9 Steps to Becoming a Better Manager
Are you a new manager? Or an experienced manager whose people skills might be slipping? Take this refresher course in effective management strategies.
In the fitness business, many managers acquire their titles and supervisory responsibilities in the absence of any formal training—or, for that matter, any natural leadership skills. Even trained managers may occasionally get so busy with their day-to-day responsibilities that they neglect the basics of handling people. Whether you are a new manager or a veteran, take some time out to brush up on these essential skills.
To lead by example, you have to be accessible to your employees. In this age of technology, this doesn’t mean you have to be physically available. Many of today’s managers find themselves overseeing employees in locations hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away. But regardless of your physical distance, your employees should get the feeling that you are in close proximity. How can you accomplish this? Set a schedule for checking in with employees. Routinely ask if you can do anything to help them perform their jobs more efficiently. Supply them with the contact numbers they need to reach you during normal business hours. Use e-mail to save time when communicating the same message to multiple staffers.
Call me politically incorrect but, in general, men and women tend to think differently. Trying to manage them with the same approach is impractical.
Recently, while watching my husband play basketball at a local sports club, I saw two players get into a fight over a foul that had not been called. These two guys let the obscenities fly—the verbal attack was nothing short of brutal. Yet moments later they walked off the basketball court as friends. I actually laughed out loud when I thought about two of my women friends in the same scenario. The harsh words would probably have led to someone quitting the game; and neither woman would have wanted to play, let alone work, with the other one again. We women usually tend to take things more personally.
When offering feedback to male employees, you can usually be direct, using a statement like, “I really need you to get here on time!” Generally, an approach that feels less like a personal attack works better with women. Try something like, “It’s important that everyone be here at the beginning of his or her shift.” When encouraging women to be more productive, use a gentle approach with a comment like, “We all need to make sales a priority this month.”
Praise can be a powerful tool when the timing is right and the recognition is specific. New managers often make the mistake of offering generic praise, such as, “You’re doing a great job!” Generic praise has less impact than specific acknowledgment of a job well done: “Lisa, I appreciate the extra hours you’ve put in on this month’s schedule.”
Empower your praise by offering it at the most opportune time. Try using meetings to spotlight top performers’ efforts. This strategy gives employees public appreciation and clarifies your expectations for coworkers.
When a problem arises, before reacting, take a moment to relax, review, then respond. When something really upsets you, the best medicine may be an intense workout. “It’s amazing how much clearer and more level-headed I am after a long run,” says Barbara Brodowsky, regional group exercise director for 24 Hour Fitness in the Lancaster area of California.
Take a look at every problem in a calm state of mind. Ask yourself, “Is this really a big deal?” Then respond accordingly.
You would probably walk across hot coals for most of the people in your family. Facilitate a family atmosphere within your staff. Eliminate unhealthy competition, gossip and in-fighting by encouraging employees to get to know one another. Employees who care about their coworkers experience greater job satisfaction and less turnover, so find creative ways to help coworkers feel connected. Plan an employee potluck picnic; enjoy a change of scenery by taking everyone bowling for two hours; or, before your next meeting, ask all your employees to prepare a personal introduction of themselves.
Nothing is more dangerous than a staff that is kept in the dark. Sharing information that affects staff members, even indirectly, helps you maintain their positive support. If a much-needed microphone can’t be purchased for two weeks due to budgetary constraints, keep your staff posted. Lack of information causes employees to speculate, resent management and assume you don’t care.
Many employees report that their biggest concern at work, even above pay, is feeling unappreciated. Send the message to your employees that you care.
At a meeting I attended recently, an instructor approached his supervisor to express some rather passionate concerns over a recent change in company policy. As the instructor explained his position, I watched the supervisor glance around the room, cross her arms, chew on her lip, pick at a nail and adjust her blouse. When the instructor had finished, the supervisor said, “I understand what you’re saying, but it’s a management decision.” In effect, what she really said—with her actions as well as her words—was, “I’m not listening,” and “I’m the boss!”
When employees approach you with their concerns, no matter how outlandish their points of view may seem to you, do your best to see things from their perspective. Pay special attention to the message your body language is sending. Listen intently. Find points in your employees’ argument you can agree with without compromising your own position. Help employees understand your position by truly listening to theirs. Finally, keep an open mind. Some of the best ideas will come from your support staff.
Ruling through intimidation and fear is somewhat effective for a short time. Like trained lions, your employees may perform upon command, but they will always be looking to escape. As tempting as it may be to employ this management method, the effectiveness is brief and the long-term fallout is disastrous. Rather than demanding the respect of your staff members, earn it by being consistently fair but firm. Convey your respect and admiration for them and watch them reciprocate.
If your attempts to solve a problem don’t work the first time, change your approach. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard managers complain that they’ve asked their staff 100 times to do something, only to be disappointed time after time. If one approach doesn’t work, find a new approach! For example, if you have explained that anyone who misses the quarterly meeting will be “written up,” but each quarter countless employees miss the meeting, face the fact that the threat of being “written up” is not effective. Go to Plan B: Explain that employees who miss this quarter’s meeting will be asked to conduct a segment or present a topic at the next meeting. (Most people fear public speaking more than death!) Be creative, and learn from your mistakes!
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Use the following strategies to remain accessible to employees:
- Collect the e-mail addresses of all staff members. Then send them weekly e-mail updates of club happenings. Acknowledge employees’ birthdays and anniversary dates, and don’t forget to praise outstanding performers.
- Use your voice mail greeting to remind employees of upcoming events you would like them to attend.
- Call employees personally when you have an announcement that is important or time sensitive.
- If you have too many employees to call personally or your message is lengthy, send a letter. (Club newsletters are great—if people read them! Employees are much more likely to read personal mail in a timely fashion.)
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