I’ve written pretty prolifically about how to use the Law of Attraction to leave a job you hate, work with a crap boss or coworker, and create the career of your dreams. Up until now, most of what I’ve written has been aimed at the unhappy employee, with little administrative power. But, what about if you’re the boss? What if you’re the unhappy manager of unhappy employees, and you want to use LOA to create a better work environment, but don’t really know how or where to get started? Today’s blog post is for you.
A wee bit of personal history
People management is one of my biggest passions and one of those subjects most likely to get me up on my soapbox. I’m very, very good at getting the best out of people and training others how to do so, as well. But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, my first management job (I was 19 and the General Manager of a Restaurant) was a horror show. I was young, insecure (which made me come across as arrogant), eager to prove myself (pushy), a perfectionist (micromanager), and hadn’t a clue as to how to manage people. My bosses were no help at all. They demonstrated an old world management style, where leaders ruled by intimidation and employees were motivated by fear. You do what I tell you to do because I’m the boss. That’s why. And just like in parenting, that style may get limited results, but it will never lead to the outcome we truly want. That style didn’t resonate with me at all. I felt fake (I’ve never been a mean person, and I didn’t like barking at people), inauthentic, and my employees were visibly unhappy. I knew there had to be a better way, even if I didn’t yet know what that way looked like.
I learned how to manage people the hard way – through trial and error. I watched, listened, tested, reworked my methods and tried again. Over the years, I learned what worked and what didn’t, and wouldn’t you know it, the methods that worked best turned out to be aligned with the teachings of LOA. Go figure. What I learned most of all was that managing people is a skill all its own, and one not generally taught in Universities and MBA programs (often not even touched upon). Just because you can manage projects doesn’t mean you can manage people. That’s like saying that a Podiatrist should be able to fix your heart. After all, he’s a doctor, right? And while medicine understands the difference in skill sets and offers specialized training for Cardiologists, the business world often (way too often) completely overlooks the fact that managing people is a highly complex specialty all on its own. The biggest reason that so many managers are so crappy at leading people is because they’ve never been taught to, but were just thrown into the arena with the lions with nothing but a loincloth. Good luck with that.
While I can’t pack a whole people management course (product idea?) into one blog post, I’ve listed five lessons, each of which covers an important mindset, along with some practical tips to help you implement them. These lessons represent a style of management which will help you take a completely different and much more effective approach to creating a stellar work environment and getting the most out of your staff.
Lesson 1 – What are managers even good for?
Many an employee has asked themselves that question, and perhaps you have, too. We all just assume that management is necessary and good, and that we can’t live without it. Many companies operate on a “the more the better” mindset and create layer after layer of managers. Some have so many managers, they have to create managers to manage the managers and there’s hardly anyone left to do the work. But here’s the truth (I did warn you about the soap box…): If the manager of your office walked out tomorrow, would the operations shut down? What about if all of the employee walked out instead? Which would hurt the business more? Managers are not necessary. They are useful, don’t get me wrong, but if you’re talking about who is worth more to the business on any given day, I’d say it’s the people doing the actual work, hands down.
So, why do we even need managers? A leader can provide strategy and vision, create common goals for everyone to work towards, and help remove obstacles to those goals to ensure a smooth operating environment. When done right, there is a balance between management and the workforce. It’s a cooperative relationship instead of an adversarial one. If you want to work towards a common goal, the employees and managers have to be on the same side. I’ll go into each of these points in more detail, but the main job of a manager, especially a people manager, can be boiled down to one sentence:
A manager’s sole purpose is to create an environment in which employees can perform to the very best of their abilities.
In other words, a manager’s main job is to get themselves, the company and any other obstacles out of the employees’ way.
Lesson 2 – Everyone wants to do a great job
There’s this assumption among many manager types that employees are essentially a bunch of lazy bastards who have to be motivated and sometimes cajoled or threatened into doing their jobs. The idea is that if you don’t give people a big enough incentive, they’ll wander about aimlessly and do nothing. They are ONLY there to get a paycheck, a bonus or as a stepping stone to their next career. What a bunch of bullshit. If this is how your workforce is behaving, it’s management’s fault. Bad management! But the truth is (slapping you with a lot of truth today) that everyone wants to do a great job. Everyone wants to feel successful and useful and proud of what they’ve accomplished. And when you understand this and create an environment that supports this innate drive rather than opposes it (which is what most businesses do!), you’ll get drastically different results.
