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Posted: May 29, 2013

Best of CoBiz: How to be an effective manager

First and foremost: communicate!

Laurence B. Valant

Management is the process through which the strategies are executed to achieve the agreed upon, quantitative objectives. While to manage means to bring about successfully, our definition is extended to define successfully as executing the plans delegated to the manager, achieving the specified quantitative objectives on time and on budget.

Accordingly, effective management includes essential fundamentals, which when carried out, will virtually assure success on the part of the manager. These fundamentals are:

1. The ability to clarify expectations
2. The ability to gain accountability from direct reports
3. The ability to select competent managers to fill key supervisory positions

Management Fundamental #1 - The ability to clarify expectations

Effective management begins with the ability to clarify expectations. This fundamental requirement for effective management is seldom carried out, primarily for two reasons: 1) the manager isn't clear in his own mind what the expectations should be or 2) he fails to take the time to make his expectations clear to his direct reports. Many managers believe that once directions have been given, the responsibility for delivering results belongs to their staff. By delegating, they believe they have done all that is required. In reality, they have just begun.

Clearly stated expectations:
- Are quantitative and measurable
- Tie directly to the overall objectives of the firm as defined by the CEO in the vision statement
- Have time frames attached to their achievement and delivery
- Are perceived by both the manager and direct reports as fair and achievable

Clearly stated expectations provide the basis for planning and completing tasks, and they also provide the foundation for fair and reliable performance evaluation. Ninety-nine percent of an effective performance evaluation can be answered by responding affirmatively to the following question, "Did I meet expectations on time and on budget?"

Management Fundamental #2 - The ability to gain accountability

Accountability is achieved from direct reports when they state their commitment, verbally and in writing, to achieving the objectives specified in the manager's expectations.
Accountability is elusive because very few people in management positions understand how to gain commitment. Gaining commitment, an internal commitment made to one's self, one's team, and one's direct manager, leads to accountability.

Elliott Jaques, a noted economist and organizational psychologist who developed the notion of a requisition organization, played an important role in defining and structuring accountability. Jaques wrote:

Let me identify with crystal clarity the specific institution with whose organization and management you are concerned. For the systems I wish to discuss with you - the systems you manage and lead - have never been clearly identified. They do not even have a name. They are variously called "the bureaucracy"; the "organization"; "the hierarchy"; "the organization chart"; "the pyramid"; "the family tree". What they are in fact, are the organizations we use for employing people in order to get work done - employment systems - organized in hierarchies for managers and subordinates.

 I propose to call them Accountability Hierarchies (AcHs), for that is what they are. AcHs are systems of vertical organization for getting work done. Managers hold immediate subordinates accountable for their own personal effectiveness in getting work done and for the output of their subordinates. Work and accountability cascade down successive levels, and a system of organizational layers or strata is formed ... at this point, we come to the heart of the matter - to the tap-root of sluggish organizational functioning.

It has to do with the withered sense of accountability which pervades our AcH systems ... The malaise begins with the failure to identify and specify what it means to be a manager. We shall define a manager specifically as a person who is held accountable for the outputs of others and for sustaining a team capable of producing those outputs ... The manager is held accountable not only for his/her own personal effectiveness but also for the outputs of others.

As Jaques clearly states, a manager is held accountable for the outputs of the direct reports; therefore, to insure their success, managers must gain commitment from these direct reports, securing individual agreements to be held accountable as well. This process must be repeated down through the levels of an organization. Gaining commitment is not optional if accountability is to be achieved. Gaining commitment requires action on the part of the manager. The following steps must occur:

- The manager's expectations must be clearly understood
- The direct report must possess the technical and management (if required) capability to meet the manager's expectations
- The direct report must have the requisite authority to meet his commitments
- The resources and time required to meet the expectations must be available and under the control of the direct report
- The plan and budget to meet the expectations must be agreed upon by both the direct report and the direct manager

The process of gaining commitment requires planning, communication, and negotiation between the direct manager and each direct report. Gaining commitment takes time, but it is time that is well spent. The steps to gaining commitment are usually set aside because they are too time consuming.

A manager whose philosophy is expressed by, "We haven't got time to plan, we must get to work right now" is the same manager who fails to meet expectations. Meeting expectations can only happen when there is adequate planning and development of commitment.
 

Laurence B. Valant is President and CEO of Valant & Co., a Denver-based business performance improvement consultancy that has worked with almost 300 firms to increase their value by billions of dollars. He is co-author of the hot-selling new book, “Make Plan! With Effective Execution” and now, “Lead and Manage!” Valant can be reached at lvalant@valantco.com or at 303-589-3840. If you want more information or would like to order a copy of “Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance,” please visit www.valantco.com.

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