In my mailbox this week was a message from a young guy in Australia who has just taken his first step up into management. His question was quite simply “What is the most important management trait I should consider developing first?”
Very interesting question because there are several essential traits that need to be developed as early as possible, but choosing just one – the most important – was a “no-brainer” for me, and this is an extract of my response to him.
Nothing puts you in the “bad manager” category more swiftly than poor communications skills.
Staff view an inadequate communicator as someone who is unclear, ambiguous, says too little, speaks up too late, or not at all (keeps secrets unnecessarily) and most importantly, someone who doesn’t relate to their viewpoint.
Managers should resolve to communicate:
- Using appropriate methods (memo or meeting, e-mail or notice-board)
- From the right perspective (talk about we, not I, and put things personally – “You will find” rather than “This is the case”)
- Using good communication principles (keep it simple, make it clear, and be precise and succinct)
- Explaining both the what and the why of things
Communication is one of the most important aspects of a manager’s role and if you feel you need to bone up on it, do so. Ignoring failings or uncertainties risks disaster.
Your early communications will be looked at or listened to carefully. Lines will be read between and inferences about you and the way you do things will be drawn – for good or ill. Take care!
While thinking about communication, make one firm rule for yourself:
Always be courteous to your staff
The old adage that politeness costs nothing is true. Any temptation that staff may provide to descend into insults, or even to be offhand, may cause problems and will certainly not engender respect. This applies, whatever the provocation – and, believe me, sooner or later, if you manage people, there will be some!
So, keep cool, count to ten if necessary and moderate your language and your manner.
A final point about communication is that you need to be constantly well informed about what is going on – in your department, around the organisation and in any other area that is important to you.
Never forget that informal communications are as important here as formal ones.
You need to develop a good network of contacts and here I must flag the importance of the grapevine – this exists in every organization:
- Discover how it works and who is key to its operation
- Get yourself “plugged in”
- Remember that communication is two-way (you must contribute to receive)
Use it constructively – ignore and do not start rumors, use it for firm information, early warning and dissemination and keep your eyes and ears open.
Keep In Touch
Take away communication from an organisation and not much is left. Yet, the subject is often neglected. It is the foundation of a good relationship between manager and staff and thus the basis for success.
Make sure you take action to create good – two-way – communication by, for example:
- Practicing MBWA: that is Management By Walking About – Talk to people informally, ask, listen, take note and ensure feedback.
- Regularly informing people of your thinking – by memo, e-mail, at meetings, etc. Tell them what your vision is, what you plan, hope and intend, what’s happening – and how it will affect them.
- Systematize the processes involved – make aspects of what you do formal and regular (e.g. regular departmental meetings and updates on operational issues).
Fundamental to good management is being seen as open and honest, concerned that people should know what is going on and concerned also to encourage and receive their inputs.