Have you recently become manager of a team, delegating down instead of managing up? Shilpa Wymer helps new supervisors to understand their role better. “What do you think you’re doing? This is simply not good enough,” you’ve just found yourself shouting at the office administrator. You didn’t mean to, but what with trying to meet the deadline for producing a presentation for the CEO’s AGM, as well as checking the venue and travel arrangements, you’ve got more than your fair share of work on your plate. Now they have just messed up the photocopying, the machine is jammed and they are huddling with some colleagues being consoled.
When first asked, you thought it would be easy managing a few of the administrative staff; after all, you reckon you’re good with people. However, it’s turning out to be much harder than you imagined. Managing people can be tough, but there is no need to worry. Like everything else, it’s easy enough when you break it down. Here are the three main steps.
Set the boundaries
The question of how to set yourself apart and be their manager rather than a colleague is always going to be a bit like walking on eggshells, so the sooner you crack it, the better. To do so, simply have a one-to-one meeting with each of the people you are expected to manage. Set about understanding what they do on a day-to-day basis, explain what you expect from them, tell them to come to you if they need help and finally gain agreement. This puts a line in the sand and clarifies you will now be managing them. Not everybody will like it, but it’s a good starting point and helps to set clear boundaries.
The art of delegation is more complex and will take practice. The challenge is to get someone else to complete a task properly, to the standard you want, by the time you want it. True delegation requires you to brief the individual as to what you require, asking them open questions to involve them and get their buy-in. For example: “The boss may need to rework some of the figures. What do you think is the best way for you to create the report so he can do that? What’s your best guess for getting the figures back to me?” Then create opportunities for them to check with you that they’re still on the right track. For example, “OK. If we aim for Wednesday, that’s great. Let’s have a quick safety check Tuesday lunchtime to make sure everything’s going to plan.”
When it all goes wrong
And then the time comes when you have to reprimand someone, either for the quality of their work, or for their behaviour. This can be stressful, especially if you have to sit next to the person, but it’s a necessary part of the role.
The first thing to do is speak to the individual in a private office. Start by stating what you’ve observed, instead of making an accusation: “It seems to me you’re spending an awful lot of time on cigarette breaks.” Or “It seems that whenever I ask you for the daily report, you haven’t even started it until I prompt you.” The individual is likely to be defensive and start justifying what they have done, so you need to then elaborate. “I have logged how often this has happened…” Finally, state what you want to happen from now on and, using open questions, ask them how they are going to deliver.
It’s a slightly uncomfortable scenario for both parties, but it has to be done and it works; within months, you’ll be a whizz at managing people.
Shilpa Wymer is Managing Director at Pitman Training Centre. For more information on the centre’s products and services, visit holborntraining.co.uk