The Effective Manager

Note: this is also available in audio format: 3:49 (1.6MB mp3) (1.3MB ogg)


A few months ago, I stumbled across A reading list for new engineering managers. I'm not sure that I want to become a manager, but even so, knowing how management tasks should be approached is valuable. Knowing how things work from the other side helps me to understand the bigger picture, so I try to do that with most things in life.

I began by reading the first book on the list, The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman. Here's what I found interesting:

Firstly, employees should be able to list their goals. If they can't, they should ask "what results do you expect from me?" and "how will you measure my performance?"

For the manager, the two main goals are:

  1. Achieve Results
  2. Retain Employees

To help the manager succeed in these goals, the book first gives some general advice:

  1. Get to know your people
  2. Communicate about performance
  3. Ask for more
  4. Push work down

Their respective importance is set to 40%, 30%, 20% and 10%. (Isn't it great when you add percentages and their sum is, indeed, 100%?)

When goals are clearly defined and the manager communicates about their employee's performance, both are off to a good start!

"Generally, the more a team trusts its manager, the better the results will be, and the better the retention as well."

The author advises managers to talk to their subordinates frequently about things that are important to them. For those frequent discussions, his recommended format is the One-on-One. One-on-ones are scheduled, weekly, 30-minute meetings that managers have with each of their employees.

One-on-ones last thirty minutes at the most, but can end early if neither has more to say. The thirty minutes are split into three ten-minute segments. The first third is for what the subordinate wishes to discuss. The second third allows the manager to provide feedback and instruction. The final third (hopefully there's still some time left :-)) is designated for discussion about the future ... as it's not particularly useful to talk about the past.

The book has some tips for addressing the reasons why some might be reluctant to attend one-on-ones. If they say their schedule is already fully booked, the key is to say "ok, but look at your schedule. If in one month it's mostly free, let's add a few weekly 30-minute slots then, to see how it goes."

Another problem that could arise is the employee being unwilling to talk or dominating the conversation. Again, the book has some tips for that and in both cases, it comes down to gently encouraging the behavior you want to see without forcing the employee (at least, in the beginning).

For giving feedback, Horstman provides the following model:

  1. Ask if the person is open to receiving feedback. It's useless to give feedback if one's not open to it. Also, hashtag consent.
  2. Identify the behavior you've noticed.
  3. Describe the impact of the behavior (positive or negative).
  4. Encourage effective future behavior. If the feedback is positive, say "keep up the good work!" and if it isn't, ask questions and work out a plan.

One important thing about feedback is that you shouldn't be angry when you deliver it. Bearing that in mind, you should still give it as soon as you can.

I didn't take any notes for the points "Ask for more" and "Push work down" because I didn't feel I was learning anything. Of course, this is specific to me. I'm sure plenty of people will find valuable advice in these sections.

I quite liked the book; it was full of interesting points. What I didn't like was that sometimes the author repeated points that felt obvious to me. Also, I felt like the author was a bit full of himself (though that may simply reflect cultural differences).

Reading The Effective Manager will provide you with a lot of techniques as a manager to complete your daily tasks. Even as someone without subordinates, I found this a valuable read, as it allows for some management in reverse.

Finally, remember the saying: "people don't quit their jobs; they quit their managers." ;)


Thanks Pamela for the proof-reading and the audio recording!

By Vigdis in
Tags : #management, #books,
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