Management: It actually is rocket science

I believe Imagine has a strong company culture that has grown from many successes and failures. It’s not easy, but over the years I think collectively we have discovered a few things that work. Managing people is a big responsibility that employers often treat as a burden because it is challenging and nuanced. It’s often pawned off to others without the realization that those you pawn it off on also require management. Poor management skills are the Achilles’ heel of a work environment. The process is constantly reinventing itself based on the requirements and needs of a diverse staff. No, one method does not work for everyone. Each person is unique, so your approach should reflect that. Here are just six examples that illustrate how complicated management can be:

Understand what your employees bring to the table
In most companies, managers know what people are supposed to do but not what they do and why they do it. Managers should find out why they do things that could be potentially disastrous in terms of productivity. Such as, what resources do they have for problem-solving? What hinders them from achieving their goals?

When you don’t engage or interact with your employees frequently, you miss many opportunities to optimize productivity and improve their feelings about their work and your company. The better you can understand your employees, the easier your job is to keep them happy and satisfied with their work. Happy Employees = Productive Employees. Understanding what your employees go through daily alerts you to your organization’s problems much faster, which makes managing complexity much simpler.

Support your influencers
Influencers are the employees who have the interest and the power to encourage others to cooperate. You likely have people who have a knack for inspiring or encouraging others in the staff. These people bring a little more to the position and create a positive work culture through their actions and interactions with the team.

Find a way to empower employees who naturally befriend coworkers and inspire them to improve working conditions and product or service quality. The more empowered they are, the more they’ll positively influence your company and culture. Reinforce their actions by publicly recognizing the good things they’re doing for the company as a whole. Make sure you’re specific and detailed with your praise so co-workers can model that same behavior.

Give people power
A key element to a great company culture is the combination of cooperation and autonomy. Although standards are essential in a work environment, they can create unexpected complications and problems. While creating new layers, processes and systems to deal with challenges, you may unintentionally also sacrifice autonomy. This creates the risk of making your organization less agile.

One of the effects of intelligent simplicity is to balance autonomy and cooperation. It gives people enough power to take the risk of interpreting rules, using their judgment and intelligence. Suppose more employees have the authority to make decisions in an organization. In that case, that means they can solve problems on their own.

Promote and practice collaboration between employees and have as much freedom over their jobs as possible. Simply letting them choose when they work and how the work gets done can make a huge difference in how much effort they put into their jobs.

Try not to resolve every problem or complex situation
Give your staff the chance to develop and implement their plans to deal with sticky situations. People need to work together to resolve the most significant problems. Take steps to streamline resources and processes to create an environment of collaboration and teamwork. It’s best when people see why they should trust one another rather than being told they should trust one another.

Have employees try their cooking
People work better when they understand — and have to live with — the consequences of their actions. Too often, people have no idea how their work affects their co-workers or the bigger picture. People focus on performing their duties at times oblivious to how their work impacts the quality of the products or the people they work with.

When you require employees to face the consequences of their actions, they begin to understand how their work fits into the entire process. They’ll make fewer careless mistakes and pay more attention to the quality of the work.

Don’t punish their failures, address their failure to cooperate
If people are afraid to fail, they’ll hide issues from you and their peers. Reward people who reveal problems and address those who don’t come together to help solve them. Poor supervisors can poison a culture with arrogant and overly dismissive behavior. A toxic work environment like this fosters distrust and destroys morale. Less-confident employees become afraid to speak up for fear of being criticized and shunned. Others become cynical. This can result in everyone being too busy watching their own back and no longer caring about the company.

If your employees don’t alert you to issues, your organization’s problems will likely go unnoticed until they become critical and disrupt your day-to-day business operations. Reward employees who present problems with your willingness to analyze and evaluate the situation in an unbiased, non-judgmental manner. Address problem employees by establishing boundaries and calling them out on their inappropriate behavior logically and in a non-confrontational way. Present them with evidence to back up what you’re saying and be clear about your expectations in the future.

A strong company culture can be a complicated thing to manage but always worth it.

Alex Raffi is the partner and creative director of Imagine Communications.

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