Being a Good Boss

Being a Good Boss

Over the past decade or two, one of the most fundamental changes in the workforce is the way employees engage with their employer and their expectations of how fast their career should grow. Research shows that the occurrence of unhappy employees leaving within six months of joining because their job did not match their expectations is more common than ever before. Of all the people an employee interacts with, it is the manager who has the power to set the context for the job, the role and manage expectations such that the employee gives the job a chance to work. There is a very common saying that people join companies, but leave managers and further in this article, we will look at how one can become the kind of manager who brings out the best in their team and inspire loyalty and excellence.

In smaller firms, the boss’s sphere of impact is much wider and deeper – from constantly refining and re-defining the role, to removing disabling factors in the system; from assessing skills and providing the training needed; from being a boss to becoming a coach.

JD+: All the niceties of employee engagement aside, the fundamental reason people come to work is to work. A manager can be the fulcrum that defines this role – this is much more than a job description (JD), although that is the best place to start. And the JD must be layered with details of the manager’s expectations, in as much detail as possible. However, that is not enough. Over and above the basic JD, the boss needs to help the employee navigate relationships and structures in the organisation. Some examples are: tell the employee that the second-up manager is a stickler for numbers and any work that is given in should have an executive summary to it; introduce the employee to a network of peers from across the organisation to facilitate quick settling in; when a new employee starts on a project, take time to catch up every week for the first few weeks to understand how s/he is finding it; let your reviews focus on how the employee is feeling and let work reviews be done through project meetings.

Clear the way: As far as the team is concerned, one of the most significant value-adds from a boss is that s/he will solve problems and remove obstacles, so that the team can get on with their job. This means different things to different team members. A good boss understands what each individual requires and modifies his solution accordingly. For example, team members who thrive on their own, only need a goal and a get-go; on the other hand, members who prefer a more managed approach will need regular meetings, maybe even templates to prepare plans etc. There is no single solution and a good boss is flexible enough to realise that his style should suit the need and not the other way around.

More You and less I: Once you are a manager, your single most important goal is to get your team to shine and be seen to shine. The single most common reason new managers fail at their ‘boss-dom’ is not realising that it is no longer about doing but about enabling and coaching others to do and most importantly, letting them take the credit. This requires a tectonic shift in what drives you and mastering this is crucial to succeeding as a boss. More than 60 per cent of the focus in coaching new managers is on this shift from stepping into the limelight to showcasing others. It starts with looking for good work. As human resources (HR) Manager in an information technology firm put it, “The boss must appreciate work done; do not wait for the individual to do a great job to acknowledge – but search for good work done on a day-to-day basis and appreciate them.”

A thin line, but a line nonetheless: Once you move into the boss role, there is a line separating your goals from those of your team. There is no doubt that the boss’s goals will be a superset of the team goals but it is also more than that. Your vision now must scan business goals such as revenue and budgets as well as the project and quality goals the team shares with you. This distinction is the reason you are the boss and you must straddle both aspects without conflicts or compromises. The one thing you can do to enable this, is to help each employee understand how his goals contribute to the organisational goals – this is a key ingredient in engaging the employee and one that is easy to do, but not done often enough.

Communicate, don’t preach: Share your goals, your thoughts and your knowledge on changes in the organisation; interpret them for the employee; listen and allow free speech. At meetings, let others speak first and encourage debate among them. When you translate all these into action, it shows that you create platforms or forums for employees to come together and talk about what is in their minds.

Consider the case of a senior manager I once worked with. He inspired his team, had a consistent message that reiterated what he expected from his team (proactive problem solving, can-do attitude and technical excellence), which he shared at every opportunity and was genuinely interested in everyone in his team. However, the same message and speeches that inspired soon began to wear off and started to bore the team. They had heard it all before and in any meeting this person attended, they could be sure they would hear it again. This was a classic case of communication sliding into a sermon. It is a tightrope walk, but can be done if you watch two things: First, are your team members adopting your language? If yes, then you can tone down the direct communication and integrate the language into daily work – further speeches will become preachy. Second, have your team members initiated discussions with you on challenges in implementing your messages? If not, then check if these messages have been linked to goals and whether they have real meaning for the team. This litmus test will decide if you should continue your message.

What got you here, won’t take you there: As a good boss, your team looks to see how you manage your time, how you invest in developing yourself and how you prioritise your work. Not unlike children, team members will pick up on how you behave – if you are scared of meetings with your boss, their takeaway is that fear drives relationships in the company; if you prepare scrupulously for meetings with the team, the takeaway is that you value these meetings and prepare for them carefully. So, be authentic, continue to grow and take your team with you. How do you assess this? Ask for feedback from your team. Their input will help you grow and seeing you take their input will build trust within the team.

The above are some of the most important aspects of being a good boss. Depending on the size and structure of the organisation, the kind of work that is being performed, some of these will be more or less important. For example, in large multi-national corporations that have a matrix structure, navigating the organisation and figuring out how things work is a huge challenge for new employees and one of the most important things a boss can do is to be the compass and help position the employee in the best way possible. In smaller firms, the boss’s sphere of impact is much wider and deeper – from constantly refining and re-defining the role, to removing disabling factors in the system; from assessing skills and providing the training needed; from being a boss to becoming a coach. With the fluidity that characterises many small organizations comes the need for someone who will be a coach and a mentor – as Tom Peters said the greatest compliment we can be paid is to be remembered as a mentor.

Shubha Kasivisweswaran, is an HR professional with more than 18 years experience across industries and facets of HR, having worked in Gulf Oil, Cerebrus Consultants and Mercer. She is presently a director with SunGard Global Technologies and is available for questions or feedback at Shubha.k@sungard.com.

The opinions and comments stated in this article are of the author and do not represent the company.