Sunday, October 2, 2011

Great Managers Enable Exceptional Performers

Most everyone wants to perform well in their work. Very few people wake up in the morning wanting to fail or do poorly. Occasionally you will find someone with a bad attitude, which can be easily resolved by removing that person from your organization. More often, those who do not perform at the highest levels are missing one of the following:
  1. clear expectations on what is required of them.
  2. the necessary training or procedures to know how to do their work correctly.
  3. the materials and equipment necessary to perform well.
  4. the proper fit into a role at which they can excel. 

The first three can be rectified by augmenting the organization with more procedures and resources. Good managers are cognizant of these three items and successfully focus on them. The fourth item, fit, is not so easily fixed and may be the biggest contributor to work success and job satisfaction. Often, a manager may not understand a person's unique talents and those roles at which a person can perform exceptionally. Or at other times, there may not be a role within the organization that offers a good fit.

My experience shows that being able to select and fit people into the proper roles is relatively rare among managers. Too often a manager will blame the worker for poor performance instead of realizing or admitting their own shortcomings in fitting people into the right roles. My biggest people management mistakes have been those where I moved someone into a role for which he/she was not particularly well suited. In each case, I promoted a person to a "higher" position because he/she excelled in a different role. In each case, I was responsible for the person's poor performance in the new position. Just because someone excels at one role does not mean that he/she has the talents to excel at something else. This has been a hard lesson and we have lost some talented people because of it.

One of my favorite management books is First, Break All The Rules, which studies great managers based upon over 80,000 manager interviews by the Gallup organization. There is much great practical advice in the book, and one fundamental finding is that the best managers are great at selecting and fitting people into positions at which they can excel. Great managers glean natural talents required for success within particular roles, and hire, measure and incentivise for those talents. When they find someone who excels within a role, they find ways to reward that person and leverage his/her natural talents by keeping him/her in that current role.

I now spend much more time considering the fit and natural talents of people within my organization. I believe that as a leader, my most important responsibilities are to select the right people for each position, set clear expectations, and develop those people so that they can be great at what they do.

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