Three Basic Tips for Managing Other People

By Heather Baldwin

Managing people is a complex business. But if you get wrapped up in the layers of complexity in people, you’ll become so paralyzed you won’t be unable to manage them. To get down to the essence of managing people effectively, you need to know just three things about them, says Marcus Buckingham, an independent consultant, speaker and one of the world’s leading authorities on employee productivity and the practices of leading and managing. “Identify these three levers accurately,” he says in his new book, The One Thing You Need to Know…About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, “and you’ll have enough information to start playing chess.”

Identify strengths and weaknesses. On the surface this is a no-brainer. Asking managers to identify people’s strengths and weaknesses, says Buckingham, “is almost as elementary as asking artists to identify the primary colors in their palette.” The difference between mediocre and great managers, however, lies in how they use their knowledge of those strengths and weaknesses. Mediocre managers believe most things are learnable and that the essence of management is to identify areas of weakness and work with the employee to overcome those weaknesses. Great managers, on the other hand, understand strengths and weaknesses are innate and that the essence of management is to deploy these qualities as effectively as possible. Great managers, says Buckingham, “spend most of their time either challenging individual employees to identify, practice and refine their strengths, or rearranging the world to take full advantage of those strengths.” That’s not to say you should ignore weaknesses (see sidebar), but capitalizing on your people’s strengths and unique talents will make them more successful, more confident and more content.

Pay attention to triggers. Great managers know the triggers that switch on their people’s strengths – and they know just when and how to pull those triggers. When Bill Parcells, who coached the New York Giants to Super Bowl victory in 1991, was asked how he kept two quarterbacks so productive throughout the season, he said he had figured out how to trip each one’s trigger. One quarterback wouldn’t give his all unless you were in his face all the time, Parcells explained. The other was just the opposite. Raise your voice even one tone, he said, and the player would close you out. A quiet word in the ear worked best with him. But triggers are tricky, says Buckingham, because they come in so many forms. A longtime employee might want you to check in with him each day or he feels ignored while a relatively new employee might not want you checking in at all or she’ll feel micromanaged. Another rep’s trigger might be tied to the time of day, with his or her most productive time occurring after 3 p.m. There is, however, one sure thing about triggers: the most powerful is the recognition trigger. Great managers match employees’ individual dreams and personality to the awards they receive and the way they receive them.

Understand styles of learning. There are as many different styles of learning as there are people, yet adult-learning research reveals there are three learning styles that predominate. Each of the three styles requires a slightly different coaching technique from the manager. First, there’s analyzers. Analyzers crave information, take good notes and practice what they’ve learned. The best way to teach analyzers is to provide ample time in the classroom, conduct role-plays and post-mortems and break down their performance into component parts so they can carefully build it back up. Second, there’s doers. In contrast to analyzers, doers learn best when they’re thrown right into the middle of a new, real situation and told to wing it. Don’t bother role-playing with doers. The most powerful learning moments for doers occur during the actual performance, whereas for analyzers these moments occur before the performance. Finally, there are watchers or imitators. Watchers learn best when they are given a chance to see the total performance, so get your watchers out of the classroom, away from the manuals and make them ride shotgun with one of your most experienced performers.