The Many Hats You Wear

From time to time it’s helpful to think about the multiple roles we play as a manager; it’s one of the reasons why the job is so challenging. And if we want to do it really well it can be a life-long endeavor. The typical roles most supervisors and managers play include the following:

  • Coordinator, planner, organizer
  • Teacher
  • Coach
  • Technical expert
  • Culture developer & keeper
  • Interpreter
  • Decision maker
  • Communicator
  • Quality guide & monitor
  • Team member
  • Team leader
  • Relationship builder

Recently we looked at the related roles of Teacher and Coach. Today I’d like to focus on the roles of Interpreter and Decision Maker.

Interpreter – Every organization develops routines and standards. From the gas station or shoe shop on the corner to the biggest governmental agency . . . from the local storefront church to the billion-dollar worldwide nonprofit agency . . . all organizations have rules, policies, and procedures. They may be formal and written or they may be informal and unwritten.

Whatever those rules are, as a manager you’re responsible for teaching, guiding, interpreting, and explaining the rules to each of your team members. What are the rules, policies, and procedures in our organization? How do we do the work and why do we do it that way? Merely handing down the rules and explaining how to carry them out isn’t enough; people need to know why so they can truly understand “how we do things around here.” Once they understand the what, how, and why, they’ll be much more likely to do what needs to be done in the way it should be done.

Decision Maker – Managers make decisions all the time. Who to hire . . . what to have them do . . . what tasks take priority over others . . . which team members should attend a new training program first . . . when to start doing something new . . . when to stop doing something that has been done in the past. Making decisions is part of every manager’s daily life.

Some of us enjoy making decisions, seek opportunities to make decisions, and make them quickly. Others seem to struggle with making even the simplest decision. They postpone, waffle, beat around the bush, and change their mind a dozen times.

Over time and with practice, you’re likely to get more comfortable with this role. You’ll see that making decisions too quickly can lead to consequences you hadn’t thought of. At other times you’ll need to make a decision quickly, before you miss an opportunity. Shoot from the hip? Sleep on it? Regardless of how you tend to handle them, as a manager you must make decisions.

When you interpret the organization’s rules, policies, and practices you provide crucial guidance that affects team performance. When you make decisions about what the team will do and where it will focus its attention, you’re helping determine the team’s direction and priorities.Understanding the true nature and scope of the job of the manager is critical to your success. And ultimately your success has a direct bearing on the success of your team and your entire organization.

 Paul

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Do You Really Want to be a Supervisor?

Being a supervisor . . . managing others . . . leading a program staff or production team where you work is often rewarding and energizing. It provides an outlet for your creative passion, and can be a very real way to contribute to your organization and your local community. And of course it can also be difficult, challenging,, disappointing, and a major pain in the neck (or some other portion of your anatomy).

Many times we think becoming a supervisor is more or less expected; the next step on our career. Moving from an individual contributor or team member role to managing a group is often viewed as a right of passage in the organization. That’s great if being a manager is what you really want. But there are so many other ways to make a positive and substantial contribution to your organization.

Taking on a new project, developing a new product or process, taking the new team member under your wing and teaching them how to get things accomplished, looking for ways to exercise your sphere of influence (see: “It’s All About Choices“) to help your team and the organization move forward . . . all examples of “leading” without becoming a supervisor or manager in a more formal sense.

So when the opportunity appears to move into a management role, take the time to ask yourself if you really want to be a supervisor or if there are other ways you can contribute in your current role. Get a good handle on the expectations for supervisors in your organization. Managing a team or a unit isn’t for everyone; make sure it is for you before you step into that role.

Think about it.

Paul

It’s All About Choices

I’m willing to bet that you have lots to do. At the end of the day, week, or month you can look back and spot all sorts of things that you could have accomplished but didn’t. You’ve clearly made choices about what to do, what not to do, what to pay attention to, and what to ignore or defer until later. You probably make hundreds of choices every day. The choices you make must answer three basic questions:

  • Who should address or resolve this issue? – you, somebody else, or nobody?
  • How important is this to me? Is this mission-critical to my job or not so important?
  • What is the best use of my time, talent, and energy right now? Handling this particular issue or something else on my plate at the moment?

