7 Ways Managers Can Remove the Barriers to Real Work

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Nov 8, 2010

By Brent D. Peterson and Gaylan W. Nielson

As a manager, you must do everything possible to remove barriers that separate people from the real work they need to do. You can easily keep people busy, but you must keep the road clear for real and valuable work.

The workplace is a minefield — loaded with interruptions, setbacks, policies, processes, and procedures — but managers must work to clear all of those barriers that don’t sup-port real work. Some common barriers include:

  • Policies and practices that are too restrictive or don’t add value.
  • Redundant or useless steps in processes.
  • Meetings that don’t have a very clear purpose.
  • Meetings that pull people in just to be observers.
  • Conference calls, video conferences, etc., that have no clear purpose.

Set up monitoring systems and share success

Make sure you are setting up ways to follow up, check in, and monitor work without being unduly intrusive. The best way to do that is to hold employees accountable and expect them to measure and to report on their progress. How do you set your team up to monitor its own success?

1. Every team meeting should be armed with data. Your team must collect, analyze, and promote action plans with strong data. Be diligent about getting the facts and understanding them in the context of work before you judge their impact. Some teams collect tons of data, while others, especially those working in less tangible areas like training, strategy, or imple- mentation teams, provide little or no data. Identify all the ways you can show that you have succeeded: people involved, messages delivered, feedback provided, steps proposed and completed, etc. For any project, there are some hard data and some soft data, and you should collect as much of both as possible. Ultimately you need to show value — how your team’s work affects costs, profits, and productivity.

2. Help every team advocate and sell its value. Every employee and every team has to first understand and measure value, but then managers must help take data, new ideas, and recommendations for change to their superiors and to other teams to validate the work of their teams. Managers who ignore this role will find themselves fighting for people perceived as less important to the company or will struggle to keep people tuned in and excited about the work.

3. Managers must be mentors. Managers add value when they use their experience to help others learn, empowering them with the knowledge to be self-sufficient. Mentoring asks managers to bring their best knowledge and the best thinking they can find to their employees. And while managers are often the ones doing the mentoring, sometimes the best mentors are teammates or people from other teams. Remember that someone can be mentored by the same person he or she is mentoring on a different set of skills. Teams thrive when they create this kind of value sharing.

4. Managers must be coaches. Coaching is hard for many managers and is a skill that needs to be developed. It is an affirming process that helps employees feel valued and compelled to keep work moving forward. Many think of coaches as sports figures who yell and get in people’s faces, but coaching in the modern workplace is a subtle, delicate technique in which the coach ensures that people are “caught doing things right,” not just be- ing chastised for mistakes.

5. Managers must follow through and follow up. The weakest link in management effectiveness is often follow-through and follow-up. This might be because managers, busy managers, have their own work and often have excellent excuses for not paying attention to the work of others. Follow-through is doing what you say you will do. Managers often promise help or increased budgets or to get senior management’s support, or make a host of other promises that will help their teams succeed. Then they become the barrier when they don’t follow through. In many cases the manager should have empowered the team member and connected that person directly with the people who could solve the problem; instead, the manager takes on the burden and then fails to follow through.

Managers who are good at follow-through and empowerment find their teams to be more efficient, self-reliant, and productive than their counterparts who fail to follow through. Follow-up is simply checking in and showing that you care. Teams will perform better if their work matters. Too often workers are given a task and receive no real contact for weeks or months.

The upside is that if the employees are on track, they will have developed a sense of independence; the downside is that if they are off track, it may be too late to set things straight. Follow-up helps managers see and understand the work being done, and shows workers that they care that team members are doing what they committed to. Sometimes fake work happens in spite of good intentions, so managers must monitor and check up with employees to compare work against agreed-upon plans.

6. Managers must ensure that others are accountable as well. Managers are accountable to those above them, and there- fore they must keep team members accountable for finishing critical tasks, aligning with priorities, meeting deadlines, and completing deliverables. This means that action plans or work plans must be broken down into specific actions that can be observed, quantified, and discussed with clarity. Each action needs a deadline and various milestones attached to it. When team members are prepared with this kind of infor- mation, they can be held accountable without question. Managers and team members should work together to create plans that will help them both understand and discuss the specifics of how the work is proceeding.

7. Promote sharing. Within your team and many of its related teams, great things will be happening. So set up simple and open methods to systematize new learning, best practices, and improved processes. Where there is new learning of value, share it. Where there are new tools, bring them into play for everyone. Where there are significant accomplishments, pass the word along.

In conclusion, managers are essential in narrowing the gap between fake work and real work.

Managers can facilitate great work by ensuring that people are focused on the right work, connected to strategy, and have clear priorities. They can help teams align and work together in a unified way. They can help teams execute with excellence and drive the results the company is seeking. And, unfortunately, they can also be the very barriers to all those positive results.

As gatekeepers, managers have a powerful opportunity to build trust and facilitate great work. If you are a manager, take those responsibilities seriously.

Excerpted from Fake Work  – Why People Are Working Harder Than Ever But Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem, by Brent D. Peterson and Gaylan W. Nielson. Copyright 2009 by Simon Spotlight Entertainment, a division of Simon & Schuster. Reprinted by permission.

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