A business is only as good as its workers, but without good managers, even the best employee can be underutilized, undermotivated, and unwilling to stick around. Managers should be well-versed in people management and have both technical and business acumen. More specifically, team building, feedback, communication, and delegation skills are essential to being a good boss.
Top Management Skills Managers Should Have
While company culture is one of the top reasons applicants take a job, more than 60% of workers say a bad supervisor has made them consider quitting. According to a Gallup study, managers influence nearly 75% of the factors that cause people to quit. Other factors include company culture, feeling utilized at work, and being respected and appreciated.
In August 2019, The Predictive Index surveyed more than 1,000 employees in 13 industries about their managers. Even though 60% classed their manager as good to great, there were still skills they wished their bosses would develop better.
1. Team Building
Gone are the days when people were willing to put in a day’s work as a cog in a larger industrial machine. Today’s workers want to play an active part in their company. They want to know they’ve contributed, feel they can share ideas, be able to reach out across departments—in short, to be part of a team, not a machine.
Team building, of course, is not a single skill, but a combination of communication, organization, and feedback. Here are some basics for developing team management skills.
- Know your vision: Understand not just what your company does, but why it’s important, and why what your team does is important. Then, you need to share that with your team.
- Outline clear goals: What tasks have hard deadlines and why? What are the “value-added” options you can set aside if needed?
- Have team building activities: A big part of building a team is bringing everyone together. Scheduling team-building activities that encourage everyone to work together towards a common goal can make it easier for them to connect in the workplace.
- Know your people: Workers are more than a job description. Nearly 70% of employees say that they’d feel more satisfied if employers used their skills better. Learn their talents and their limits.
- Stay in the loop: This can be the hardest part because there’s a fine line between monitoring and micromanaging. When you check in on a project or person, consider if they need help, give on-the-spot feedback, and help your team get to know one another.
- Support casual interactions: The best teams get along as people, even if they don’t always agree. Encourage some side conversation, banter, or fun projects like decorating desks for birthdays.
- Reward your team: The same goes for individuals. Celebrate milestones. Talk up your team to your boss. Make them feel valued.
2. Giving Good Feedback
Most people dread the annual evaluation session but, in truth, if you as a manager are doing your job throughout the year, there shouldn’t be any surprises. Employees want to know where they are doing well and where they need work. They also want to feel comfortable asking for help as well as receiving it. Therefore, regular feedback sessions, both formal and on-the-fly, make better workers.
Good feedback skills start with guts and compassion. You have to be willing to criticize as well as encourage, and you need to do both in a way that motivates. Understanding your employees as individuals helps you define your approach. Talk to other managers or watch videos to see feedback sessions in action.
Here are some of the most important things to remember when giving feedback:
- Be positive: You don’t have to give compliments alone but look at problems as something that can be resolved.
- Address the issue, not the person: What are the actions and effects? Have concrete examples when possible.
- Be ready to suggest solutions: Ask the employee for their ideas first but have suggestions handy.
- Be timely: Don’t wait for the annual review or until a problem is so big the person’s job is at stake. Tackle issues when they are small, and compliment often.
- Make it a conversation: Feedback is about fostering improvement and, to do that, the employee needs to participate to feel invested in the process.
- Follow up: If the feedback is about a problem, make a plan to check back to see how they are resolving it. Also, reinforce improvements and positive behavior.
Employees tend to stay with companies that value them. While good feedback and team-building assist in that, so does the simple act of trusting them to do a job.
Nonetheless, delegation is one of the toughest skills for a manager to learn. There’s the feeling that if it’s important, you must do it yourself. However, according to the American Management Association (AMA), managers who delegate effectively have direct reports who are more capable and enthusiastic because of the delegation experience. It also benefits the company because they are grooming future leaders—and you benefit too.
To delegate effectively, you need to do it well. The AMA recommends that your delegated responsibilities be SMART:
Specific: Project details and how it fits into the big picture
Measurable: Deadlines and minimum standards
Appropriate: Matching their skill level and areas of expertise
Reachable: Attainable within deadline and quality expectations
Timebound: To avoid it getting put off
If delegation is not your skill set, start small with recurring tasks that you can monitor and groom your subordinates on. As you get more comfortable, add more.
At first, delegation may take more of your time than doing the task yourself. Expect this and remember that the goal is not just to get something done but to help your direct report grow their own skills and responsibilities.
4. Time Management
Interestingly, time management would precede communication as the management skill employees want to see in their managers, yet it plays into how well you can interact with your people. Managers who are always pressed for time or fighting to make deadlines are more stressed and less approachable. At best, employees may hesitate coming to them with problems. At worst, managers will punish them with extra work.
You can find excellent time management and scheduling tools for computers and mobile devices but, at its heart, time management is about knowing your tasks and priorities. It’s important to dedicate time to making sure high-priority tasks are done, even if they are not an immediate need.