I’m certain you have issues you can make decisions about, otherwise known as your “span of control.” These are decisions you can make on your own, choosing what seems best to you. For example, if something is within your span of control, you may decide to move ahead and keep your boss in the loop after the fact. If the issue requires sign-off or approval from your supervisor, then it clearly is not in your span of control; it’s in somebody else’s span of control.

You also have issues, challenges, problems, and concerns that you have some influence over, whether you realize it or not. This is your “sphere of influence.” These issues are outside your span of control; your position and authority don’t allow you to simply decide what to do. In this case you need the approval of someone else or the willingness of your boss to carry things forward. These issues tend to be things you care about and would like to see changed, but are outside your direct ability to make happen. So it pays to get good at raising issues, communicating critical information, and making recommendations so you can influence the person who actually can make the decision to make their choice the way you would like to see it made.

Learning to effectively use your sphere of influence has a great deal to do with the future scope of your span of control. Using and expanding your sphere of influence usually starts with your relationship with your own manager. You should quickly learn how they prefer to get your suggestions and ideas. Do they:

  • Need a lot of data or just a general overview?
  • Prefer to discuss your idea or issue, see it in writing, or receive it electronically?
  • Have a more receptive time of day?
  • Need to perceive any new idea as their own?

This is all about your ability to influence the future direction of your team or unit. The goal is to provide your manager with the information needed so their decision will go the way you want it to. Obviously, you need to provide your boss with information that’s truthful and complete. You don’t want to leave out an essential piece of information that could prove to be a problem later. That would brand you as someone who doesn’t think things through very well. Still, you can craft information and recommendations in such a way that they lead logically to the conclusion you prefer.

Often, supervisors and managers are frustrated by an issue or problem outside their span of control. So they toss the issue to their boss without thinking about how that person prefers to get input. When their boss ignores it, rejects the idea or makes a decision they don’t like, the frustration continues.

If you look back and can see you are not getting the results you want from your approach, it’s probably time to try a different approach. Ask yourself some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the real problem or issue? How can I best describe it so my boss understands the essential facts and generally sees the issue as I do?
  • What specific outcome do I want? If this issue was in my span of control, what would I decide to do?
  • Are there potential difficulties or problems associated with my approach? If so, what are they? What effect might they have on implementing my recommendation? (Hint – they often are political or “turf” issues)
  • What will be the benefits of following my recommendations?
  • What will the payoff be to the organization and its customers or stakeholders?
  • Who else supports my recommended approach?

Expanding both your span of control and your sphere of influence is a natural byproduct of experience. As you become more adept at managing yourself and the assignments, challenges, and opportunities that come your way, you “graduate” (David Allen’s apt term) and get to take on new, higher-level challenges. Because of the confidence you develop in your own abilities, this growth process can continue as long as you’re alive. But you have to start somewhere and where you are right this moment is a pretty realistic place to begin.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What issues are really within my span of control?
  • What issues are in really within my sphere of influence?

Once you’ve identified the issues that are within your particular area of responsibility, then it’s a matter of choices – what are you going to do to move those issues forward to a successful resolution, and what issues do you choose to defer (maybe) until later?

Then once you’ve identified those issues that you care enough about to want to see move forward, then it’s a matter of who, how,and what – who needs to know about this particular issue, how do you want them to move forward, and what would you recommend they do?

I recommend you really think about it. What’s within your span of control and what’s within your sphere of influence?

Think about it and commit yourself to making good choices. Choose well and you’ll see your sphere of influence and your span of control expand.

