Anyone that’s had responsibility for managing others will I think agree that is can sometimes be a challenge. There are days that, regardless of what you do, it’s apparent that you just aren’t getting the results you are hoping for. In some ways it might almost seem like you’re trapped in a Goldilocks fairytale – one member of your team’s complaining that their porridge is “too hot”, while at the same time another team member is complaining that it’s “too cold”, and as a result, neither are making their best possible contribution to the business. 

While we can’t expect to get everything right all the time, there are some aspects of management that we need to strive to get “just right” in order to optimise performance: 

Providing Direction:

Giving “too much” direction to a capable staff member will quite frankly drive them nuts. Capable, experienced staff will perform best when they receive general guidance, an understanding of parameters and expected deliverables (quality, timeframe, budget etc..) and are entrusted with the responsibility of getting on with it – independently working out the details as they go, though understanding that you are there to provide support if and when they need it.

Provide “too little” direction and of course you have a potential disaster. Quality may not meet your expectations and/or those of your clients/customers, timeframes and budgets could be significantly overrun, and relationships damaged (manager and staff relationships, and also staff /business and client/customer relationships).

Of course, less experienced staff will need closer direction than more experienced staff, as will those staff who are not quite as capable or who are working on large/high-value assignments, so it’s not a case of one-size-fits all. It’s more a matter of considering each set of circumstances and providing a level of direction that’s “just right” for that situation.

Addressing Below-Par Performance:

Providing effective feedback to staff who may be performing below expectations is also a key component of successful management, so it’s important that we get it “just right”.

If your feedback is “too soft” (that is, you avoid the issue altogether, simply hoping that performance magically improves, or you are overly-diplomatic/too tentative in providing feedback for fear of damaging the relationship), it’s unlikely that performance will improve at the pace or to the extent that you might be hoping for.

On the other hand, feedback that is “too hard” (that is, feedback provided too bluntly, aggressively, that is focused on the person rather than the issue, that is given publicly rather than privately and/or given without the opportunity for the staff member too respond), will almost certainly not facilitate improved performance, at least not in the longer-term. Nor will it support the development and maintenance of an effective team/workplace culture.

If you need to give feedback to someone who is not performing to expectations, spend some time preparing in order to get it “just right”: think through the specific things you want to raise/address, rehearse the conversation in your own mind, canvass potential solutions, consider and prepare for potential responses, think about potential consequences if there is no improvement etc…

Involving Staff in Decisions:

Generally speaking, I’m a big believer in involving staff in the decision-making process: it provides you with a good opportunity to help staff understand the challenges and opportunities you are facing as a manager/business owner, it opens to door to suggestions as to how best to address those challenges/opportunities, and it stimulates staff engagement which we know makes business sense. Presenting “too few” opportunities for others to be involved in decision making means missing out on these and other benefits.

On the other hand “too many” opportunities for others to input to decisions can bring its own problems. Decisions sometimes need to be made quickly, and effective consultation takes time that we don’t always have. As managers and business owners we also from time to time need to make decisions in which staff may have a vested interest (change of rosters, staff promotions/remuneration/hiring and firing decisions etc…) – we often just need to make those decisions on our own in the best interests of the business. We also need to keep in mind that staff also value those with true leadership ability – they want to know that while their manager is open to, invites and genuinely welcomes input, they have the ability to where appropriate take control and make the sometimes difficult decisions that need to be made.

Again, it’s a question of considering each set of circumstances and involving staff in decisions (or not) to the extent that’s “just right” for that situation.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are a lot of things we need to get “just right” as managers and leaders in order to get the best from individuals and teams. 

So what do you think? What else should we be striving to get “just right”? I’d love to hear from you – [email protected]