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Book:  The Effective Manager

Author:  Mark Horstman

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Horstman, M. (2016). The effective manager. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. The single most important (and efficient) thing you can do as a manager to improve your performance and increase retention is to spend time getting to know your direct reports. The most efficient way to get to know your team is to spend time regularly communicating with them. (pg. 8)

  2. You may be thinking "I'm too busy" for 1:1 meetings. This is a rational response to another meeting in your already busy day, but part of the reason your schedule is so full is because you're not spending enough time communicating with your directs. I know you're busy and squeezing five hours of meetings into your schedule this week is nearly impossible. Fair enough, but let's try an experiment. Look at your calendar three or four weeks from now. It's mostly empty, isn't it? Your calendar is always full because you're generally only looking at the current week. (pg. 41)

  3. When your direct gets defensive, you needn't do anything at all about it, because you have already fired a shot across their bow. They likely know they're in the wrong, and they know you're aware of what they did. If it continues, you'll likely be back. Enough said. If your direct becomes defensive, he is being defensive about what happened, or why it happened, or that it didn't happen. These are all arguments about the past. Don't be afraid to give in when a direct argues or gets defensive. Don't get drawn into a discussion about who said what, what she actually did, or who reported the behavior to you. Do not discuss with the direct what happened. None of these topics is about the future you want to focus on. Once you've given the feedback and the direct has pushed back, pause, smile, apologize, and walk away. You have made your point. (pg. 132)


Other Key Ideas:

Your first responsibility is to deliver whatever results your organization expects from you. For many managers, this creates a problem. You can't name your top five key results that you owe your organization this year. You most likely can't list the key things for which you're responsible. You may be able to say, my boss wants me to focus in these areas, but that's not enough. You can't quantify what is expected from you. About the only way to really feel good about your responsibilities are to have quantified goals, in numbers and percentages. The problem with not having clearly delineated responsibilities is that you can't make intelligent choices about where to focus. You begin to feel that everything is important. You begin to try to get everything done. Of course, you can't, and you probably know that already, because you're working long hours and never get everything done. (pg. 2)

Effectively managed modern organizations now measure retention in addition to results when they are evaluating a manager. It's intended to be a break against an unrelenting focus on results. They want to ensure that a manager's team members don't leave the organization. For today's manager, it's not enough to get results. (pg. 4)

If you want to be an effective manager and if you want to maximize your job security, you've got to achieve these two metrics: Get results and keep your people. You've got to know how your organization measures them, and you've got to choose to spend your time on things that achieve them. (pg. 4)

What are the first names of all of the children of the people who report directly to you? If you failed the test, consider this: what makes you think you can get the last full measure of devotion to work out of someone when you don't know the names of the people who are the most precious to them in the world? (pg. 11)

Many managers say they talk to their people all the time. They're constantly in communication with their direct reports through email, text, and face-to-face conversations. In fact, they feel like they talk to their direct reports so much that they hardly have time for their own work. Most managers, however, have no idea how one-sided their conversations are with their team members. They have no idea how little influence those brief conversations actually have in building relationships. You don't realize the extent to which your chitchat with them is driven by you, by your agenda, and by what you want. (pg. 12)

Suppose there's a task that both you and one of your directs can do. You usually do it, but your direct – or at least one of them - could do the task. Maybe not as well as you, but close enough that the quality of the work would be acceptable. The direct should do the job and not the manager, because the direct is cheaper labor. If we can achieve an acceptable quality level with less cost, for all but the most important things we do, we should do so.  (pg. 22)

Some directs may say, “Well yes, technically I'm cheaper, but that's not the whole story. I have my own work to do! I don't have time for my manager to push work down to me. I'm already fully busy.” They're right, but that's not a defense against work being pushed down. Why? Because the question really isn't whether people are busy or not. All workers are busy, aren't they? By using the defense of busyness, no work would ever be transferred to anyone else. The question becomes, in a world in which everyone is busy with too much to do, what work is most valuable to the organization? That's the work that needs to be done. (pg. 23)

By having your 1:1 meetings scheduled you are saying to your directs, "You're always going to have time with me. I'm always going to be investing in the relationship." Plus, if it's not on your calendar, it's unlikely to happen. (pg. 38)

Directs are uncomfortable about bringing up something formal or something that requires planning while you are hanging around their desk. Some topics require thinking through the issues and asking questions and a certain way. Most directs don't think, “Oh, my boss is going to stop by my desk today; I need to pitch him the idea I've been thinking about.” Directs tell us that having scheduled time with them on your calendar allows them to prepare for the meeting. (pg. 40)

A lot of managers resist our guidance on scheduling their 1:1 meetings. They claim that their schedule is always changing. But our research shows that moving an already scheduled 1:1 to a different time due to a conflict has no significant effect on the manager's results. Managers who schedule and then move their meetings frequently achieve similar results as managers whose schedules are more fixed and rarely move their meetings. (pg. 40)

If you implement 1:1s, we guarantee that you will get more time back into your calendar then you spend in having them. You'll develop more trust with your direct. They'll know more often what you expect, because they'll be hearing it more regularly, so they won't ask you as many questions. You won't get interrupted as often for non-urgent issues. Your directs will wait to bring things to you that can wait. If you're like a lot of managers, you probably get interrupted frequently by your directs. They have a quick question or they just need a minute. And that minute often turns out to be ten minutes. (pg. 42)

Our data shows that 30 minutes is a magic number for scheduling time for 1:1s. There's no benefit to going longer than 30 minutes. It's better to have a jam-packed meeting that lasts 30 minutes then to have a relaxed meeting that is scheduled for an hour but for which you only have 40 to 45 minutes worth of content. If you overschedule meetings, your directs will gradually begin to under-prepare and will lose interest. Shorter and busier 30-minute meetings will cause you and your directs to use them fully and not to miss them. (pg. 46)

