Managers in today’s organizations impact both the business and its people, both short and long term. Our success is determined by what we do and how we do it, so our skills in planning, prioritizing and investing our time are critically important. The earlier a manager masters these skills, the better equipped he is for this role, which today more than ever before, includes an abundance of tactical and strategic needs and opportunities to make a difference. We often get pulled away from our planned activities into fire-fighting or last-minute meetings, and our abilities to think quickly, make adjustments and move forward effectively require that we apply an overall, high level perspective on what’s most important. This big-picture perspective is the cornerstone that keeps our priorities front-of-mind and enables us to adjust to deal with important, unplanned events without losing focus.
In my experience as a consultant, I have worked with executives, senior managers, middle managers and supervisors in a variety of industries – machine shops, plastics, electronics, chemical, printing, engineering and manufacturing, within organizations both small and large. I’ve discovered that truly outstanding managers have 5 top priorities in common. While these managers typically zig and zag to deal with urgent situations and unplanned organizational needs, they ensure they make time for effective work on these 5 essentials. At times they may spend less time than planned, but each of the 5 top priorities is a ball that is not dropped. It is their big-picture perspective that serves the important purpose of keeping the top 5 priorities front-of-mind, driving their success, that of their direct reports and of others in their span of influence.
The top 5 priorities are:
1. Relationships: If you look at your own span of influence, you can identify the individuals who impact you most, and who you impact. You impact these people in many ways, such as by your presence or absence, your actions, words, decisions, and work related changes you make. Examples of people in your span of influence include co-workers, peers, our immediate managers, internal customers, and people who report to you. (A person’s span of influence also includes people close to her outside work, but to keep this article brief we’ll focus just on work relationships.) The most successful managers place a high priority on treating people well and on maintaining strong and effective work relationships with the key people in our span of influence. We make time to get to know them, touch bases with them, meet their needs, help them, include them in decision making that impacts them, solicit their input and feedback, and initiate positive interactions with them.
2. Business Strategy Execution: Managers own responsibility for focusing their organizations on achieving strategic goals. Of particular importance is delivering on the company’s value proposition or differentiation. Focusing on the business strategy enables people to prioritize effectively, and to make various job-related decisions. The strategy also provides a context for change. Leaders who help their people to make the connection between their roles and the strategy, and between organizational changes and the strategy, build employee commitment and engagement. Note: The 5 keys to strategy execution shown in the infographic on the right will be the subject of another post in June. They include building a strategic understanding among your people, achieving maximum benefit from balanced metrics, building leadership credibility, aligning work activities, organization structure and culture with the business strategy, attracting, developing and retaining talent. Included in each of the 5 is market discipline, which the ability to decide the value proposition/differentiation for the business.
3. Continuous Learning: Outstanding managers stay up-to-date with skills and industry developments through networking, regular, frequent reading and periodically attending selected conferences and educational events. They share articles with their people and discuss them in team meetings or one-on-ones. They encourage their people to do the same. They invest in developing their people in areas that enable them to deliver on the organizations strategy, as well as to ensure people have the knowledge and skills needed to meet the organization’s future needs. They hold team discussions anticipating and addressing obstacles to organization performance, and they foster learning from both excellent and disappointing performance results. They encourage coordinated experimentation for innovation and improvement through pilot programs within and across functions.
4. Toolkit: “Be prepared” is not only a scout motto. It’s also one of the rules the best managers live by. In this case, it’s about having tools and resources useful to the leader. Examples include items that enhance one’s capability to communicate effectively to individuals and groups about the business strategy and metrics, specific experiences and stories to share, articles, books, dvds, flip-charts and markers for brainstorming, and they apply recognized effective problem-solving and decision-making techniques. The toolkit of an outstanding leader also includes training materials from past development programs on leadership and management and other business or industry related subjects, for reference as well as for coaching and developing people. The toolkit also includes samples of products and parts, items representative of the company’s history, customer letters, awards the company has won and publications by leaders in the industry.
They also have regular appointments with doctors and dentists. The best leaders make their health a priority, recognizing it helps them to deal with stress and to perform their best over the long term. They also provide flexibility to enable their people to take care of their health.
What are your top priorities? How do they compare with these? Please share your opinions, your own priorities, and other suggestions to help managers to be outstanding.