2/1/2002 | 11 MINUTE READ

8 Rules for Getting Things Done Through People

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A manager’s job is to get things done by other people.


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A manager’s job is to get things done by other people. That’s axiomatic. But how, precisely, is that accomplished? Here are eight practical rules that will help any manager get more accomplished by his people and, in the process, build an alert, eager, responsible staff.

Be considerate. Nothing contributes more to building a strong, hard-working, loyal team than a considerate chief. He is courteous to his people. He puts himself in their place before making any decisions affecting them. He knows that they have pride and self-respect, and that he will get much more effective work by treating those characteristics as assets than by trampling on them.

Delegate responsibility for details to subordinates. This is the essence of management. You are not a manager if you do not delegate, just as you are not a machinist if you cannot run a machine. The manager who insists on keeping his hand on the details discourages his people by competing with them. The capable ones will quit, the others will sit back and let him do the work. And he will have no time for his real job—thinking and planning.

Give credit where it is due. Taking credit that really belongs to others destroys their initiative and willingness to assume responsibility. Giving proper recognition confers a double benefit: they get credit for doing the job; you get credit for building an able staff.

Show appreciation of the other person. This is another way of saying, “be a human being.” Not all people are warm-hearted by nature. But even the coldest blooded manager can easily take steps to warm his relations with the people on his staff. For instance: make occasional spur-of-the-moment luncheon dates with one or two at a time; find a way to mention hobbies, outside interests, or other not-too-personal matters; arrange informal bull sessions on business and non-business topics.

When making a request or suggestion, be sure to tell the reason for it. People want to know not only what they are doing, but why. The explanation may be oral or in writing. But be sure to give it.

Play up the positive. Just as praise is a stronger stimulant than criticism, so appreciation is better than lack of it, and building up a person’s self-respect is more resultful than tearing it down.

When you’re wrong or make a mistake, admit it. No manager loses face when he admits he’s wrong—providing he isn’t wrong too often! What you will gain is your people’s confidence in your fairness and honesty, an asset beyond price to a manager.

Give your people goals, a sense of direction, something to strive for and to achieve. They need to know where they are going, what they are doing, and why they are doing it, in order to plan their courses intelligently and work efficiently.

Good employees can’t get interested in working from day-to-day. So make clear the relationship between their day-to-day work and their larger goals.

For example, don’t stop with asking a person to study the operating costs of a department; explain that it’s part of a plan to provide leeway for salary increases, and the knowledge gained will strengthen chances for promotion. And give your people information about your department, company and industry so they can see themselves and their work in perspective.


How To Get More Done

The antidote for time wasting is discipline. Learn to sidestep the time pitfalls that others fall into and you will have gone a long way toward asserting your control over your life. Try these:

Plan your day on paper. Even a brief idea of what you must do imposes some logic on an otherwise chaotic situation.

Don’t be lulled into easy chores. Most of us enjoy certain responsibilities. An ever-present temptation is to linger over these while neglecting other, more demanding tasks. One person may like to sign letters because it requires no thought or risk taking. The good time manager reduces the number of routine jobs he attends to and raises the number of tough ones he tackles.

Let George do it . . . if he can. Delegate as much as you can. That’s a basic rule of good management, just as exercise is a basic rule of good health.

Break the rules if it will save time. Depending on what your time is worth, it may be more practical to call your superior on the telephone and settle some matter instead of going through all the work required to turn out a memo. Frequently, the informal approach is at least as effective as the formal one, and a lot faster.

Concentrate on the job at hand. Learn to worry in worry-tight compartments. No matter what task you must do next, treat the current one as the most important on your agenda. For one thing, it is. For another, this is the only attitude that will permit you to do your very best.


The Art of Thinking Clearly

The ability to think logically is still rare enough to set those who possess it apart from the crowd. Maybe that’s why every leader worthy of the name has demonstrated that he or she has it. The following should help you keep your own thinking on any problem within the bounds of logic.

  • Avoid impulsive decisions. Don’t arrive at a solution until you can trace how you arrived at it step by step.
  • Assemble all the facts that have a bearing on the solution.
  • Test every fact for truth and relevance.
  • Carefully examine any decision or solution that is too much in line with your own wishes. You may be developing blind spots.
  • Challenge your first solution. Check every possible fact, whether it appears to favor or oppose your decision. You may have erred in judging it.
  • Think “around” the subject. This gives you a cooling off period that serves as a defense against impulsive action.
  • Be willing to follow the facts alone, even if the conclusion to which they lead is disagreeable.
  • If possible, give yourself some extra time between arriving at a conclusion and implementing it. You may have a sudden insight . . . or receive more information.


Unleash Your Imagination

Fresh ideas and novel solutions sometimes have two major enemies: logic and common sense. Most of the world’s great inventions were fathered by people with the ability to conduct their minds on free-wheeling adventures into the nonexistent, the unconventional, the absurd. Try it yourself on a problem that currently has you stymied.

  • How, for example, might a child solve it?
  • Suppose money were no object?
  • What could you do if you had all the time in the world?
  • What would the ideal solution be?
  • Can you solve this in some combination? With what? With whom?
  • Suppose you made some element longer . . . shorter . . . wider . . . narrower?
  • What if you did something half as often? Twice as often?
  • Suppose you rearranged some steps . . . did certain parts backwards . . . eliminated others altogether?
  • Don’t be afraid of getting some wrong or downright silly answers. You only need one correct one.


