Why Managers Should Spend An Extra $8 Per Month

It’s been a few years since I have been a manager.  I work in the IT industry and I managed groups consisting of tech support members, from help desk to desktop support to network and server techs.

I always got favorable reviews as a manager.  I was hands on enough to be involved and know what was going on, yet not so much a micro manager that my team did not have the flexibility to put their own style into their work.

Two things that I always did.  Always:

  1. Provide consistent feedback.  Nothing infuriates me more as a manager that does not provide feedback on a regular basis, instead choosing to point out faults (or as I would call them, areas of opportunity) during a review.  This blindsides employees and I refused to have any of it.  I always made sure to provide feedback, both positive and negative, on a timely basis.  With this, employees were able to improve or build on their strengths all the time, not just after a certain period.  I’m also proud to say that I never had an employee once tell me during a performance review: “I’m surprised to hear that.”
  2. Stay in touch with employees.  It’s important to have regular interaction with employees.  I am less a fan of one-on-one meetings or weekly team meetings as I am chatting now and then to see how things are progressing, what’s being worked on, and to figure out anything else of importance.

This leads into the $8 a month.  Because, I realized that a very effective way of doing this is to let employees come to me.  Give them an incentive to stop by and chat.

How did I do this?

A big tub of animal crackers on my desk.

Yes, I became known as ‘the animal cracker’ guy.

Once people knew that I had animal crackers, a good portion of the team would stop by to grab a quick snack.  If I was at my desk, I’d always say hi and chat with the employee about what was going on.

The animal cracker strategy worked great.  Many people will take what I said above about interacting with employees outside of formal meetings, and will do by walking around.  This is certainly necessary regardless of whether you have animal crackers (and of course for the people who don’t eat animal crackers), but there’s still a fundamental difference in having your employees come to you.  They’re not on guard.

Even walking around informally means that I’m going up to someone at their desk.  If they’re busy, they’re not going to want to be interrupted and may not engage me in a conversation about how things are going to the extent that they would if they came to my office.

If you have an extra $8 per month and manage a group of employees in an office environment, keep doing what you’re doing, but add in a bucket of animal crackers. I believe you’ll find that your interactions with a good portion of your employees will improve.

And if you don’t like animal crackers, substitute pretzels.  I’d avoid chocolate or candy only because they’ll resent you for providing sweets and the subsequent weight loss that goes along with it 🙂

5 Ways To Go From Being A Good Manager To A Great One

Over the years, I’ve had many jobs working for many different companies.  With those, I’ve had a lot of different managers.  I’ve had some bad ones (we’ll save those for another time), some good ones, and a few great ones.  Most of the time, the differences between being a good manager and a great one are little things.  If you want to be a great manager, here’s a few things you should do.

  1. Let employees find their way.  I had two managers that had a lot of the same traits.  They were both very effective.  They both looked out for their employees.  They both were visionary and led by example.  But, I would only classify one of them as great and the other was merely ‘good’.  The ‘good’ manager, you see, was very task oriented.  He would lay out what he wanted done and outline how he wanted me to get there.  The great manager, on the other hand, would provide me with the end goal and pretty much say “Go.”  In many ways, that was scary, but it was also great because it let me develop my own plan and my own vision.  Side tip: The great manager will allow for employees to create their own path, but will stay involved enough so that they can step in before the employee heads over a cliff.
  2. Listen.  Managers are busy.  I get that.  But, if an employee is coming to you for something, whether it be a problem with a colleague, a question on a project, or anything else, they deserve your full attention. If you’re keeping one eye on what the employee and the other on your e-mail, you aren’t being a great manager to that person.  Do you have to drop everything?  No, of course not.  But, if you can’t give an employee your full attention, kindly let them know and schedule a time when you can.  They’ll appreciate that.  Then, just make sure you give them that attention at the scheduled time.
  3. Stand behind your employees.  I had a colleague who struggled with a difficult customer, who couldn’t be pleased.  After awhile, the boss stepped in and brokered the relationship, observing all communications and interactions.  Eventually, the boss realized that there was indeed a problem, and fired…..the customer.  This was a tough decision, and many would question the thought process behind turning away a paying customer.  But, it let my colleague, as well as everybody else on the team, know that the manager was going to stand up for them.  It also let us know that we had better do good work, because trust me, the manager did know the difference, and wouldn’t have hesitated had the ‘problem’ been with the employee.
  4. Play favorites.  Playing favorites can be a sure-fire way to divide a team, so why do I have it here?  Read on.  I had a manager who, when I left her office, made me feel like I was the most valuable member on her team and that the projects I was working on were the most important things going on within the team.  She never said those things or anything close, but her general interest, enthusiasm, and support gave me that impression.  As it did everybody else on the team, as she gave that same level of input and encouragement to each person that worked for her.  Hint: You have to be genuinely interested in each of your employees and what they’re working on to pull this off.  Attempts to fake it will be transparent and you’ll end up losing the respect of your employees.
  5. Think about your employees every day.  You may or may not interact with each of your employees on a daily basis.  Even if you do, interaction isn’t what I’m talking about.  I had a manager who told me that he would think about every single one of his employees at some point throughout the day.  Even if was just for a brief moment, the ability to reflect on each person on his team kept him connected to them, and in the long run, the employees will sense this.

The things I’ve just mentioned are, by and large, intangible things.  I’m not even sure that they can be picked up on or worked on.  When it comes to these characteristics of being a great manager, is it a case of ‘either you have it in you or you don’t’?

What are things you’ve seen out of great managers?