3 Ways to Increase Manager Effectiveness…and Stop Spinning Your Wheels

It’s a scene that has been replayed hundreds of thousands of times involving one simple question:

“What would you say…you do here?”

This back and forth struck a corporate nerve when asked by hired consultants known as “The Bobs” in the cult classic, Office Space.

It is referenced and replayed so much because of the real truth in the question.

The Bobs from Office Space are not alone in their skepticism of value-add activities performed by team members.

Warren Buffett’s annual meeting of 40,000 investors often times turns into a managerial summit. This year it did even more. The world’s most popular and arguably successful investor states: “corporate America has a problem, lots of employees aren’t doing anything or are doing the wrong thing.

This problem falls on front-line and middle management more than ever and the best managers are problem solving on their own accord, regardless of corporate red-tape.

Lack of managerial leverage is one of the largest work-force epidemics facing the enterprise. Many managers think they are doing high-value work because they are busy. In reality, it’s quite the opposite.

Buffett’s 80 subsidiaries employ approximately 360,000 people. Companies under Berkshire-Hathaway range from apparel giant Fruit of the Loom to aircraft parts manufacturer Precision Castparts.

This problem sounds vast. Where does one even begin to understand it and solve?

Andy Grove’s evergreen management classic: High Output Management defines managerial output and identifies areas to increase it.

In Buffett’s and “the Bobs” world of misaligned time management and wasted energy, insightful managers will do well to understand how to increase management output.

The Definition of Manager Effectiveness:

A manager can do his “own” job, his individual work, and do it well, but that does not constitute his output. If the manager has a group of people reporting to him or a circle of people influenced by him, the manager’s output must be measured by the output created by his subordinates and associates….the output of a manager is a result achieved by a group either under her supervision or under her influence.

This definition is simple. However, the day to day activities a manager does to increase the team’s output is where mediocre, good, and great managers differentiate themselves.

What can a manager do to increase their output?

The term “leverage” according to Grove is the measure of the output generated by any given managerial activity.

Grove, the engineer-minded manager, put a simple equation for managerial output.

Managerial Output = L1 x A1 + L2 x A2  + …

In theory, incremental output should be achieved with every activity the manager performs. Given the equation above, the output of a manager is the sum of the result of all the activities. It sounds simple but the hard part is always in the execution.

Managers must understand and be cognizant to the amount of leverage each of their activities creates throughout the day.

Assess the 3 Types of Activities In Management

If your boss came into your office and asked, “what do you really do?” how would you answer?

Instead of diving into specific activities like weekly meetings, weekly trainings, deal development, product planning, and the thousands of other urgent priorities in the “whirlwind,” Grove breaks up his types of activities into three different buckets.

  1. Information gathering – There are a number of ways to gather information: team meetings, one on one meetings, weekly reports, checking email, shadowing team members, etc.
  2. Nudging A manager nudges when she exerts influence or takes action.
  3. Decision Making – making tactical or strategic decisions for team members or departments.

Of course there is no single defined bucket for each action. For example, in a meeting you may be gathering information and making a decision.

Categorizing these tasks does two things: makes the answer from “The Bobs” in Office Space much simpler and helps you think strategically about time management.

An emotionally intelligent manager will be honest with how they spend their time. If managers are not constantly assessing their activities, they will likely be leading behind a desk at some point in the near future. If managers do not do this, they will spin their wheels on low leverage activities.

3 Strategies to Increase Managerial Productivity

We know how we spend our time. To improve managerial productivity, a manager must now make strategic decisions on how they can increase their productivity because there are 3 specific ways to do it according to Grove:

    1. Increase the rate and speed in which a manager performs her activities. Work 10 hours a day? now it’s time to get 12 hours of work done in 10 hours a day. Look at more reports quickly, shorten meetings by making them standups, and flat out do more.
    2. Increase the leverage associated with your managerial task. Of the current tasks you are doing, find ways get greater leverage out of them. If your weekly team meeting lacks value, get more out of your meetings.
    3. Shift the mix of activities from low leverage activities to high level activities. To begin highly leveraged activities a manager must know what they look like.

Specific Actions Need to Take Improve Output

If you’re a manager who feels they or their team are spinning wheels regarding execution,

  1. Redefine Your Credibility  – Have you gone where you’re asking them to go? Have you done what you’re asking them to do? Have you sacrificed what you’re asking them to sacrifice? Do you represent what you expect to see in them? It doesn’t matter how you spend your time, if you don’t have the respect and trust of your team.
  2. Honestly Assess Your Time Management – This is one of the most eye opening exercises a manager can do for themselves. At the end of the week, review your calendar and see where you spent your time. Use your manager to balance the most effective use of your time. Use the buckets discussed above to compartmentalize where you are spending your time. Many managers feel like they do nothing but nudge all day by putting out urgent fires. Put processes in place (like one on one meetings or weekly customer feedback meetings) to prevent just one type of activity.
  3. Know the Difference Between High Leverage Activities vs. Low Leverage Activities: evaluate how else could you spend your time and would those activities produce greater output from your team. Highly leveraged activities revolved around working through your team.

Every good manager always asks the questions: am I doing the right activities, am I being an effective manager? If they do not, one day “The Bobs” will come in and ask it for them. Be a manager who is maximizing their energy, time, and resources for their team to excel.  

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