Monday, May 10, 2021

Management Happens at Every Level

Actions to take: Continue doing one-on-ones and providing frequent feedback at every level of the organization. You are not excused from managing when you are at the top, and your direct reports are not excused from being managed. One-on-ones in particular become more important the higher you go, as you are more removed from direct observation of your employees' work. 

You will sometimes hear the claim that there is a difference between "leaders" at the top of the organization and "managers" who supervise the front-line staff. I was just recently in a discussion where someone said, "Many great leaders hire managers to handle the day-to-day guidance, measuring, and coordinating to ensure and report on progress along the way." The implication is clear. The head of the organization has more important things to do than management--they leave that for others. 

It is true that heads of organizations have more responsibilities than managing the people below them. My claim that a manager can do most of their job through one-on-ones does not apply to C-suite employees. However, too many people at the top of their organizations seem to think that they have graduated from management into leadership. 

I do not dispute that a new set of skills is required to effectively lead at the top of an organization. My assertion is that leaders need to lead in addition to managing

Leaders still have employees. The CEO of a company supervises the VP of Sales, Marketing, Production, etc. The County or City Manager of a government supervises the Deputy Managers and the heads of Finance, Law, Communications, and so on. 

Those employees still need management. No matter how high you climb in the organization, you are not special. You don't get to say, "The people at the bottom of the organization need feedback, coaching, and guidance on their work. I, on the other hand, am responsible, so it would be an insult to try and manage me." The people at lower levels of an organization have just as much pride in their work as the people at the top. They are just as responsible for their duties, just as committed. The people at the lower levels benefit from guidance, coaching, feedback, and regularly communication with their boss. The people at the top get exactly the same benefit. 

The feedback formula described in this blog works just as well for the CEO speaking to their VP as it does for the evening shift supervisor speaking to a cashier. The feedback formula is structured for one responsible adult speaking to another responsible adult. Positive feedback is not a praising pat on the head. It is information describing how to continue doing effective work in the future. That kind of communication is valuable and necessary for everyone in the organization.

One-on-ones, if anything, are more important the higher you go in the organization. Frontline supervisors have the benefit of directly observing the work of their employees. Move even one level up, and that awareness is dramatically reduced. A regional director, almost by definition, is rarely even in the same physical location as the managers they supervise. It becomes nearly impossible to maintain a clear understanding of your employees' work without the benefit of regular check-ins. Speaking for myself, the vast majority of my bosses have had next to no clue what I did with my time, much less how well I was doing it. The one exception was the boss who did weekly one-on-one meetings with me. 

The benefits of feedback and one-on-ones apply equally at all levels of the organization. A weekly meeting with direct reports will dramatically strengthen communication and provide a convenient place to hear about your employees' work, provide feedback, course correct, answer questions, etc. Casual, frequent feedback will encourage better, more effective work and provide employees with certainty about their actions. These outcomes are just as important to C-suite employees as they are to frontline staff. 

The average executive thinks they are exempt from being managed or needing to manage their people, even while they claim that people below them need active management. Better bosses realize that this point of view is elitist. They have the humility to understand that good management is good management no matter your position with the organization. 

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