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Five Levers a Manager Can Pull

Q. I’ve just been promoted to the position of General Manager at the small company where I work. I’ve been thinking about my new job and wondering what I can do to make things better. As the General Manager, what levers can I pull?

A. Congratulations on your promotion. Owning the results of an organization can be exhilarating. It can also be somewhat terrifying if you don’t understand the things you can do to drive improvement. Doug thought about this exact issue years ago when he was the CEO of a midsize business. We spent hours discussing this topic. The result was that Polly developed a course for new managers that she has taught many times. The course coves the five levers a manager can pull. They are:

  • Set goals and develop strategy—determine what will be done – A strategy is simply your plan to achieve your business objectives. The first step is to set goals. Decide what you want to accomplish. Next, develop a plan to achieve those objectives. Identify the things standing in the way of success and determine the actions you need to take to overcome the hurdles. Establish completion dates for the action steps and assign individual accountability for each.

  • Get the right people in the right jobs—determine who will execute – Recruiting and hiring good people is difficult. No one is born knowing how to hire the right people. It’s not an exact science, but you can improve the odds that you will get the right person in the right job. If you don’t know how to hire well, or if you are struggling to get the right people in place, reach out for help.

Once you have the right people on board, make sure they are in the right jobs. Assign responsibilities to maximize the effectiveness of your employees. Don’t ask an offensive lineman to throw passes. It won’t work. Promote the right people and when necessary, manage people out of the organization.

  • Develop people—improve the ability of your people to plan, lead and execute – Provide opportunities for your people to grow and build the skill set they need to succeed. This might consist of providing formal training or sending your people to conferences and seminars. When you do this, ask your people to come back and report to the rest of the group on what they learned. This will help to ensure that the experience is more than just a social event.

Alternatively, developing your people might involve giving them stretch assignments. Don’t give people responsibility they can’t handle. No one benefits when an employee is set up to fail. Rather, challenge people in new ways that will require them to do a bit more than they have done in the past. When a person is in a stretch role, make sure they receive the mentoring and coaching they need to succeed.

  • Communicate and motivate—get people to execute – In our experience, employees should be kept in the know as much as possible. If people think bad news is coming, they often imagine things to be much worse than they are. It is most often better to give them accurate information than to have them make up nightmare scenarios.

It is also critical to have appropriate systems in place to ensure that employees are motivated. These include performance management systems, measurement systems and incentive compensation systems. But be careful, in our experience, employees will do exactly what you incent them to do, not what you want them to do. It is your job to make sure that these two things are aligned.

  • Empower people and remove roadblocks—ensure that nothing inhibits execution – Make sure that your people have the tools they need to do their jobs properly. We worked with an agency of the government that had a personnel problem. Two of their previously outstanding employees had become extremely unproductive. Management believed they had developed an attitude problem.

As a first step, we did something that their manager hadn’t done. We walked down the hall and spoke with them. We learned that the two employees shared a single computer. This had been fine when most of their job involved processing paperwork. However, in recent years they did an increasingly large portion of their job on the computer. The result was a large amount of unproductive waiting time. A computer costing less than $800 solved the problem.

Ensure that there aren’t roadblocks, internal to your organization, which prevent your employees from doing their jobs.

Managing is not easy, but understanding the five things you can do to effect change is the first step to success. Good luck in your new role.

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