Are you a great manager? That is a tough question, but one worth asking. While you may be experienced at assessing the performance of your employees, you probably spend less time judging your own. And yet, your business depends on how well you carry out your mission. That means exhibiting more than technical savvy; it also means fine-tuning the vital people skills that motivate staff members to over-achieve and generate more sales.
Pet store owners and operators can test their management skills by asking themselves the following 10 questions.
Do you communicate your priorities and directions clearly?
To be followed and respected, managers need to be understood. Make clear communication a goal. Express what you want from your employees in easily understood statements that can be translated into workplace expectations.
Clarity of communication will help employees stay on track toward achieving their goals. “Employees tend to become unfocussed,” says John Tschohl, president of Minneapolis-based Service Quality Institute and author of Moving Up. “They get distracted and concentrate on one thing instead of another. A good manager will stay on top of people, coaching and reinforcing.”
Bonus tip: Ask you employees for feedback: Are they confused by anything you have said? Can you restate anything more clearly?
Do you challenge employees to set specific performance goals?
“Do better every year.” That’s a great motto for every employee. Too often, though, the tendency is less ambitious—coast along. Managers and employees often settle for a performance that is good, but not great.
“Employees tend to float to the status quo,” says Tschohl. “The problem is that very few have any well-defined goals.”
It’s too easy to settle for hazy goals, such as “Become a better salesperson” or “Increase technical skills.”
“That’s not good enough,” says Tschohl. “Hazy goals produce hazy results.”
Working with employees to establish measurable objectives can produce better results. “Make sure the goals are specific,” says Tschohl. Here’s an example: “Make 10 sales calls per day” is better than the more general “Make more sales calls.”
Bonus tip: Set target dates for goals, and assess results at follow-up performance reviews.
Do you coach employees to rebound from performance shortfalls?
Saying is one thing; doing is another. Even the most dependable employee can miss an ambitious performance goal. Maybe the bar was set too high, and the employee needs to take a different approach to the challenge.
That’s where a good manager comes in. Monitor the employee’s work practices and suggest new ways to reach performance goals. Then reset the target date and stay in communication.
However, a good manager needs to do more. You must also help pump up the employee’s self-esteem. “Employees need a lot of support,” says Tschohl. “Most have a lot of self-doubt and personal problems. So you want to be nurturing people to do a better job. And when you see people doing great things you should give them recognition.”
Bonus tip: When recognizing an employee’s performance, don’t just state a general remark such as “good job.” Highlight how well the individual performed specific work activities.
Do you encourage your employees to contribute ideas?
Sometimes, owners and managers think they can do it all and fail to take advantage of—or even become aware of—surrounding talent. Other times, they are too focused on their ego to tap the skills latent in others.
Blocking the skills and ideas of employees can lead to the loss of the best talent. “Creative, ambitious employees will leave the company to find other positions,” says Richard Avdoian, an employee development consultant in St. Louis. “They want to enhance their own skills, and if they are not encouraged to do that they will seek other employment.”
Great managers pursue the gold hidden in every employee, says Avdoian. “Tapping the gifts and talents of the employees can make any business flourish,” he adds.
Bonus tip: Establish an awards system for the best ideas that contribute to the success of your business.
Do you take a personal interest in your employees?
Your employees are human beings with varied talents and needs, not cogs in the profit machine. Taking a genuine interest in their lives will foster their loyalty and pay rich dividends.
“Discover the hidden talents of your employees and use them,” says Avdoian. “Employees who realize they are valued as people will be vested in giving back to the company. Even if those individuals need to leave some day because there is no spot for them to be promoted, they will be ambassadors for your business.”
Bonus tip: In job interviews, ask questions that uncover hidden talents—not just the specific skills required for available positions.
Do you resolve conflicts in a productive way?
“Many leaders try to resolve conflicts in a way that appeases everyone,” says Will Bowen, a productivity consultant in Kansas City, Mo. “But if we try to please everyone we end up pleasing no one.” Of course, when tackling a workplace problem it is fine to pursue an optimal solution. But don’t let the search become an endless journey.
Making a controversial call, though, can raise hackles. How can you keep the peace when establishing a position less attractive than what people want? “Make sure everyone knows that a lot of thought went into your decision,” says Bowen. “It was made for the highest good of the organization.”
Bonus tip: Announce controversial decisions at meetings scheduled for that purpose. Explain the reasoning that went behind your decisions.
Do you behave in a professional way at work?
“More than anything, people judge leaders by their bearing,” says Bowen. “Employees need someone like the captain of a ship, moving them through rough seas with solid bearing. They need to feel that person has the emotional maturity to warrant being their leader.”
Conversely, people tend to feel insecure with a manager who is easily rattled, says Bowen. Leaders should keep in mind the three words drilled into people learning to fly a plane: aviate, navigate and communicate. “First, you aviate by flying the plane; then you navigate by figuring out your direction; finally, you communicate by telling others where you are going,” says Bowen.
However, be careful not to get the priorities mixed up. “What most people do is start by communicating, running off at the mouth,” Bowen says. “Remember that first you need to fly the plane, doing the things that are most important. Then decide on the direction you want your organization to go. At that point you are prepared to communicate your vision so people will follow.”
Bonus tip: Take a break if you encounter a situation you can’t handle with equanimity. Get away from other people for a while, giving time to yourself before you attempt to lead.
Do you delegate well?
Some managers are afraid of giving up power if they delegate. However, delegation is a way of leveraging the talents of others to enhance a manager’s reputation for performance.
“Delegating is not about giving away your responsibilities,” says Avdoian. “It’s about putting together all the pieces of the management puzzle. The bottom line is that the person at the helm needs to direct everyone.”
Bonus tip: Keep asking, “Who can I give this task to who is talented, and who will help our team succeed?”
Do you listen well?
People want to be heard. When they see that you are listening they feel empowered and will invest in your decisions. Too often managers do anything but. “So many times, we only seem to be listening to someone,” says Bowen. “Our mouths are shut, and we are looking at the other person, but inside we are preparing what we will say next, and we are judging what the other person says.”
Be willing to learn, and then you will listen closely. “Listening is an attitude, an openness,” says Bowen. “The best definition of listening that I have ever heard is this: a willingness to be changed by what you hear. I love that. If you are unwilling to be changed, you are not listening.”
Bonus tip: Communicate your willingness to hear by responding to employee statements with productive questions.
Do you inspire your employees?
Store employees need to be skilled and knowledgeable, but they need to acquire another characteristic if the business is to outperform the competition—enthusiasm.
Enthusiastic employees sell more, please more customers and dream up better ways to boost profits. But just what makes employees enthusiastic? That’s where you come in. “Most employees have a lot of self-doubt,” says Tschohl. “You have to make them feel good about themselves.”
Part of that is being specific about their achievements. “Use positive feedback to inspire people,” says Tschohl. “Here’s an example of what you can say: ‘You have more ability than anyone else in this organization. You have more drive, more energy. I am counting on you.’”
Bonus tip: Inspire people by communicating how they will be integral parts of your business plan for the coming year.
Guidance, communication and inspiration are key management skills. “There’s nothing more important than good people skills,” says Bowen. “They are the hardest thing to learn. Managers earn more money not because they do more than workers, but because they are capable of getting more done.”