Dealing with Pressure

Regardless of the nature of the pressure confronting you, a substantial part of its threat resides in the indefinable feeling it gives of overwhelming you. And the very fact that it is somewhat vague adds to its ominousness. Impose logical meaning on it, however—define it—and you will be taking a giant step toward whittling it down to manageable size.

One effective way to do this is to draw up a timetable of accomplishment—a list of what you must do, when you must finish it, and the amount of time you can afford to spend on each part.

Getting this information down on paper can be a tonic, for when you have a schedule that you can consult, you can keep track of how well you are doing as well as what remains to be done. Further, by reducing your pressure to words that you can study and understand, you deprive it of much of its terror. It is no longer a “pressure,” but merely another job that has to be done.


What to Ask New Hires

Once the economy straightens itself out—and it will—you may find yourself interviewing people who are seeking a job in your department.

Here are some questions to ask them.

  • What is their work experience? What are their major responsibilities in their
  • present jobs?
  • How much time do they spend on various aspects of their jobs?
  • Where do they feel they have done particularly well?
  • What are the problem areas they have encountered in their present jobs?
  • Why do they want to leave their current jobs?
  • How did the boss regard their work performance?
  • What kind of people do they find most difficult to work with?
  • What are their career objectives?
  • What do they consider important in a job and why?
  • What are the present job frustrations they want to avoid in a new job?
  • What are their salary expectations and how did they arrive at this figure?


Six Ways to Save Time

Doing more in less time requires just two things: organization and self-discipline. Learn to make every minute count and rid yourself of the time-devouring habits many of us unwittingly acquire over the years, and you have gone a long way toward stretching the time at your disposal.

Here are 6 specific ways to do just that.

  • Handle the most demanding tasks at your best hours. Each of us has a particular time of day for working most effectively. If you leap out of bed in the morning, your prime time is probably early in the day. If you don’t feel like yourself before 11 a.m., you’re probably an afternoon person. Schedule your most difficult task for one period or the other. You’ll slice many minutes off the time it otherwise might take to complete this work. You may even find it worthwhile to rearrange your entire work schedule, depending on your particular circumstances.
  • Be decisive. Don’t be so afraid of making a mistake that you do nothing. “Success,” it’s been said, “consists of being right 51 percent of the time.” Once you have all the pertinent facts before you, therefore, reach a decision and act. Once you have acted, don’t waste time in fruitless speculation over the wisdom of your decision. Go on to other things.
  • Listen. You’ll avoid costly errors, backtracking, and doing things over if you get instructions and information right the first time. Rush to a 3:00 meeting under the impression that it’s scheduled for 2:30 and you’re killing valuable time—yours and everyone else’s. Before you act, therefore, be sure you have all the facts—where, when, how, who and why. If in doubt, ask.
  • Establish deadlines. One effective way to commit yourself, if only to yourself, is to set specific time limits for specific achievements. It is one thing, for example, to say “I’ll finish that proposal as soon as I get a chance”; quite another to decide “I’ll finish that proposal before I leave the office tonight.” In the first instance, you are setting the stage for procrastination and excuses; in the second, you are pinpointing a time by which you will accomplish a particular task. In establishing deadlines, watch for two things:

Make your deadlines realistic. If you don’t, you will fail to meet them, and consequently grow discouraged and give up.

Stick to them. Don’t indulge yourself by rationalizing your failure to meet them, granting yourself extensions, coddling yourself. To the contrary, be as firm with yourself as you would be with a subordinate who promised to do something by a certain time or date. Once you have determined your deadline, move heaven and earth to meet it.

  • Vary your activities. Fatigue almost never attacks the entire body. Usually, it strikes only certain muscles at a time. By alternating your jobs, you can beat that tired feeling and accomplish more. Thus, if you have been sitting for several hours and are beginning to feel safe, switch to a stand-up job or one that requires walking. Been on your feet all day? Tackle a desk job. Not only will you find that your body can take more than you thought; the switch in jobs will keep you mentally alert, interested in what you are doing, and more efficient.
  • Learn to say no. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself lured into doing things and going places you would really rather not. Part of your self-discipline and timesaving program should consist of separating the wheat from the chaff. Sure, go bowling or to a ball game if you feel the need to relax occasionally; but avoid pointless commitments if you can spend the time more profitably elsewhere.


The Importance of Being Available

Some managers believe that a certain inaccessibility is the mark of a true leader. A few even think it is a symbol of their authority. They couldn’t be more wrong.

When someone who works for you wants to talk, it’s only good management to make yourself available promptly, because effective leaders have to know what’s happening around them. Problems shouldn’t have to reach the crisis stage before managers hear about them. No matter what the demands on your time may be, no matter how much paperwork or other obligations you may have, there is no excuse for not knowing what’s going on.

The best source of information, and one for which there is no substitute, is a close friendly relationship with the people who report to you. If they know you’re interested in what they are doing, and if you give them a chance, they’ll gladly talk. If you are impatient, uninterested, hard to get to, overly critical, or inattentive, nobody is going to consult you about anything until it is absolutely necessary.

Astute leaders don’t become openly irritated if the news isn’t good. We all prefer good news to bad—that’s human—but when bosses grow angry when things aren’t going right, employees are reluctant to speak up when there’s trouble.

Good decisions are almost never made in an ivory tower. Keep in touch, ask questions, encourage feedback. If keeping you informed is a pleasant experience, people will do so gladly. If it isn’t, they won’t. It’s really up to you.