22.03.2016 : Guy Borren

Making your manager work for you

Managers must understand people and align people to strive for a common goal. Treat people well and you’ll have a lasting culture of success.

Effective management, like everything, comes down to people. A good manager must have an innate understanding of people, as people are the most important asset in a business.

A good manager makes a difference - it doesn’t matter if someone is managing a multi-national corporate, managing Manchester United FC or managing a retail store. They develop people, align teams and achieve success. Not just financial success, but a lasting culture of success.

During the start of my engineering career I’ve been fortunate to have an effective manager. I’m considered as a person, not just as a resource. I can think of many examples where my development has been prioritised ahead of profitability – knowing this has made me more motivated to perform in my role.

Having also spent over ten years as a representative sportsman, I have developed an interest in how managers and coaches can influence a team.

How does a manager influence a team?
Effective managers create a culture with a sense of trust; where their team has confidence in themselves and their colleagues. Good managers and good coaches have much in common.

The best coaches I know get the most out of their teams. They create an environment where their teams are challenged to achieve a common goal. More importantly they are given clear direction on how to achieve their goal. These coaches also understand what motivates different players; they perceive each player’s strengths and align these strengths to best move the team forward.

Some poor coaches I’ve had only confuse or place too much pressure on players – before losing them. There is a balance to be struck between having high expectations and giving players or employees the peace of mind, and freedom of mind, to be able to perform at their best.

What makes a good manager?
Listen, understand, care, be responsive, be consistent, be honest (even with negative feedback) and deliver on your promises. These are all qualities in effective managers. These are also the qualities that make a professional services business good to deal with.

As well as being effective with people, managers should have a sound knowledge of the field they are in. I’ve seen examples in a range of fields where people are appointed in management roles based solely on their expertise as a manager. They don’t have a thorough or technical understanding of the environment they are working in. This scenario can work well if the manager is still able to understand inputs to problems, and can work through successful outcomes. However, it can also lead to poor results if they are influencing the outcomes of problems they don’t understand completely.

The converse is also true. Sometimes highly proficient technical leaders are moved into management roles and perform poorly. Although they have a great technical understanding; this doesn’t mean their skill-set is a good fit for the varied requirements of management.

Why are there poor managers?
Managers ultimately get judged on the bottom line, similar to how coaches are assessed for their team’s on-field performance. However, if people get obsessed with the bottom line they can lose perspective on the necessary inputs that lead to success. The most important of which is people.

At times, it may be best to make a short-term financial sacrifice if it means giving your team member a better chance at developing their skills. This may mean arranging attendance at special training courses or allowing time to be allocated to training while completing chargeable work.

Again, there is a balance to be struck between completing a project profitably and providing meaningful learning and development opportunities for all staff. In the long-term, this outcome could be in the best interests of the organisation as it retains talent and builds capability for future projects. It also has important reputational effects – a firm that establishes a reputation for actively committing to professional development will attract the best talent.

Why are managers important?
Manchester United FC won 38 trophies under Sir Alex Ferguson over a 20 year period. From modest beginnings they became the most dominant power in world football. Since his retirement they haven’t won a single trophy; having moved onto their second manager in three years. The players haven’t changed, nor has the budget or the competition. It’s simply that Sir Alex knew the players, he knew their strengths and he created a culture built on trust, loyalty and belief. The new manager should be given time to get to know his players, understand the competition and allow the team to develop their own culture. Again, a manager should understand their people and the context that they work in.

My manager has played a significant role in how I have successfully navigated the transition to work as a professional. I’ve been given a range of opportunities and responsibilities from the day I started as a graduate. I’ve been trusted and encouraged to have a go at new tasks; while knowing I have support on hand. He is responsible for enabling me to understand my role, know what I don’t know, and work in an environment where I can have a crack and ask for help when required.

The onus, however, shouldn’t solely fall on managers to accommodate new recruits. I think everyone has a role to play in the successful integration of a new starter. Other seniors should act as role models and provide technical guidance. Most importantly the new starter themselves should act to maximise their learning by; asking questions, seeking and accepting new opportunities and learning from their mistakes.

Management Matters
I’ve touched on a few points here; how a manager can influence a team, the qualities that make an effective manager, as well as sharing examples of managers in industry and in sport. The key message though, is that people are the most important resource. Managers must understand people and align people to strive for a common goal.

A well-known Maori saying resonates with this point, it says:

He aha te mea nui o te ao He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
(What is the most important thing in the world?)
(It is the people, it is the people, it is the people)

Treat people well and you’ll have greater success.

What do you think makes an effective manager? Feel free to share the love about good managers, or tell horror stories of bad managers.

About the Author

Guy Borren

Mechanical Engineer

Guy is a mechanical engineer in our Christchurch Water team. During this time he has been involved in a variety of wastewater treatment and industrial projects. He is also a provincial representative hockey player and, in a past life, a representative cricketer and golfer.

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ADD A COMMENT
Sarah Barrow · 5/05/2016 2:03:57 p.m.
Excellent article Guy. To me leadership is about creating the environment for others to be successful. Your article sums up perfectly how your Manager has been able to achieve this.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts

Matt Girvan · 5/04/2016 3:57:16 p.m.
Well put, Guy. Definitely rings true.