On Business & Life: How to build better managers


Papa John’s Pizza has a saying that they use in their marketing: Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.

Chances are, you aren’t in the pizza business. You’re in the business of creating and developing prospects, building client relationships, and your employees to deliver a product or service at a profit.

The most important person at Papa John’s isn’t the company’s founder, John Schnatter. Nor are you the most important person in your company.

Your managers are. The strategies you approve are meaningless until your managers execute them, ideally to the benefit of your paying clients and your bottom line.

The goal of every manager, whether a machine shop production supervisor in an industrial center, general manager of a restaurant, or CEO of a local non-profit, is to find, hire and retain the best people possible to work in the organization.

A manager’s role changes once an employee is successfully brought onboard and on the job.  The manager should allow the employee to do their job, set clear expectations, provide necessary resources, monitor individual performance, and make changes as needed to maximize results.

Research from The Gallup Organization suggests that the single most important determinant of individual job performance is a person’s relationship with his or her immediate manager.

If you want a better company, defined as more profitable and productive, you should first assess your management team.

Can your current managers get better? With a hot economy and a low unemployment rate, now is the time to be working to retain your best employees. People don’t quit their employer; they leave because of their manager.

Let me share seven ways managers can become more effective and valuable to those they supervise and those they report to.

1. Work with every direct report. Don’t ignore anyone. Spend more coaching your best people simply because they can benefit from that kind of guidance.
Spend time counseling the rest on how they can improve. Put action plans into place for each and hold them accountable for meeting deadlines.

2. Learn each direct report’s strengths. When people use their strengths, they feel more competent and that they’re making a contribution. Engaged employees require fewer management resources.

3. Don’t duck discipline. Managers have a responsibility to enforce company policy. That means you must discipline people who violate standards, policies and procedures. When someone operates outside of what has been established, the manager needs to call the employee on that specific issue as soon as possible.

4. Overcommunicate. Every company has a disease, and the symptoms often surface through whining, complaining, denial and indignation. The disease is NETMA, which means No one Ever Tells Me Anything. Every important message, deadline and event must be repeated, over and over again, just in case someone has the disease on any given day.

5. Know your limits. Too often, people are promoted to a position to manage others because they are technically the best. Horror stories abound of the top-selling sales person who becomes the worst possible sales manager, or the best engineer who gets promoted to manager and fails miserably. Technical skills are very different from management skills. Managing is all about getting work done through the efforts of others instead of personally doing it.

6. You’re the bridge. Management is the bridge between a company’s top leadership and those doing the actual tasks required for the company to serve its clients. A manager must understand the larger picture of what’s happening on a strategic level, and be able to translate that into tactical action steps down the line. The manager, more than anyone else, needs to be clear when communicating, keeping in mind that every employee has a WIIFM mindset: What’s In It for Me?

7. Routinely reappraise. Regularly meet with each employee and ask six important questions. Do you know what’s expected of you at work? Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work right? Do you have the chance to do what you do best every day at work? In the past week, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work? Do I, as your manager, or someone else here at work, seem to care about you as a person? Is there someone at work who encourages your development? The answers are a mini-performance appraisal for manager and employee.

The next few years will be brutal for small and midsize businesses. It will be an employee’s market. If you want to keep your best employees, now is the time to strengthen your management skills, and those of every manager at your company. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when your best people get poached.

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.

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