By Ron Miles, PCC


What’s a Manager?

Throughout my career in industry and as a coach, I’ve watched people struggle making the transition to a management position or even an experienced manager being “just good enough”.  In either profession, when I assisted someone, I start by defining, “what is a manager”. Once again this is a subject that volumes have been written about. Over the years, I’ve condensed it down to a very simple definition. I’m not sure if it’s my words or I adopted them from someone else? In either case the definition is:


Manager = Getting things done with and through other people.


It’s simple, easy to remember, and clearly states the role. The success of a manager is determined by the success of each direct report.


The Three Questions

Once the manager understands their role, then the question becomes, “How do I turn this group into a highly effective team?” To achieve this, I ask them to focus on three questions, with each member of the team on an individual basis:

1.     What’s my job?

2.     How am I going?

3.     Does anybody care?



What’s My Job?

In a Harris Interactive Poll of 23,000 employees from manufacturing, military, government, healthcare and telecommunications:

·       Only 37% said they could clearly understand what their company is trying to achieve and why.

·       Only 1 in 5 said they had a clear line of sight between their company goals and their task.


To this point, when I ask a manager if their direct reports clearly understand what they are expected to do, I consistently get an emphatic “yes”.  To test this I use the following simple exercise:

I ask the manager “What are the three most important things the direct report is to complete this month?” The manager, generally with great assurance, will tell me. I then go to the direct report and ask, “What are the three most important things your manager expects you to complete this month?” Very seldom do I get the same answer!


As a manager, if you want your team to be effective, make sure they know what they are expected to do. If your life depended on it, how confident are you that your direct reports know what is expected of them, individually and as a whole? Don’t assume; after all the discussion and commitments have been made, have each individual repeat back to you what they have committed to do and by when.



How Am I Doing?

So once the direct reports know what they are supposed to do and set out to get it done, it seems obvious that they would want to know how they are doing. It’s called feedback. It lets them know that they are on the right track or if they need to change direction. This is not an annual, semi-annual, quarterly, or monthly performance review. Also, this should not be confused with dealing with poor performance that could result in disciplinary action. Those are entirely different topics. This is specifically a timely conversation between the manager and their direct report as to how the task/project is proceeding. This doesn’t require a formal meeting in the manager’s office. It can be done at the job site, on the shop floor, or standing in the hall. Based on observation and the conversation, “Is it on track or is there a need to change direction?” Then act accordingly.


If it’s that simple, why isn’t it consistently being done? Managers have three ways to communicate feedback; positive, negative, or none. Unfortunately, the option used most is none. (And they wonder why things aren’t going right!) The most prevalent explanation as to why feedback isn’t consistently given is that the manager is too busy dealing with critical issues, doesn’t understand the importance of positive feedback, and doesn’t have the courage or “know-how” to effectively deliver negative feedback.


So doing nothing is absolutely the worst thing to do! Giving positive feedback is one of the most critical things they should do. We’ll explain more in the third question. Finally, if a change in direction is needed, then negative feedback must be given. Again, we are not taking about an issue of poor performance, but for the need of a change of direction. It can be given in a constructive way that clarifies the change required and offers an opportunity for the direct report to learn and grow.

Does Anyone Care?
Whether you call it recognition or reward, study after study has concluded that the number one thing an employee wants to know is that their boss knows what they are doing and appreciates what they do. Appreciation is consistently the number one need that people have. So if you want something repeated, then recognize it. Let your direct report know, that you know and that their work is appreciated. To emphasize the importance even more, the same studies show that if the manager fails to let the direct report know that they care, the employee will assume the opposite. So, once again, doing nothing is the worst thing to do and in this case, over time, it actually makes performance.


So what should the manager do? Consistently communicate with their direct reports that they are aware of what they are doing and recognize good performance and that it’s appreciated. It doesn’t require a physical or monetary reward, just a simple verbal recognition:

Be Specific – State exactly what they did.

Be Sincere – Show that you mean it.

Be Timely – As soon as possible.



Obviously, with so much written on this subject, there’s no limit to the depth or complexity I could have gone, but that wasn’t my purpose.  Over all, if you will start with these three questions you’ll be on the right track. The meaning and the depth of your understanding and application will grow as you put them into practice. Remember, Learning is knowledge plus practice.


Your questions and comments are both welcome and appreciated.