Line management can be frustrating…
all at the same time.
Everyday you are faced with balancing business and customer outcomes, alongside individual needs and personalities.
Brian Tracy said it best: management is about ‘achieving the highest possible return on human capital. A good manager with a clear vision can quickly organize a group of average performers into a peak performance team that is capable of achieving tremendous results for the company. It’s not difficult; you just need to learn how to do it.’
Over the past 12 years I have worked with over 50 large organizations deploying continuous improvement and productivity programs to over 30,000 staff members. This has led to countless conversations (and evaluations) of operational frontline managers.
This article is my attempt to distill the leadership habits of effective managers leading highly motivated and productive teams. My experience has led me to witness the spectrum of management ability and actions, so I hope this provides you with some practical tips to make the balancing act slightly easier.
Without further ado, here are the top 4 leadership habits I observed in strong frontline leaders:
The ability to set clear and fair expectations with their staff
Do you know what a good day of work looks like for your team members? How do you know when they have had a great day at work?
If you cannot articulate what ‘good’ looks like in the language of your team (i.e. applications processed, calls answered, claims finalized) then how can you set clear expectations?
Clear expectations require the leader to be able to benchmark current performance against an ideal state. There are different ways to benchmark (read about it here) — the key point being that you compare your employee’s time at work, against the amount of output they produced.
Once you have this benchmark framework, setting SMART objectives and expectations becomes very easy. Good leaders communicate expectations to their staff proactively and frequently…leaving the team members with no doubt as to what is expected of them.
They follow-up on the expectations they set
Setting the expectation is only half the story. In order to be effective, the leader must follow-up with their staff to either:
- Recognize good performance (in achieving/exceeding expectations)
- Get to the root-cause of variance between outcomes and expectations.
We know how important recognition is to staff. With the follow-up, the leader has a golden opportunity to frequently reaffirm the staff members value to the team.
Good leaders don’t use the follow-up as a big stick! If the staff member has slipped on their production then this is a golden opportunity to understand the friction/obstacles in their way. Once it’s identified, you and your staff member can solve for it — do not underestimate how important staff member agency in their own performance is! — they become part of the solution rather than the problem.
Make your meetings shorter! Keep them punchy and to the point and you’ll notice the difference in energy levels once you wrap it up.
They communicate at the team level frequently
Everybody does weekly team meetings…and most of them suck. They are often uninspired and focused on the latest news from compliance, customer complaints or sales. They often drag on for longer than they need to; adding to the general sense of lethargy.
Good leaders also frequently hold team meetings, however they keep them short and focused. They know the information that can be disseminated to the team via email and instead focus on more proactive and tactical topics:
- What are we planning to achieve today?
- Do we need to tailor our plan at all?
- How did we perform yesterday?
- They celebrate success, using the meeting as a platform to again recognize great performance
- They use it to cultivate a sense of unity within the team
Next time you schedule your team meeting, try chopping it in half. If you were going to have a 30 minute meeting, do it in 15…I guarantee you and your team will leave with more energy.
They make work meaningful and rewarding
Good leaders have been gamifying work for far longer than its been in vogue. Gamifying doesn’t translate to ‘fun.’ It should focus on making work meaningful and rewarding…fun should be the byproduct.
Approaches vary and you want to ensure that it feels genuine to you and your team, but some fantastic examples I have seen over my career are:
- Having a ‘bet’ with staff members. Of course, no money changed hands, instead the ‘bet’ was tied to outcome…in return for meeting the expectation the staff member ‘won’ company points, movie tickets, time off, food , or simply making the leader do something self-effacing — the more challenging the bet, the more prestigious the prize.
- Balancing business outcomes with individual career pathing. You will burn your best performers out if all you do is reward them with more work. The best leaders I have witnessed give their best-performers agency in their professional development. They make sure that the staff member utilizes some of their time working on something important to them/will help them get to the next level. It shouldn’t always just be about the core work.
- Cultivate friendly competition. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of competition! So long as the rules of the competition do not lead to negative behaviors. Competition could be limited to the team (team member v team member) or extended across a department (team v team). My personal preference is to set a challenge where team members collaborate to ‘beat’ a rival team…it’s a great way to build up team comradery.
Years of working closely with leaders across a multitude of companies and industries has led to my conclusion that the 4 habits I covered are responsible for the widest divergence between good leaders and bad ones. Perhaps you are already doing all of these things in your own way, but if you aren’t, you’d do well to think about how best to incorporate these concepts into your daily routine.