Have you ever had the sense that corporate policies actually kept you from doing a good job, like they were deliberately designed to get in your way? This isn’t just a cynical attitude. While obstacles generally aren’t created on purpose, but are usually the result of clueless management, the fact of the matter is that most employees who are doing a crappy job are failing to succeed because they’re not allowed to. Bitter, cynical employees with a horrible attitude are usually incredibly driven and passionate people who have been kept from doing a great job over and over again and finally resigned themselves to the fact that the system is broken. They live in a state of powerlessness and anger, and will take it out on anyone they come in contact with. Cynics are created, not born.
Everyone wants to do a great job and if they aren’t, something is wrong. It’s your job as a manger to figure out what that is. Approach your staff with this mindset, and you’ll be 80% of the way there (to creating an awesome work environment).
Lesson 3 – Create a common vision and communicate it
It’s your job as a leader to create a vision that everyone can work towards. I’m not talking about a useless mission statement that contains a lot of pretty, pretty words and means nothing. I’m talking about a goal that everyone can and wants to get behind. Are you in middle management? That doesn’t matter. You can still create a goal for your department or team. If you have just one employee, or even if you just work on your own, make sure you know what you’re working towards. But here’s the thing – your goal has to:
- Be simple and make sense to you and your employees
- Be an emotional goal, something you and your staff can get excited about
- Be under the direct control of your team (narrow the goal until this is true)
- Be measurable and trackable
An example of a bad companywide goal would be: “Maximize the profit potential for the next three quarters.” This may make the CEO and board of directors happy, but what, exactly, do your employees get out of it? Never mind that they have little control over profit potential, generally aren’t given all the information needed to accurately assess the state of profit potential (and may not even know exactly what that means), and don’t really care if it’s maximized or not.
An example of a better goal would be: “Become the widget manufacturer with the highest customer service rating in the country.” You could then break that goal down into more specific objectives for each department. This goal is trackable, something to get excited about (who doesn’t want to be The Best?), and if it’s broken down into different objectives (what can each department do to provide the best client experience ever), controllable, while making each employee feel like they’re part of the bigger picture. Because they freaking are.
The next step is to then communicate that vision to the employees, and I mean fully. Don’t keep your staff on a need to know basis. The more information they have, period, the easier it will be for them to do their jobs. If there are problems you’re concerned about, share them. Let them help you figure out solutions. These are the people working in the trenches every day. They have a valuable perspective you need to take into account. They know what works and what doesn’t. Listen to them. Remember, you are there to help them do a better job by providing resources and removing obstacles, not to beat them into submission.
If your staff isn’t getting excited about the goal you’re proposing, you either didn’t pick the right goal (it doesn’t meet the above criteria), or you have to convince them, with the appropriate information, that what you’re asking of them is possible. Ask them to share their concerns. Ask them what they’ll need from you in order to make that goal happen, and then do your best to give it them. If your employees are balking, it’s usually because they don’t believe that they’ll be allowed to be successful. It’s your job to show them otherwise.
Once you’ve communicated the vision and gotten the hopefully enthusiastic agreement of your staff (or at least their willingness to give it a try so you can prove to them that you are going to hold up your end of the bargain), continue to give them updates on a regular basis. Let them know how you’re all doing, if you’re veering off or staying on course. They need this information in order to be successful. If your numbers aren’t where you want them to be, sharing them with your staff in detail and getting them involved is a million times more effective than barking “work harder, dammit”.
Lesson 4 – Expect the best from your employees
Not only do your employees WANT to be successful, they have it in them to be more productive, efficient, creative, and yes, happy, than you’ve ever dreamed. But, one of the biggest obstacles you’ll have to remove before that can happen is your negative expectation of them. Even if you never decided that employees are lazy morons, that attitude is fostered so heavily by the corporate environment that it’s nearly impossible not to be affected by it. The good news is that a little bit of deliberate focus goes a long way.
Expect your employees to do a great job. Understand that if they aren’t, it’s because something is wrong, and not because they’re lazy or incompetent. If there’s a problem, sit down with the employee and ask them what’s wrong. Assume that there’s an obstacle and that when it’s removed, your employee not only has the ability but the willingness to succeed. Approach all situations with this mindset, and you’ll be amazed at the results.
