when it is needed. They won’t come to you to tell you that they’re missing a deadline if they feel you’ll get angry with them or that help isn’t forthcoming. As a manager, earning your team’s trust comes from consistent management practices and a calm demeanor. When a project plan starts slipping, your team members will then feel confident enough to come to you to ask for help rather than hiding the fact that they might miss a deadline.

 

What is your best project management tip? Share it on Wednesdays when we talk about project management and management tasks here at Words That Work!