8 September, 2021

The 37-hour work week is more enjoyable when you have a good manager. Work can be transformed from a hellish drag that you’d do almost anything to get out of, to five days of fulfilling, confidence-boosting employment for a company you’ll happily remain loyal to.

Here are 16 invaluable tips on how to be a better manager, to make your team members happier and more productive.

1. Provide autonomy

Autonomy is a priority for many employees, but it only works with a clear sense of direction from management. Business goals are set by managers, and team members should be able to complete them in whatever way they think is best—that’s what they’re hired for, after all. When an anxious manager tries to control every little thing that is happening with his team, he acts like an overbearing parent who quickly brings down their spirits. There’s nothing wrong with providing guidance on how tasks might be completed, but they should be suggestions, not commands.

Happy employees feel trusted by their managers to do a good job. If you’ve set reasonable goals and targets that they’re failing to meet, you can chat to them privately about where they’re struggling, and work together to improve things.

2. Respect people’s wants and needs

Every employee is a unique person with their own wants and needs, and to keep them content in the job, they need to be accommodated whenever possible. Perhaps a team member is happier and more productive when working from home. Or maybe there’s a fervent morning person on your team who gets most of her work done from 6 am to 2 pm, and would love to work those hours. Whatever an employee’s wishes, they should be welcomed, considered, and if they don’t hamper the company’s function, enthusiastically granted.

3. Utilise people’s strengths

Employees work in defined roles, with their own job titles and skills to back them up. But often, an employee will have skills that are outside of their job’s scope and should be utilised whenever possible. A content marketer may have picked up basic coding skills in a previous job, and will happily make improvements to the company’s blog if asked. A junior accountant may have studied graphic design at university and would jump at the chance to design some flyers for the company.

Take the time to learn your employee’s strengths, and give them the opportunity to use them whenever possible. If every one of your team members is putting their expertise to use every day, you won’t just reach your targets, you’ll smash them. And you’ll create a team that are gloriously confident and able to tackle the toughest of challenges.

4. Meet periodically

Informal Meeting

Informal meetings are a great way to make your team member feel heard

Most people want to feel heard, and it can be especially beneficial when they are heard by someone who outranks them. The power dynamic in a manager/employee relationship can make it harder to truly connect with each other, so when you meet with a team member periodically to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and desires, you are implicitly stating that you care about them, and that their happiness is important. This validates the team member’s concerns, promotes trust, and strengthens the bond between the two of you.

The meeting should be informal, and can work when held in a local coffee shop or somewhere else that doesn’t feel so business-like.

5. Respect people’s skills

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
—Steve Jobs

A company works because it’s a collection of people with unique skills, working in their respective positions to achieve the company’s goals and produce revenue. So if a software developer claims that one of your grand ideas is technically impossible, rather than getting defensive, have a frank conversation with them about why, and whether it can be achieved in a different way. Nobody appreciates a grandstanding manager who ignores the advice of people who know better than him. It makes team members resentful, and usually leads to a worse outcome for the business. Respect your team member’s unique skills and remember what you hired them for.

6. Push people

Some people desperately want a cushy job where they can complete the minimal amount of undemanding work and get a good paycheck. But in reality, this scenario often leads to tedious boredom. There’s nothing more monotonous than completing the same tasks day in day out, skills stagnating and brain cells shrinking into oblivion. Challenge keeps us interested and motivated, and as the manager of a team, you must set goals that are going to stretch people’s limits and encourage them to use their brain in novel ways. We simply cannot grow unless we are being challenged in some way.

7. Be approachable

Few of us want to approach somebody who wears a scowl to work every day, especially if it’s your manager. Though it can be hard on days when you’re grouchy, try your hardest to offer people a smile when you see them. This reinforces the idea that you’re friendly and accessible, especially when combined with an open posture.

When chatting to people, maintain eye contact and offer gentle nods to show that you’re listening. If it’s a longer conversation, keep your phone in a drawer so that you aren’t tempted to check it. But most importantly, try to have a genuine interest in what people are talking to you about, and this will validate them and show that you truly care

8. Criticise constructively

Vengeful criticism is poisonous for an employee’s happiness and productivity. Chewing out a team member may give you a righteous sense of superiority, but if you do it regularly, don’t expect them to stick around for long.

