The New Manager: new skills for new times

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What, exactly, is the job of a manager these days? With folks now working between office and home, meetings with people in different venues, one third of all adults suffering from depression, and work-life imbalance from our new work situations, our jobs as managers need an upgrade.

Until now, a manager’s job was akin to the job of a Chief of Staff where people, tasks, timelines, and outputs were determined by the company culture. Now the culture must address both emotional issues and leadership coming from within instead of top-down.

Managing is no longer as simple as being a good leader; it now holds the key to a company’s success and strategy. Certainly a factor in inspiring creativity and supporting well-being.

Are you noticing any issues showing up for any of your staff? Do folks need support coping with health issues? Emotional crises? Work-life balance? Are they doing the same level work they did pre pandemic? Are they as creative? Reliable? Happy?

I suspect there might be subtle differences showing up given the havoc we’ve been through. Here are a few ideas to help.

SKILLS TO SERVE

Given the new givens, folks might be a bit off balance. Here are a few ideas to help you serve them:

Enhanced listening

Because work has generally been a ‘doing’ place not a ‘being’ place, folks may gloss over what’s going on for them personally. But that doesn’t mean you should. How do you include the personal? Should there be separate meetings for those with work-life balance issues? For folks dealing with depression? What is the best approach to personal sharing so the group can serve each other and still do the business at hand?

Folks can seem ‘fine’ – put on a happy face, tell the Zoom group all is well – but listening with an unbiased ear will highlight the unspoken stuff, notice differences between their normal communication patterns and disparities showing up now.

But listening without bias is easier said than done; our brains weren’t set up to hear what someone actually means. When writing my book on how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard (WHAT?) I discovered an alarming fact: we have little chance of accurately understanding what’s said to us!

It seems all sounds (including words) enter our ears as meaningless vibrations, or ‘puffs of air’ as they’re called in science books. Through a series of very fast (five one-hundreds of a second) electro-chemical calculations in our heads, these vibrations eventually get translated into meaning according to ‘similar enough’ historic, automatic brain circuits that we’ve uniquely created during our lives and represent our mental models. Obviously, there’s a chance they might not be ‘similar-enough’ to the intended message!

And it gets worse: our brains discard some of the incoming signals that don’t match the existing ones! So I might say ABC and your brain tells you I said ABL – it never tells you it deleted D, E, F, etc. – and your brain never tells you the difference!

In other words, if there are no circuits to accurately translate what someone is saying to you, it’s possible that you may not be understanding the message according to their intent.

Put it all together and what you think was said is some percentage different from the intended message. Use my Listening Assessment to monitor your own patterns.

Meaning aside, it’s possible to hear differences between someone’s historic communication patterns and current ones. Physiologically, there might be an edge in their voice, shorter words used, a lower tone, distracted communication. To make sure you get it right, check with them: “I think I hear you say X/I think I’m noticing Y. Is that accurate?”

Here are guidelines to consider:

  • Notice differences – differences in voice, tone, volume; differences in content sharing. Does the person seem distracted? Quieter/more talkative than normal?
  • Listen for how the group handles personal issues. Is it open to adding the personal? How will you address this going forward?
  • Are some folks hearing more accurately? How will you intervene if you hear biases?
  • When something important is said, make sure to say: “I want to tell you what I heard to make sure I’ve got it right. Please correct me where I got it wrong.”

Once the team is alerted to listen for differences, set up norms going forward to help those in need. Ignoring is not an option.

Group process

How’s the group doing? When they’re in different settings are they working together effectively? Anything obvious showing up? Differences in working relationships? Is work being done efficiently? Are there communication issues? Is creativity at the same level it’s always been? Is the personal accepted? How will you handle those in the group who stick to tasks and ignore the personal?

Set up a discovery meeting. Here are a few questions to pose:

  • How can we be most efficient when not all folks in the same place?
  • How can we make sure all information is available to everyone? (Hint: this is bigger than merely sending out emails. Sometimes ‘water cooler’ chatter is important and omitted from the group discussions. How can you compensate for this?)
  • How do we ensure that everyone has what they need for each meeting, each initiative? That all information – personal and professional – is shared so everyone is working from the same data set?
  • How do we include personal issues in our meetings? Does the agenda change? Is there a time set aside?
  • How can we make sure everyone who should be involved is involved? Or share necessary data that only two people have discussed?
  • How can we discover fallout before it becomes a problem?

Until everyone who should be involved is in the meeting, no action can go forward congruently; no ideas or strategies can be complete.

I suggest meetings be rescheduled if someone can’t make it – their unique voice, feelings, creativity and observations are necessary. Without doing this, plans end up needing to be reconfigured; egos might be bruised and relationships compromised; good ideas will go unspoken. Meetings must include the full stakeholder team or there will be glitches, resistance, or non-compliance going forward.

Information Gathering/Idea Generation

Given people may not be in the same room, or they’re distracted as per their time/health/childcare issues, getting information collected and brainstormed might be untidy. But it’s important everyone is on board and buys in to actions and goals.

  • How will meetings be led and advanced? Will one person always do it? Will there be a rotation?
  • Who sets the meeting agendas? Can anyone add to them?
  • Who will supervise the collection of data, drive initiatives, follow up?
  • How will the group know when it’s collected the full data set, when there is buy-in for a new idea, when all ideas have been considered?

Managers have done a lot of this work, but with folks dispersed and communication potentially compromised, with leadership, strategy and new ideas coming from the teams, it might make sense to update old meeting styles.

Supervision

Must people be in person to be supervised? There has been a prevailing belief that face-to-face is best. But there might not be a choice now. How will you manage this? I suggest you sit down with each report and figure it out together:

  • What is the best way for me to supervise you now? What type of flexibility do I need to best serve you?
  • What should I be looking for in case you’re going through a bad patch and don’t notice you need some support?
  • What would my support look like for you? What would I be doing, saying, not saying, offering, to help?
  • Is there anyone on the team who might have your back if there’s a work promise you can’t complete on time?

Your job is to serve your folks. Figuring out what this looks like must be collaborative.

Peer Coaching

Since you’re not always around, but folks on teams often connect with each other, set up peer coaching so everyone has a buddy and someplace to go if they need extra support. Especially in these times when emotions might be present, it’s important to set up ways for folks who know each other to serve each other.

It’s time for new skills to serve, new ways to think. The job of the manager now is a pivotal one: help get our folks through this confusion we face. Success and excellence depend on it.

I’m a fervent believer that people have their own answers when they’re going through stuff. Even if they tell us of a problem, we can’t know all the issues involved or how, specifically, the person is really coping. But we can help them find their answers so long as we stay away from trying to resolve them.

If your company seeks any support to help your managers recognize and learn new skills, I’d love to help. [email protected].

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