Managing People Doesn't Have to Suck
Being a manager sucks. You have so many projects, looming deadlines, difficult personalities—and it’s your responsibility to oversee every person at your company or on your team. You don’t get to dream up big ideas and deliver them on your own. You manage people now. That’s what you do.
If this sounds like your idea of what being a manager is, then I call bullshit. It’s easy to get caught up in the notion that it’s your job to supervise how everyone on your team works and when. Managing doesn’t have to be such a hardship, so long as you have the right perspective.
I’ve managed people professionally for years – from restaurant staffs to talented journalists right here at Entrepreneur. One particularly brilliant perspective I’ve picked up is managing results instead of micromanaging people. In other words, manage the results people produce, don’t hover and control and stress every tiny detail about how your team gets the work done.
This concept is the foundation of a book by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson called Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It. Co-founders of CultureRX, a talent management and organizational change firm, Ressler and Thompson developed something called ROWE: a Results-Only Work Environment.
The book isn’t new, but the practice of managing results is worth revisiting. It might sound simple but, for some, requires a 180-degree shift in perspective.
If you’ve ever worried that you might be a control freak or micromanager in disguise, keep the following three points in mind when approaching your role as a manager.
1. You’re not a babysitter.
It may feel like you are some days. Especially with larger teams and so many personalities. But if that’s how you really feel, then you’re probably thinking about your role all wrong.
Managers shouldn’t micromanage. This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to fall into that trap, even with the best intentions. Your employees don’t want to feel smothered. They are adults after all—adults who were hired to do a job. Your task is to oversee the work, its quality, and its improvement.
As Ressler and Thompson point out in the book,
“… the way you manage the work is the same for everyone. That is, it has nothing to do any differences in attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors. It’s not about accommodation, gender, ethnicity, generation, or the like. Everyone has the same goal: the work. And focusing on this levels the playing field. Everyone is hired to produce results, and for a manager, this is golden.”
It helps, of course, when your team is made up of A-players who carry their weight and then some. This is especially true for remote teams. There’s simply no room for anything but top performers when you’re focused on results.
2. Expectations are everything.
When you’re laser-focused on managing results, it makes sense that managers need to clearly communicate expectations—the details of the project, deadlines, and how to measure success. “‘Optimize’ is ambiguous. ‘Increase by 20 percent’ is a clear measure,” Ressler and Thompson say.
When you’re focused on results, it becomes immediately clear who is delivering and who isn’t. If a deadline is looming and it doesn’t look like the work is going to get done, it is the employee’s responsibility to communicate that to you. If they don’t or can’t, then it’s time to review their future with your company.
Managers should be mentors. They need to provide a framework for how each employee can grow and continuously improve. Ressler and Thompson suggest answering the following questions when regularly reviewing employees of a results-driven company:
What is the ultimate outcome?
Who is the ultimate customer?
What are we doing that is enabling the ultimate outcome?
What are we doing that’s not?
How will we measure success?
People need to progress just as much as the projects they’re working on. As much as they should thrive when they’re trusted to work autonomously, employees also need benchmarks and feedback—more frequently the better.
3. Every day feels like Saturday.
This isn’t to say we should be working on the weekends. But if we happen to, so what? In a previous job, I had a boss who’d stand at an employee’s desk waiting to scold him or her if the person wasn’t in by 8 a.m. on the dot. If I don’t have an immediate deadline, and the quality of my output is high, then what’s the difference if I’m in at 8:05 a.m.?
I’ve never been a fan of keeping close tabs on a person’s work schedule. If you’re up and cranking early in the morning, good for you. If you meet a trainer at the gym every other day at 1 p.m., no problem. If you’re most creative and productive in the evenings, then that’s when you should be working.
There are exceptions, of course. But technology has made it so people are “on” when they need to be. All that matters is that an employee responds and is available when it’s critical (those expectations should be made clear), and that the work gets done right. Working hours are expanding, not hours worked.
“Time really has no relevance unless it’s used to manage deadlines, due dates, deliverables, and such—that is, the work,” Ressler and Thompson say in the book.
If you give employees leeway and they start taking advantage of it, it will indeed become evident. They will miss important meetings. Deadlines will come and go without the results you expect. As the manager, that’s when you’ll need to re-communicate expectations. If the problem persists, then you need to reconsider that person’s employment with your company.
With autonomy should come discipline. Trust your employees to manage their own time and make smart decisions about achieving the results you expect—whether that’s on Monday or on Saturday.