The best managers are the ones that add value to the organization. They don't just assign work, make sure people show up for work on time, and tell people when to get their assignments finished. They are also invaluable in identifying how to do work smarter, how to become more productive as a team, and how to align the work their team does and the skills their team possesses with the actual business goals and directions of the organization.
But the longer a manager serves in his or her role, the more likely that fatigue will set in; management will erode to the point where the manager gives up his or her strategic vision and eventually goes through the motion of making sure people show up for work on time, assign work, and make sure that assignments are finished on time.
Believe me, I've been there. I'm a person who believes in being a value-driven, principle-guided manager and I began to recognize that I'd lost my freshness when I began to feel increasingly frustrated and restless in my role. I didn't really know where I was going as a leader of my team and the things were were working on really didn't seem meaningful to me although no one else seemed to have these reservations.
So, I'm resolving to ask a series of 5 questions to my team every six months. I'll put a reminder task in my calendar to make sure that I address these questions with my team. If this process gives value to my team, I'll be suggesting it to my peers around the management table:
- How well is our current strategy working? What pain points are people having? Where do they feel their work creates value? Where do they feel their work is not valuable? Is there any work they are doing that is simply thrown away, filed or ignored (do any outputs from any process step not feed into an input of a following process step)?
- Are we enabling efficiency? How well is our technology serving us? Are there good prospects to automate manual processes to create greater productivity? How can we do more work with the same number of people? Can we reduce the length of time for us to complete a unit of work without impacting quality? How can we reduce rework on our projects? How can we reduce the number of hands or desks that a process must touch? How can we ensure that a person only needs to touch a process once through the entire process flow?
- Do our customers and clients have the tools they need? Survey customers to determine how satisfied they are with the service provided. Is there room to offload tools and services to clients? For example, rather than having them phone the helpdesk and tie up an analyst for 20 minutes explaining a problem, can we create a more robust self-serve form for users to initiate their own tickets? Instead of a request to generate an ad hoc report, can we find a tool that allows users to generate customized reports from their own data? Can we help users create their own software testing plans and execute them? After all, they should know their data better than I know their data. Related to this is whether we can communicate with our customers using a level of language that they and us can understand. If our questions or responses are too technical, it will be frustrating for everyone.
- How should we approach new projects? "Off the Shelf" (OTS) software is usually cheaper and faster to implement than a custom-built solution but often lacks flexibility and can be more difficult to integrate with other enterprise systems. However, many organizations lack the internal resources to develop custom software or develop it well. Some decision needs to be made as to when to use OTS vs custom builds. This question also goes to the whole area of project management frameworks. Should we use traditional PM practices, Agile, or should we outsource or use SaaS? How do we evaluate project proposals in the portfolio to decide priority?
- What does my team need from me? How much can I trust my team to deliver what I need them to deliver? How much direction do they require? How much time should we spend coordinating our work? Can my execute to my standards for quality, performance and time or do I need to provide: better clarity of my expectations, more training or skill development to them, or some other modifications? Are there people on my team that need more challenge? Are there people who just aren't working out? Do I have skills gaps that I need to fill?
By asking these questions periodically, I'm planning on continuing to be a value-driven manager who can grow my team and benefit the organization. I'm also hoping that I can keep my own management style fresh and meaningful and keep my own heart and passion in the game.