The title of this column may sound like an odd question to ask, but if you read the job description of most management-oriented jobs, they generally talk about providing vision, building processes, overseeing activities, delegating work assignments, motivating the team, and other similar activities. That said, these same job descriptions don't generally discuss understanding your team member's needs, helping your staff move toward their long term career goals, and really understand your team's needs, wants and welfare.
The funny thing about managing a team is that the better you understand the needs and wants of the team members, the easier it is to motivate your team and maximize your team's productivity, creativity, and efficiency.
The best way to understand the members of your team is to listen to them. I don't mean listen to what they say. I mean listen to what they mean. For example, if you ask a member of your staff if they can perform a specific task in a specified time frame and they answer by saying 'I'll do my best', are they telling you 'Yes they can' or 'No they can't'. More often than not, they are telling you that they can't do it but don't want to tell you so.
As another example, if your best employee starts coming in late, leaving early, and making unexpected simple mistakes, what is that employee telling you?
I'm bored with my current job and want to be assigned to a different project.
I'm having a major personal problem at home and I'm doing my best keep it together at work, not tell anyone, and not have my personal problems affect my work.
I'm looking for a new job because I'm tired of the company politics here and want a new job.
I love my job but I hate you.
I'm frustrated with something going on at the office and I could really use your help, but I'm used to being the best performer and don't want to look like I'm having trouble.
As a more uplifting example, if an employee is continually volunteering to help on special projects, striving to learn new skills, trying to find new innovative ways to perform ongoing tasks, and continually being willing to take on new responsibilities, what is he/she saying?
I want to get promoted and am willing to work hard to get there.
I want your job, are you going to be promoted or leave soon? If so, I want to be your heir apparent.
Promote me or I'll leave.
These examples and real life situations like them, can make-or-break your job performance as a manager. In the first example, when the employee said 'he would do his best', if you miss the real message that he can't do what you want, then your department may miss its deadlines. In the second example, it you don't realize that the employee is having a serious problem, not addressing the issue could have major ramifications for your team's productivity and/or morale. Lastly, in the third example, failing to notice the employee's impatience and need for growth could cause your department and the company, the loss of a valued resource.
In closing, the better you understand the meaning behind the behavior, words and actions of your staff, the better and more effectively you will be able to manage them.
The primary advice and takeaways from today's column is to know that:
Listening carefully to not only what your staff says, but what they mean, can be of great advantage to you as a manager.
The better you understand your staff's needs and wants the more effectively you can manage them.
This blog is an excerpt from my weekly nationally syndicated column with GateHouse News Service. My new columns can be found in GateHouse Media publications throughout the United States.
Until next time, manage well, manage smart, and continue to grow.