Use 'HOT' Management To Reclaim Your Role as Manager

By Bruce Tulgan Mar 3, 2008
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The workplace is ailing from an under-management epidemic. The reason: The vast majority of those in leadership and supervisory positions fail to provide their direct reports with the most basic elements of supervision, according to research by RainmakerThinking Inc., a workplace research and consulting firm based in New Haven, Conn. In an effort to avoid being a much-maligned "micromanager," supervisors have gone to the opposite extreme and completely abdicated their primary roles. Only one out of 100 managers provides every direct report with these five basics every day:

  1. Performance requirements and standard operating procedures related to tasks and responsibilities.
  2. Defined parameters, measurable goals and concrete deadlines for all work assignments for which the direct report will be held accountable.
  3. Accurate monitoring, evaluation and documentation of work performance.
  4. Specific feedback on work performance with guidance for improvement.
  5. Fairly distributed rewards and detriments.
The result is that the under-managed worker struggles because his supervisor is not sufficiently engaged to provide the direction and support he needs; the supervisor doesn't know what his worker needs and, therefore, is unable to help with resources and problem-solving, cannot determine what expectations are reasonable, and fails to set ambitious and meaningful goals and deadlines. Managers then get snared in a vicious downward spiral-managing problems after the fact, putting out fires that never should have been started, salvaging wasted resources and turning around employees who have been going in the wrong direction, unnoticed, for days, weeks or months.

If you've been a hands-off manager, transforming yourself won't be easy. But with hands-on transactional (HOT) management techniques, you can learn to emulate the rare but incredibly successful managers who are highly engaged in the day-to-day leadership and supervision of their direct reports. Here's what you need to do:

1. Stay up to speed on the key details of your direct reports' tasks and responsibilities by monitoring changes in each direct report's workload, pace, challenges and corresponding needs. Know when to step up the pressure and when to take off the pressure, when to increase your guidance and when to back off.

2. Schedule and carry out regular meetings with every direct report. In an ideal world, you should have a brief session with every direct report every day. At the least, you should meet with each person weekly. Use this outline as a guide for your discussions:

  • Review progress from the last meeting.
  • Ask for updates and a report on the employee's progress on each item.
  • Give feedback on his progress.
  • Give guidance, such as goals, deadlines and parameters.
  • If needed, remind the employee about standard operating procedures and/or performance requirements.
  • If merited, give special rewards.
  • Ask for questions or clarifications.
  • Ask if he understands.
3. Keep a manager's notebook-a running log of your meetings with every direct report. Organize the notebook as a tracking system, both chronologically and individually. The idea is to create an approach that works easily for you so you can turn it into a habit. The key is to be disciplined about keeping detailed contemporaneous records of your daily coaching sessions. Written notes also serve as documentation in the case of any disputes, and so that you can champion and reward success or deal with failure. Just keep track of the essential details and focus on performance; never write down personal observations.

4. Do more for your people but require more from them in return. Take advantage of discretionary resources at your disposal. Gain control of "bargaining chips" and use them to negotiate for increased performance. For example, use your power over resources and work conditions, such as the assignment of tasks, training opportunities, scheduling, recognition, exposure to decision-makers, work location, work partners and so on.

5. Tie every reward to measurable instances of performance. Don't be afraid to reward some employees more than others. Give each employee the chance to succeed, the chance to meet basic expectations, and the chance to go above and beyond. And give each employee the chance to be rewarded in direct proportion to his performance. But remember: If you are going to enforce those deals, you must be hands on, monitoring and measuring every person's performance and documenting every step. And then don't flinch when it comes time to provide the promised rewards that people earn through their choices and behavior.

6. Make high performance the only option. What do you do when, despite your regular coaching, a direct report fails to meet your regularly stated performance standards and the daily goals and deadlines that you agreed on together? Letting people off the hook for performance problems diminishes your credibility and undermines the team. The person you are letting down the most, of course, is the individual whose performance is failing. As soon as an employee's performance starts to slip, you need to take the following chronological steps:

  • Try managing the person more closely. Meet every day, focus on smaller goals and shorter deadlines, spell out concrete actions and write down more details.
  • Figure out the source of the problem. Is it a problem of ability, which would require a change in the person's tasks? Is it a problem of skill, which would require additional training? Is it a problem of will? That means you have to find a way to motivate this person.
  • Engage the direct report in a no-nonsense conversation. Create a script, rehearse it and carry out the conversation. Start like this: "There is a problem we need to discuss. The problem is 'x.' Here are specific examples. This problem must be solved."
  • Work together to find a solution and develop a plan, and manage and follow up on it aggressively.
  • If the problem persists, terminate the employee. Don't hide behind the excuses of "red tape" or "fear of litigation." If there is red tape, simply figure out what the rules are and follow them. With regard to litigation, just make sure to know what you cannot do, what you can do and what you need to do properly.
If you practice the techniques of HOT management, they will become skills. If you practice consistently, they will become habits. Stick with it, and you will see dramatic improvements in productivity, quality, morale and retention of high performers.

Bruce Tulgan is the founder of RainmakerThinking Inc., a workplace research and consulting firm based in New Haven, Conn. He is the author of several books, including HOT Management (HRD Press, 2004), Managing Generation X (WW Norton, 2000) and Winning the Talent Wars (WW Norton, 2001). Tulgan can be reached at brucet@rainmakerthinking.com.

Terms of Use: Advice for Supervisors from the Society for Human Resource Management © 2005 Society for Human Resource Management. Members of SHRM are authorized to distribute copies, excerpts or e-mails of this information for educational purposes internally within their organizations. No other republication or external use is allowed without permission of SHRM. The information is not intended to serve as a substitute for legal advice.

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