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4 Steps to Making Your Mark as a Manager Breaking down goals and empowering and motivating employees will help them reach and achieve.

By Doug and Polly White Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Effectively managing people is difficult, and no one is born knowing how to do it. Fortunately, though, this is a skill that can be learned. To become a better manager, we suggest following four steps that are simple, but time tested:

Related: Your First 5 Days as a New Manager

1. Set appropriate goals.

Goal-setting is essential. It helps employees prioritize their activities and focus their efforts. When setting goals with employees, make sure that they are SMART goals (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistically high, time-and-resource-bound).

The goals must also be meaningful to the employee. And that requires including sufficient rewards for goal achievement, and consequences for failure. These will ensure that achieving the desired goal will rise to the top of the employee's "to do" list.

Near the end of his life, H.L. Hunt, the self-made oil billionaire, was asked to name the requirements for success. He answered, "There are only two real requirements for success in life. The first requirement is deciding exactly what you want [setting goals]; most people never get to that point. The second requirement is determining the price that will have to be paid to get it, and then resolving to pay that price."

We couldn't agree more.

2. Develop a plan to achieve the goals.

After setting goals with the employee, put together a plan to achieve them. To accomplish any specific goal, the employee will need to commit to a set of actions. A goal without an action plan is just a dream. It's not real and it's not likely to happen.

Another problem is that most people don't understand how to break larger projects, goals or tasks down into actionable steps. As a manager, you can use your experience and knowledge to guide the employee in this regard. Keep the number of necessary actions from becoming overwhelming by limiting them to what the employee can reasonably accomplish within, say, two weeks.

Set dates, and even a time that makes sense, for when the employee has to complete each action step. This will create the urgency necessary to get the work done in a timely manner.

Related: Are You a Manager or a Leader? Here's How to Tell the Difference.

Finally, have a meeting on the same day and at the same time each week, as a mechanism for checking on progress and creating a natural deadline for your staff. The meeting can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour, but it should be comprised of three segments.

During the first segment, the employee should report to you on his or her progress. Use the second segment to give the employee feedback and help him or her overcome obstacles that stand in the way. Set new actions, including dates and times for completion, in the final segment.

3. Empower the employee.

To maximize the probability that your employees achieve their goals, empower them. "Empowering" here includes three tasks: First, train your workers to do the tasks necessary to achieve their goals. This includes giving employees sufficient skills training that they become proficient. Second, motivate your people.

There should be rewards for success and consequences for failure. An environment that relies solely on either rewards or consequences will create a dysfunctional culture. You will have employees who either become used to a country club existence or else live in fear of making mistakes.

Neither is conducive to long-term productivity. Finally, remove roadblocks that are within the company's control. Make sure that people have the tools, equipment and information they need to do their jobs. Removing roadblocks includes developing effective policies and procedures.

4. Assess performance and make adjustments.

Once the three steps above are complete, assess performance and make any necessary changes. We're not talking about annual performance evaluations. A formal review may happen only once a year, but effective management requires assessing performance much more frequently.

For employees new to the organization or engaged in learning a new task, you may need to assess performance daily or perhaps even more frequently. So, get away from your desk and computer screen and walk around the areas where your employees work. Stop to talk and ask questions. Be available and interested.

Employees who have demonstrated competence may require only a weekly meeting to stay on track. In either case, taking an active role in monitoring and commenting on their performance will benefit both the organization and the employees.

In the end, managing people is difficult. It's not an exact science, and there is no magic wand that will ensure you always get it right. In fact, you won't always get it right. Even outstanding managers make mistakes. The good news is that managing people well is a learned skill.

With work, you can improve your capability in this area. Doing that will take a concerted effort on your part, but if your company is going to thrive, your skills as a manager will be of paramount importance.

Related: 8 Tips to Help First-Time Managers Thrive

Doug and Polly White

Entrepreneurs, Small Business Experts, Consultants, Speakers

Doug and Polly White are small business experts, speakers and consultants who work with entrepreneurs through Whitestone Partners. They are also co-authors of the book Let Go to GROW, which focuses on growing your business.

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