My Four Non-Negotiables for Being an Effective Manager

Being an effective manager is hard, but despite popular opinion and what many gurus would have you believe, isn’t overly complex. This is because I think that at its heart, managing people comes down to a few key skills and behaviours. If you can improve these, then you’ll be more effective than the vast majority of managers out there.

So, what are they?

For me, there are four non-negotiable skills and behaviours that a manager should work on:

  • You deliver effective feedback – positive and negative
  • You run effective one-on-one meetings.
  • You set clear expectations.
  • You always give someone their next step.

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

You deliver effective feedback – positive and negative

This is fundamental to being an effective manager. Your role is ultimately to get the best out of your team and to help them improve. This simply isn’t possible to do if you’re unable to deliver feedback – both positive and negative.

Most people find negative feedback the hardest to deliver, which we’ll talk about in a second. But don’t overlook how important it is to be able to deliver positive feedback too. It’s not just about telling someone well done or congratulating them after doing something really well. It’s about ensuring that you’re delivering positive feedback in a way that builds confidence and makes it clear what behaviours you want someone to retain and repeat again.

Many managers, particularly new managers, struggle to deliver negative feedback. To put it bluntly, you need to overcome this challenge if you want to be an effective manager. Otherwise, not only will you fail in your role, your team members will fail as well because everyone needs to hear feedback, even if it’s feedback that they may feel uncomfortable with or a little upset about. 

I’ve written many times about feedback, which shows how important it is to learn about, but in summary, here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Feedback needs to be timely – if you want feedback to be effective, deliver it as soon as possible.
  • You can deliver negative feedback in a kind way – don’t convolute negative feedback with being mean or unkind to someone. It’s very possible to tell someone something that they don’t really want to hear in a respectful, kind way.
  • Focus on helping someone improve – if you’re struggling with delivering negative feedback, remember that at its heart, feedback is all about helping someone. Focus on exactly how you’re helping them and make this clear in your communication.

If you want to read more, I’d recommend browsing and reading the articles here.

You run effective one-on-one meetings

I genuinely think that the one-on-one meeting is the most underrated tool available to managers. If you get these meetings right, everything else becomes so much easier. For example:

  • You can unearth problems sooner rather than later, enabling you to prevent them from escalating to much bigger problems.
  • You can use one-on-one meetings to cover day-to-day issues and blockers, along with helping with long-term career development.
  • You can spend time getting to know your team members better, leading to more trust and loyalty.
  • You can quickly spot when their workload may be starting to become unmanageable or a bit overwhelming.

Along with these benefits, the core principles of effective one-on-one meetings can be applied to all types of situations:

  • Workload check-ins, usually carried out once a week or so.
  • Monthly check-ins, usually focused a bit more on the bigger picture of their career development.
  • Quarterly/annual check-ins, usually focused purely on bigger goals, objectives and career development.

Essentially, if you can master the skills required to run effective one-on-one meetings, you can cover all aspects of managing the short-term and long-term performance of your team.

If you want to take a deeper dive into how to do this, take a look at my in-depth guide here.

You set clear expectations

Unclear expectations are a huge root cause of many problems that you’ll encounter as a manager. Whether it’s a project that your team is delivering that goes off track, or a team member who is very upset about not getting the promotion they wanted – without clear expectations being set from the outset, the likelihood of success is reduced significantly.

This is particularly important when it comes to your team understanding what good (and great) performance looks like from your perspective. You simply can’t expect them to know this without you being explicit about what you want to see.

These expectations can range from their day-to-day behaviours and ways of working (this is basically the culture of the team) right up to what you expect in order to award things such as pay reviews, promotions and even when you fire someone. 

For example, you may set day-to-day expectations that revolve around:

  • Creating the right environment to enable them to carry out deep work and to avoid distractions.
  • For all calls and meetings, you expect your team to arrive on time and to be present during all of them.
  • You expect all team members to prepare for meetings and to send an agenda in advance when they have called a meeting.

These may not be right for you, but you should be clear what your version of these types of day-to-day expectations looks like.

When it comes to ways of working that relate to bigger issues such as career progression, pay reviews and promotions, examples of expectations could be:

  • Whilst you play a key role in personal development plans, you expect your team to take ownership of their own plans, putting forward ideas for progression and giving feedback to you on all ideas you provide.
  • All pay reviews will be carried out every 12 months and based on a combination of factors, relating to their individual performance and the company performance.
  • You expect all team members to be open to all forms of feedback and to receive it with the right attitude and intentions.

By being clear with these kinds of expectations, you’re likely to avoid basic problems where your team is pushing in a different direction to what you expect.

You always give someone their next step

Finally, I think that another non-negotiable of being an effective manager is that you always think about the “next step” for all of your team members and communicate this with them. It’s very easy to forget this, even if you’re generally very good at personal development planning.

Without a next step, no matter how big or small it is, a team member can start to lose motivation and as we’ve discussed before, everyone needs a next step in their career.

This is why for me, this is a non-negotiable of being an effective manager – without a next step, your team is far, far more likely to leave and seek to develop their career elsewhere.

Therefore, you need to not only think about what an appropriate next step is for someone, but clearly communicate it and ensure that it’s a step that is meaningful to them. It can be as big as a promotion or as small as completing a course on a key skill, but make sure that you have one.

Then, once that step is completed, move onto the next step. After all, we tend to get more satisfaction from the journey we take rather than getting to the destination. So once a step is completed, you only have a small amount of time to agree on the next step before frustration and disengagement will start to kick in.

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