Paul

A Labor Day Thought

Since most of us spend a large portion of our waking hours working at whatever it is we do, it makes sense to do something that makes you happy, whole, complete, and satisfied. Labor Day, along with the start of the post-summer, let’s-get-busy fall season, is a good time to take a look at what you’re doing when you “work.” Might even be a good time to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Am I doing what I truly want to be doing?
  • Am I proud of what I do – the results I produce?
  • Am I proud of the organization in which I work?
  • What am I committed to achieve by the end of the next quarter?
  • What longer-range goals, projects, and challenges are important to me now?

Those are a few questions that come to my mind. How about you? What questions would you like to answer for yourself?

And for every leader who is committed to a true partnership  between labor and management . . . Thank you!

8 Essential Skills for Nonprofit Managers

For those of you managing nonprofit organizations – we’ve been asked to develop a 5-session workshop series for our friends at ONEplace@KPL. This series is designed for entry to middle-level directors and managers in all areas of nonprofit organizations (executives, programs, services, administrations, operations, fund development, communications—anyone who supervises others). Each session will be 2.5 hours and will run on five successive Monday’s from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Interested? You can learn more by visiting the workshop announcement and topic schedule at ONEplace.  And while you’re visiting, don’t forget to check out the rest of what Bobbe Luce, her staff, and her network are doing – it’s great stuff!

Next Time: More Communications Stories from the Trenches.

PS – watch for my upcoming interview about “The 8 Essential Skills” on Mary Jo Asmus’ outstanding blog, Leadership Solutions.

The 8 Skills at Indy – Lessons – Part 3

Stepping back for a bit of perspective on the Indy 500 as an example of The 8 Essential Skills at work, we continue to see lessons for all of us who supervise and manage, such as:

Skill 5 – Managing Change: a 500 mile auto race with 33 cars on the grid at the start is a study in Change. Often rapid and abrupt change. And it can (and does) happen at any point in the race. Davy Hamilton returned to the Indy 500 after a nine year hiatus, only to crash on the first lap after Thomas Scheckter took Hamilton’s line in Turn 2, causing Hamilton to swerve, lose control, and hit the inner wall. Sarah Fisher, on the other hand, steadily worked her way up in the field over much of the race only to graze the wall on lap 125, ending her day. Often the 500 is lost or won in the pits and when a driver is given the “Go!” signal before the fuel hose is fully disconnected, a return to the pit on the next lap causes a delay and may affect that drivers finishing order. Constant change is the norm; how it gets handled and what adjustments get made makes all the difference.

Skill 6 – Solving Problems & Making Decisions: over the course of a 500-mile race each team will have literally scores if not hundreds of decisions to make. Do we bring our car in for fuel now or wait a lap or two on the chance that there will be a yellow flag (forcing everyone to hold their positions in the standings) later? How many of our 15 our “push-to-go” turbo boost uses do we save for the final laps? Should we adjust the front wings for more downforce or more speed? Given the heat (130 degrees on the track) how often should we plan to change tires? Problems to solve and decisions to make are just a normal part of the process and are treated as such. Frustrating perhaps, but “that’s racing.”

Next time – Skills 7 & 8

Why Managers Fail – 2

As noted in the last post, 40% of newly appointed managers and supervisors fail within the first 18 months. One of the major reasons is:

Being Unwilling or Unable to Make Tough Decisions

It’s normal to make your first decisions carefully and thoughtfully. After all, being newly promoted or hired means upper management will keep a close eye on you for awhile. That’s fine. And certainly your first or second personnel change will come under rather close scrutiny. The successful supervisor or manager makes personnel changes carefully, keeping at least the next higher level in the loop throughout the process.

In fact, most of the truly tough decisions you’ll face are people-problem decisions. Certain issues can doom a new supervisor or manager to failure, such as being unwilling to confront poor performers positively and help them improve or move on, or ignoring interpersonal disagreements and conflicts. And while the toughest decisions are often people issues, they can also involve equipment, systems, or process problems; new product/service decisions; or other issues posing risk to your team or the organization.

Making decisions and solving problems are part of the deal when you become a supervisor or manager. Just goes with the territory. We cover a wealth of information on navigating that territory in Skill 6 of The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors and Managers – due out in June.

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