The most successful entrepreneurs set aside a little time each day, often in the morning, to devote to long-term projects. Other successful managers set closed-door periods for getting paperwork done coupled with open office hours where people can drop by—or when they “walk the floor” to meet with their people.
If you are stressed by deadlines and a growing to-do list constantly, forge some time to take a time management class. You can find them free online. Then, follow the principles you learn. Your employees will appreciate it, and you’ll benefit too.
5. Effective Communication
It should be a no-brainer that good managers communicate effectively. Nonetheless, this ranked fifth on the list of skills employees wished their managers had. Being able to communicate effectively means you have a point to get across, and you know how to be concise. Building a long-term relationship over time is also important.
Have you ever had a conversation where someone starts out asking about your day and things seem very friendly, then they drop a bombshell? Maybe you’ve seen the email that rambles and leaves you wondering what you need to take away from it.
Not every communication needs to have a key performance indicator (KPI) but, unless it’s a spontaneous chat, it should have a goal. Is it to discuss a problem? Give a compliment? Check on a person’s well-being? Knowing why you are reaching out to the person can help you make clear points and avoid mixed messages.
Knowing your goal can also help you determine the best timing. The time that a person is on a tight deadline might not be the best time for a long get-to-know-you or for a feedback session on how he or she needs to do some additional training. Alternately, when one of your direct reports is showing times of stress, it might be the perfect time to pass on a compliment from the boss or to mention their use-or-lose paid time off (PTO) and suggest they get away for a couple of days.
Communication is two-way. However, too often, manager-worker conversations are top-down. This can be because of time, medium, or goal. However, if the only time you are talking to your employees is to give an order or deliver a message, you accomplish half the purpose. Even in conversation, people can feel the discussion is effectively one-way because they are not being heard. That makes your employees feel undervalued.
Active listening means hearing not just the person’s words, but understanding their intent, emotion, and meaning. To listen actively, you need to be observant and listen before you speak.
- Focus on the person: Do not plan a response until they have finished speaking.
- Watch their body language: Are they leaning forward in earnest, crossing arms and frowning, hanging their head in anticipated defeat?
- Keep an open mind: You can always disagree but be sure you understand their point of view.
- Ask questions: Questions can clarify or encourage the person to delve deeper.
- Reflect back what they said: Don’t parrot it, however. While some communication coaches recommend saying, “What I heard was” and repeating their last statement, this can come off as patronizing. Instead, reflect your understanding and see if it’s correct.
The best way to develop teamwork, give good feedback, and get to know your people is through one-on-one communication. However, the Predictive Index’s survey revealed that more than 20% of employees meet with their managers less than once a month. Even worse, 4.8% only meet them annually, and 3.85% have never met their manager.
Effective communication takes time to get to know your direct reports, to let them learn about you, and to get comfortable with each other. One-on-one communication does not always have to be face-to-face, especially in today’s digital world, but it should be frequent.
Rambling does not emphasize a point—it drowns it. When speaking and especially when writing, keep to the point.
- When giving directions, stay with simple, declarative sentences.
- Bullet or numbered lists are great for instructions and listing requirements.
- Use the right words. We’re all guilty of saying “that thing, you know the one” in casual conversation, but at work and especially in written communication, name the thing.
You should have multiple lines of communication available with your team, such as in-person, email, chats, phone calls, and video conferencing. If necessary, set some ground rules. Questions about a task should be addressed within the project management software, for instance, so that answers can be found again. Set up a channel for casual conversations, meme sharing, or general socializing too.
Match the Medium
How you talk to someone one-on-one is different from how you address a group. Likewise, emails require a different style from chats. If you don’t know the proper etiquette, do some reading online or talk to your boss’s administrative assistant for pointers.
More than Words
Don’t limit communication to the spoken or written language. Some points are better expressed through charts—progress toward a goal, for example. A “congratulations” has a greater impact when delivered with a card or balloon. And nothing says “job well done” like an afternoon off (with pay) or a bonus. Reward programs like Kazoo are great ways to communicate appreciation as well as build goodwill within a company.
Are you teaching someone a new skill? Demonstrate it and lead them through doing it themselves. They’re more likely to remember.
People need reminders and notifications about project changes, but you shouldn’t have to spend your time on this kind of busywork communication. Use the automation features in your software to send out reminders about meetings, deadlines, or important events. It also feels less nagging when the machine sends a reminder instead of a person.
Bosses with people management skills have more loyal workers, feel happier about their jobs, and perform better. There are hundreds of skills managers should develop to stay on top of their game. The four here are the ones most important to employees.
As the workforce changes in its values and what it expects from an employer, managers will need to adapt, learn new skills, and improve the skills they already have. Those that do will lead their people and their company into a brighter future.