How do you stay in touch with people who are two levels below you? Insist that your direct reports are having 1:1 meetings with their direct reports. That way you are able to maintain relationships with all employees. You won't have as strong of relationships with your "skips" but that's ok - you simply don't have enough time to have strong relationships with everyone. Build an organization of effective managers under you. This is how organizations stay healthy and effective as they grow. (pg. 49)

Directs have told us that their manager taking notes elevates the conversation, making it more important. Managers who just chatted but didn't take notes about possible follow-up were deemed to be less engaged, less interested, and less likely to take action on topics that came up. The problem with a 1:1 in which the manager does not take notes isn't the lack of note taking; it's the lack of accountability that no note-taking implies. (pg. 50)

The manager should take notes during 1:1 meetings. These meetings can count as documentation for your employees. Despite what most managers think, the standard for what constitutes "documentation" is incredibly low. You don't need great details either for memory or for official record keeping when it comes to feedback. You need the raw data that will allow HR and their lawyers to construct a history of you communicating frequently with your directs about their performance. The key to documentation isn't form or length - the key is whether or not the info was documented at the same time as the incident. It is whether or not it is “contemporaneous”, that is, documented roughly at the same time as the incident or communication. This is all the formality your HR or legal department needs. You don't need to meet some legal standard, write a memo, or write out exactly what you said or how your direct responded. (pg. 52)

Don't ever be surprised by pushback to 1:1 meetings. Just because you think it's a good idea doesn't mean that your directs will go along with it. When you change how you manage, fear and uncertainty are part of the response. Don't assume it's just you; it happens to all of us. (pg. 57)

Some directs think 1:1s are micromanaging. They don't need them, they don't like them, and they don't want them. Would you deny your boss the right to see you for 30 minutes once a week? Would you turn down his request for a meeting? Never tolerate from your directs what you would not do to your box. 1:1 meetings are not micromanaging - in fact - a direct who wishes for virtually no managerial oversight is a liability risk. The direct who believes a 30-minute meeting once a week is burdensome is telling you either that he is afraid of oversight, or that he is above it. The problem today with the average manager-direct relationship is NOT one of too much management … but of far too little. (pg. 59)

1:1 meetings are not unreasonable, it's a new form of communication that eliminates several other less efficient forms of communication, such as one 15 minute conversation about 10 different things. Further, 1:1 meetings are only asking for 1 percent of your direct report's time assuming they are working 50 hour weeks. The idea that 1/100th of a direct's time cannot be spent in work-related meetings with his boss is laughable. (pg. 61)

The agenda for 1:1 meetings is simple: First, allow your direct to speak. Then, with what time is left, you get to speak. Always start with the direct and allow them to speak. However, you don't have time to chit-chat; that's why it's not on the agenda. But don't ask your direct to send you an agenda - it shouldn't feel like more work to your directs. During a typical 1:1 meeting your direct reports portion includes updates about ongoing work, questions about problems they're having, requests for guidance about steps or about approaching a problem, clarification on what you want or how you want something done, reminders on information or materials they need from you, and so on. (pg. 71) 

You cannot be friends with your directs, but yes you can be friendly with them. You might think that the two mean the same thing, but there was a clear difference. Being friendly with your directs is simply a set of behaviors. Smiling, asking about free time and their families, being polite, sharing about your own life - all of these are friendly behaviors. They are appreciated, respected, and often admired by those who struggle to get along well and easily with others. (pg. 88)

The biggest problem with having different levels of friendship is the perception effect. Even if you genuinely aren't friends with a direct, if you then behave in a friendly way toward her while not behaving similarly with others, this will be seen as a form of friendship and will be a cause for concern. Others will question your motivations and decisions. Your credibility will suffer. You can't use the friendly behavior distinction to attempt to either hide a friendship with a direct or to differentiate among your team members. It's not ethical, and it's not effective. (pg. 90)

Because Facebook made a company and marketing decision to call the process of inviting someone into your personal network “friending”, this entire discussion about friendship has become more complicated. Friending someone on Facebook is not the same thing as being their friend. Being on someone's friend list on Facebook in no way causes there to be an assumption of friendship obligations. Now, do you have to friend your directs on Facebook? No. (pg. 91)

When an average manager gives feedback, the focus is on what happened in the past. The manager thinks about what happened in the past and asks herself how to talk to the direct about what happened - in the past - about which the manager can do nothing. However, the purpose of performance communications is to encourage effective future behavior. Regardless of whether your direct was ineffective or effective this morning, the true purpose of any performance communication is exactly the same: you want more effective behavior in the future. If your direct made a mistake, you want different behavior. If you're direct did something well, do you want more of the same. (pg. 108)

Learning to delegate is part of the transition to becoming an executive. Too many managers today think that because they are smarter and more effective at getting things done than their directs, they should try to get more done by doing it themselves. This isn't sustainable, and I've seen the failure scenario play out a hundred of times. An up-and-coming manager does more and more themselves and gets a reputation as someone who gets things done. Finally they get what they think of as the big promotion to the executive level. and two years later, they resigned to pursue other opportunities. (pg. 165)

If you're a manager, your key to longer-term success is to master the art of delegation. Delegation is turning over responsibility for one of your regular responsibilities - something you routinely do - to one of your directs. (pg. 166)

Once your direct report has accepted the delegated responsibility, you need to cover three things that always get covered when work passes from one person to another: the deadline, the quality standard the work has to meet, and whatever reporting frequency is required. (pg. 177)

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