What could be going wrong? While each situation is different (you’re dealing with people, after all), I’ll share some of the most common reasons that employees aren’t thriving:
- Bad hiring. The employee is in the wrong job, performing tasks they have no passion for and couldn’t care less about. Perhaps they can’t even get themselves to care about the bigger picture. If you put an artist in the accounting department, you can twist yourself in knots, they will never be happy there. Try to tie the employee’s job into a bigger picture they actually care about. Figure out what the employee’s skills and passions are and try to transfer them to a more suitable job. Or, do them a huge favor and let them go (sometimes, the kindest thing you can do is to fire someone). Also, revamp your hiring practices.
- No common vision/not enough communication. The employee doesn’t know how their job ties into the big picture, doesn’t know what the actual goals are, and/or doesn’t have the information they need in order to do what you want them to do. They may be lost and confused, asking “why are we even doing this?” They may be feeling ignored, like their voice and knowledge doesn’t count. Do a better job of communicating your vision (and creating an appropriate goal). Listen to and address their concerns and schedule regular feedback sessions (where feedback is given both ways).
- Lack of skill/training. This can be due to bad hiring, but more often than not, it’s a training issue. Employees must be given the resources and information to succeed. Insufficient or a total lack of training (including hands on training) is usually the culprit. Ask the employees to help you create a better training program (they know what they need!). Designate more experienced staff as trainers, compensate them accordingly and make sure they have the time to train (do not expect a trainer to complete the same work volume as a non-trainer). Allow for newbies to spend time on the job with trainers, being shadowed, instead of just going through a theoretical course. Encourage questions, allow mistakes and give regular feedback. I’m also a big fan of knowledge databases, where staff can easily access all the information they need.
Lesson 5 – Celebrate the Awesomeness
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day operations of a business and look only at what still needs to be done, what’s not working and what needs fixing. But, as LOA teaches us, you get more of what you focus on. So, does it really make sense to spend the majority of our time focusing on problems? Sure, we want to be aware of the issues, but once they’re defined, once we know what they are, how much more do we really need to flog that horse before we have a full understanding of the situation? If you know that your sales numbers are down, does it really help you to relentlessly harp on and on about how low they are? Nope. Not one bit. If your sales numbers are down, you want them to come up. In which case you should be focusing on the sales numbers being higher and celebrating every little increase no matter how teensy, instead of dismissing small spikes as temporary and preparing for the worst “just in case“.
Focus on what you want more of. Make lists of what you love about your employees (don’t show this to HR, they may get the wrong idea). Why are they so awesome? Notice what’s going right and advertise it. If customers send you positive feedback, post it publicly and foster pride in a job well done. If 100 things are going wrong and one thing is going right, focus on and celebrate that right thing. Be like a broken record, going on and on about how great your staff is and what they do well. Be proud of your staff. See their value. See their awesomeness. See their potential. See them for Who They Really Are, magnificent co-creators who have the ability to astound you. Admire them. Cheer them on. Root for them. Defend them. Be in their corner. Expect the best from them. Believe in them. Celebrate with them.
If you’re thinking that all of this sounds really great but can’t possibly work in your company, let me set you straight: I’ve proven this, again and again. And I’ve worked in companies so thick with bureaucracy they made the government look like a well-oiled machine. I’ve done this on a team level, a shift level and on a department level. I’ve taught others how to do this, and they’ve become equally successful. I’ve turned “hopeless” employees around 180 degrees. I’ve witnessed people quit and leave for better paying jobs (I was not able to control the salary levels), only to come back and take the pay cut because they missed the environment so much. I managed to get pay increases approved when there was no money. I’ve seen people knock themselves out for me, even though the company didn’t appreciate them one bit (people work for people. Never forget that). I’ve seen people nearly kill themselves to do a good job, even when the company made it impossible for them to do so. I’ve seen employees who transferred from another division for a project come to life and excel beyond anyone’s wildest expectations when given the chance to, and nearly break down in tears when they had to go back to a different manager.
You can’t control everything that the managers above you do and you don’t even want to try. But you can control what you focus on. You can control if people under your management are informed, know what’s expected of them, care about that goal and have the opportunity to be successful. You can control how you view them, what parts of them you focus on, and how happy you are at work. You can create an environment where people are happy, where they succeed, where they are heard, where they get truly excited about work. And in turn, they’ll make you look like a star. It’s not about making them do a good job. It’s about allowing them to. No matter what level you’re managing at, you have more power than you know. You can make a much bigger difference than you may have ever imagined. Yes, little old you.
Now it’s your turn: What’s the one thing, the biggest a-ha moment you’re going to take away from today’s post? Share in the comments!