1. Set clear goals. It might sound obvious, but too often managers simply tread water or get pulled in too many directions instead of figuring out what’s most important for their team to achieve and focusing there.
Try this exercise: Pretend it’s a year from now. Looking back on the previous 12 months, what would your team need to have accomplished for it to have been a successful year? Now ask your team members the same thing. Do your answers match? If not, that’s a clear flag that you’re not on the same page about where people should be spending energy and what success will look like. It’s far better to find this out now, at the start of the year when you can fix it, then to discover it in June.
2. Think about what your team shouldn't be spending time on. There are probably all kinds of ways that you and your staff could spend your time, many of them quite worthy. But some will have more of an impact than others, and those are the ones you need to focus on – which necessarily means saying no to the others. Ineffective managers frequently say yes to anything that sounds like a good idea. Effective managers are rigorous about asking, “Is this the best possible way we could be spending our time and resources?” Vow to be in the latter group this year.
3. Delegate more. If you’re like most managers, you're probably not delegating enough and instead are holding on to projects that someone else could do because the work is comfortable or you don’t trust anyone else to do it right. But refusing to delegate means that you won't free yourself up to take on bigger and more important pieces of work, which will hold you back. This can also hold your junior colleagues back too, by denying them the ability to grow into the work you currently do. So start off 2014 by vowing to delegate more to your team.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, so how do you choose what to delegate, especially if you don’t trust anyone else to do the work as well as you would? Well, if you ever took Econ 101, you might remember the principle of comparative advantage, which says that you should be spending your time in the areas where you’re much better than your staff – not just a bit better – because the pay-off will be greater. In other words, you might be a bit better than your assistant at doing initial client screens, but given your experience and role, you’re probably far more effective than she would be at managing accounts, and as long as she can do those initial client screens well enough, your time should be spent on the pieces that only you can do.
4. Give more feedback. One of the most powerful tools you have as a manager is providing direct feedback, both positive and corrective. You should provide feedback on a constant, ongoing basis, in order to reinforce behavior you want to see more of, prevent bad habits from becoming ingrained, and foster an atmosphere of open communication. Providing feedback regularly can also allow you to address potential problems while they’re still small, rather than telling a staffer that something she has been doing for months is wrong.
But too often, managers don’t give regular feedback. In 2014, vow to give feedback at least weekly to each person who reports to you. Making feedback a regular part of your conversations with staff members (such as making it an item on every weekly check-in agenda) will help “normalize” it so that staff members won’t see it as a scary conversation that only occurs occasionally.
Remember, too, that giving feedback shouldn’t be a monologue; it should be a two-way conversation where you share your thoughts and solicit the staff member’s input. Make sure that you pause to hear your staffer's thoughts and ask for her assessment. You might ask questions like:
5. Actively manage the makeup of your team. Managers often assume that the team they inherited – or even the team they built themselves – is the team they’re supposed to keep. But the makeup of your team has an enormous impact on your ability to get results, so it’s crucial that you’re proactive about shaping it. That means that you should put significant energy into getting, keeping, and developing high performers – as well as letting go of people who don’t reach a high bar. That isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s a critical lever in what you will be able to achieve.
Speaking of which…
6. Make sure that you retain your best people. As a manager, retaining your best people is a critically important part of your job. Since having the right people on board is key to great results, you need to make sure that your best employees stay. That means that you need to be strategic about retention, in the same way you’d be strategic about anything else you don’t want to leave to chance, like product development or financing. Treat your retention efforts like as much of a priority as anything else you care about, and include retention on your to-do lists or in your quarterly plans. Even just writing “do everything I can to keep Alex” on your plan for the quarter can help keep the goal on your radar screen.
From there, you can develop an individualized strategy for each person you’re working to retain. That strategy will vary from person to person, since different people are motivated by different things, but will usually include making sure that the person feels valued, is compensated competitively, has opportunities to grow, and feels a sense of progress in their work. You should also talk directly with the people who you most want to retain, telling them explicitly that you want to ensure they’re happy, and even asking directly, “How can I make sure that you stay for the next two years?”