If a team member is consistently doing the wrong thing, have a private conversation with them about your concerns, and make a plan on how to fix the issues. Blazing guns never work, but patient, empathetic conversation does. And if they are still having issues down the line, a formal performance plan may need to be considered.

Most importantly, never punish failure, especially if the employee has tried their hardest.

9. Praise hard work

Praise Employee

Praising your team member’s hard work promotes the invaluable growth mindset

American psychologist Carol Dweck has shown us that praising someone’s intelligence is rarely a good idea. It implies that their intelligence is fixed, and so when they inevitably fail at something later on, the opposite becomes true: they are dumb.

The better option is to praise a team member’s hard work instead. This implies that their intelligence is something that grows with effort, and that by having the courage to complete difficult tasks and projects, they emerge as smarter people.

This is Dweck’s incredible growth mindset theory in action, which you can read more about here. With the growth mindset (intelligence is fluid), failure is no longer a reflection of who the person is, but an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and become wiser.

10. Avoid useless meetings

Too many people have meetings for their own sake, and then fail to achieve anything useful in them. This is a grave waste of time that is usually painful for the attendees, so if you arrange a meeting with your team, make sure you have a clear purpose that is outlined in the meeting description. This can help to identify when a meeting could have been a desk visit or a phone call, allowing everyone to get on with their work.

11. Address problems

If one of your team members has seemed miserable for a few weeks, and their productivity has plummeted along with their mental health, it’s a good idea to chat to them about it and support them where you can. They might feel under immense pressure with a new project, and are struggling to cope with the stress. It could be an unhappy home life, for which you may have an HR program that can help (or talk to your HR department about creating one). Whatever the issue, address it before it spirals out of control.

Hostility between employees can also be a big problem that you need to mitigate before it blows up. Employee conflict happens all the time, and it needs to be addressed with frank and open communication between both parties, with yourself and a HR member as sensitive mediators. We all have our differences, but team members must move past their arguments for the sake of the company’s goals, and to maintain a positive work culture.

12. Focus on results

Do everything within your power to help your team achieve their goals and hit their targets. This includes giving them the resources and help they need, being flexible with their requests, and allowing them to do things in their own way. If your team is producing good results, what more do you need to be worried about? When they are smashing their objectives, your team should be encouraged and supported to keep on doing good work for the company.

13. Have a good leadership style

There are ten or so common leadership styles, and some are better than others. Autocratic leaders want their team to follow strict orders and not ask questions. Transactional leaders provide goals and clear consequences for meeting them, and democratic leaders encourage the team to share their ideas and reach decisions as a group. It’s not hard to figure out which types of leadership style are superior, and they can be the difference between a miserable team who hates going to work, or a happy one that feels valued.

14. Encourage self-development

Learning is a lifelong process, buoying us from when we’re little babies to hoary pensioners propping ourselves up with sticks. To continue growing as people, we need to keep on improving our skills and learning new ones, so that we can become confident masters of our environment. So you should encourage your team members to develop their skills, and provide them with the resources to do so, whether through online education subscriptions, courses, seminars, conferences, or books. They shouldn’t be forced into professional development, but should certainly be encouraged because it can lead to a wonderful sense of fulfilment, and makes them better at their jobs. This also negates the need to headhunt talented individuals from other companies—they’re already part of your team.

15. Address your failures

A failure isn’t proof of your inadequacy—it’s an opportunity for you to learn from the situation and do better next time. If your failure is public, it can help to talk to your team about what happened, what you think went wrong, and discuss what they think went wrong. Being able to show this degree of humility can make you extremely likeable. Most people hate feeling vulnerable, so when it’s expressed by a senior team member such as yourself, it humanises you and shows that like everyone else, you’re a flawed human being who needs help from time to time.

16. Reward achievements

Whether a pat on the back, an award, or a bonus, it’s vital to reward your team member’s achievements, especially when they have worked exceptionally hard. It shows that you value their efforts and can propel them to even greater things, resulting in a highly skilled employee who enjoys working for the company.