8/1/2004 | 8 MINUTE READ

“My Door Is Always Open”

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Most managers claim that they are always available to their people and are glad to hear them out.


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Most managers claim that they are always available to their people and are glad to hear them out. Yet, ask the people themselves and you will frequently hear quite a different story. The truth is, many employees are by no means as sure of their welcome as their manager would have the rest of the world believe.

You, of course, are the exception. Or are you? Here is a short quiz that will help you answer that question with some degree of accuracy.

  1. How long has it been since one of your people asked you for advice?
  2. Do some of your people try to avoid discussing their work with you?
  3. Do you feel—and show—impatience or annoyance when you are consulted on individual problems?
  4. Do you try to postpone such discussions indefinitely?
  5. Do you feel that after you have listened to a problem, you have done your job?
  6. Do you usually close such discussions with some bromide like “Do the best you can”? Or, do you roll up your sleeves and help find a solution?
  7. Are you inclined to be overly critical in meetings, with the result that your people shy away from you outside the meeting room?
  8. Do you make appointments to see your people, only to postpone them because of “more pressing” business?
  9. Which is more important to you: Solving the human problems of managing, or getting on with the many responsibilities of your job?
  10. When the performance of one of your people is slipping, do you seek him or her out and ask, “How’s it going? Anything I can do for you?”

A final point: Managers who get ahead themselves are invariably good listeners who act upon what they hear.


To Spot the Perfect Manager


If you could somehow poll all the employees in the world—and top management, too—for their ideas on the ideal manager, we submit that Mr. (or Ms.) Perfection would come out something like this:

He is a good listener. He knows his people, what makes them tick—and why—as a result of encouraging them to talk, drawing them out and asking questions. He never dominates a conversation or a meeting, unless for a good reason.

He plays up the positive, recognizing that just as praise is a better stimulus 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. In building up the self-esteem of his people, he builds capable assistants. And, in the long run, this makes his own work easier.

He gives effective work assignments. He knows which of his people respond best to brief, one-at-a-time tasks and which work best under broader gauge assignments. He doesn’t set artificially high time pressures, although he understands the value of setting reasonable target dates for assignments that might otherwise stretch out. He anticipates the need for new assignments, stockpiling work assignments so he will be ready when his people complete current ones. At the same time, he schedules work breathers, setting aside time for jobs that need doing such as cleaning out files, maintaining records or reviewing procedures.

He is receptive to new ideas and supports worthy changes, no matter how “revolutionary” they may be. Even if they upset some of his own most cherished beliefs, he is realistic enough to recognize an improvement when he sees one. Nor does he confuse the merit of an idea with the personality of the originator. Dedicated to finding better ways, he is willing to let the chips fall where they may. And if he must go out on a limb for one of his people’s ideas that he is convinced is good, he unhesitatingly does so.

He helps his people grow. Because loyalty is a two-way street, he fights for his people when necessary. If a raise is merited, for example, he sees to it that the deserving employee receives it. He informs his people of openings within the company to which they may aspire. He never tries to hold back a good employee, even if it means a transfer to another department or division. In a hundred little ways, he lets his people know that he will go to bat for them.

He never belittles an employee, regardless of the temptation. He realizes that no one likes to think that others regard him as stupid. He will reprimand an employee using any other term—lax, lazy, indifferent—but he knows that calling him stupid will rapidly destroy his initiative. This term flattens most people. After all, how can a person throw himself into his work when he’s just been labeled incompetent?

He gives his people his undivided attention. That doesn’t mean he devotes every waking moment to his employees. It does mean that, from time to time, he gives his attention to every person under his direct control, individually. When a question, problem or complaint is brought to his attention, he invites the individual involved into his office and, in privacy, gives him his complete attention for however long warranted by the circumstances. He doesn’t let the telephone, his secretary or anyone else disturb him.

He communicates. Since the aim of effective communications is to reach the mind of another person, he selects words suited to that person’s level of intelligence, background and experience. If his communication requires the use of jargon, he makes sure his audience understands the specialized meaning attached to the words he is using. He defines his terms, is brief without being cryptic, avoids abstractions whenever possible.

He is decisive, willing to assume the responsibility for his assessment of the facts in any given situation. Consequently, his people are also confident and motivated to assume responsibility.


Who Are Your Smartest People?


It’s anybody’s guess how many good ideas, fresh solutions to old problems and new approaches are lost annually, simply because the people who might come up with them are not given a chance to express themselves. For the sad truth is that, in the world of business, the cream does not always rise to the top. Sometimes it just lies there, unappreciated, and curdles.


What can you do about it?


As a manager, you can do your best to identify your brightest people and encourage them to put their brains to work for the common good.

Your smart, unpublicized employees represent a valuable untapped natural resource and while no two of them are alike, they probably share at least one or two of these traits. Keep on the alert for them.

  1. They consistently meet—and beat—deadlines because not only are they good, but they have not had their ultimate limits tested.
  2. They challenge orders that they think are wrong, regardless of where those orders originate. If something seems incorrect or suspect for any reason, they will say so—plainly and articulately. The title of the person who gives such orders does not awe them.
  3. They chafe under bureaucracy, preferring to cut through red tape if it gets the job done. “Standard operating procedures” are anathema to them.
  4. They may have a reputation for “fooling around,” not because they are irresponsible or not dedicated to their work, but because their work is not sufficiently challenging. Besides, bright people often have highly developed senses of humor and prefer to make their work part fun.
  5. They sometimes look different from their coworkers, favoring long hair, informal dress and other eccentricities. This is by no means an infallible sign of ability, to be sure, but in combination with any of the other characteristics, the desire to be different in appearance may signify originality in other spheres.


How To Control A Major Interruption

People interruptions are an inevitable fact of office life. Sometimes it’s the boss, sometimes another manager or someone who reports to you. The one common denominator of all these interruptions: they are usually unexpected, unplanned and unproductive. In addition, by allowing others to control how you spend your time, you are abdicating your right to do your job.

What can you do about these interruptions? Here are some strategies:

Rearrange your furniture. A back or side view of you at your desk is less inviting than a front view, so consider moving your desk. If you have extra chairs in your work area, get rid of them—standees seldom stay as long as sitters. A prominent clock can be a not-so-subtle reminder of the passage of time.

Limit access. Less inviting than an open entry, a closed office door or work area will discourage some people from dropping in on you. It will at least give some others pause—long enough to ask themselves if they really need to see you.

Learn to speak up. For those who con-tinue to interrupt, you are perfectly justified in spelling out the situation for them. “I really can’t spare the time right now.” “Can we get together some other time?” “I’m involved with something far more urgent right now.” “I’d love to shoot the breeze with you, but not now. How about lunch tomorrow?” Whenever possible, be specific about the reasons for your lack of time.

Build interruption time into your schedule. The business world, as we know, isn’t perfect. Despite all your precautions, some interruptions are inevitable. Although it may not be possible to anticipate these with precision, you can make some allowance for the general principle that someone is probably going to interrupt you today. By establishing priorities and realistically estimating what you can accomplish on any given day, you should be able to deal with the absolutely unavoidable drop-in visitor. And should he or she not materialize, you can tackle one or two of your low-priority items instead.

Make sure you aren’t part of the problem. Faced by an unpleasant assignment, we sometimes unconsciously search for reasons not to begin a job. In the process, we send out little signals that we can be seduced into a social chat. Maybe we sit with our hands clasped behind our heads, staring at the ceiling…or are idly thumbing a newspaper…or are staring out a window. One way or another, we announce that we are available. And, sure enough, someone takes us up on our tacit invitation. So double-check your own attitude toward unnecessary interruptions.

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