There are many books about management, theories about management, and courses that teach certain types of management. The whole concept of management is fascinating to anyone who has tried being a manager for more than a day or two. It is not something that comes naturally, even to people who have been in management for a long time.
Personally, I’m always looking for a single pivotal idea that makes it easier to do the right thing. And, thanks to my husband, there is one that does just that for current and aspiring managers. It is this: “Management by Facilitation.”
What is “management by facilitation”?
It is the concept that our top job, as managers, is to make it as easy as possible for our workers to do their best work. Frankly, with good employees being so difficult to find these days, this is the best way to keep your best people happy to work for you and less likely to look elsewhere. Disappointment with management, in my experience, is the number one reason that employees leave.
What does “management by facilitation” look like, in daily practice?
1. Be available to answer questions. If you give people instructions, and then you are unreachable when they start to do the work, you become the roadblock. Not getting quick, definitive answers to questions while they are working on the project will cause them to put it aside and start working on other things, so it’s harder when they come back to it. Does this mean that you may be interrupted all day with questions? Yes, and no. Yes, if you haven’t given them good instructions to begin with, and no, if you have—and their questions are rare.
2. Give thorough instructions. Jerks and divas like to wave their hands and say, “Make it so,” without providing any details. The result is endless chaos, frustration, work that has to be “thrown away” because it was done incorrectly, dangerous assumptions that create other problems, arguments between staff members, and very non-competitive inefficiency. Jerks and divas make life harder on everyone else; they make it more difficult for good people to do their best work. I have zero tolerance for jerks and divas; there are none in our organization and none among our clients.
If you don’t want to be one of those jerks or divas, getting good at instructions is essential. Learning how to give good instructions is one of the most powerful skills you can master. Every good instruction starts with the big picture, including “why” this is being done. Then you can provide details. Be VERY specific. Some people call it being “anal” but, in fact, it is just the right thing to do. Use numbers in the instructions, so if someone has a question, they can ask it easily (“In #2, did you mean the small one or the larger one?”). Put yourself in the shoes of the person doing the work. It’s better to give too much instruction than too little.
3. Ask them how it’s going, and where they’re getting stuck. It’s interesting what happens when you really do manage by facilitation, and you make it clear to people that you want to make it easy for them to do their best work. It will take longer than you think for everyone to get used to the idea. They will think you’re just paying lip service to the concept. Their former bosses were so bad at this that they can’t believe anyone is actually going to pull this off. They keep suffering in silence. They don’t want to be considered a “whiner.”
Which means, of course, that you have to ask them how it’s going and if anything is hanging them up. Tell them that if they are scratching their heads for more than a few minutes, they should ask questions. Tell them that no one will think less of them for asking questions. Keep reiterating that you want to “find it, face it, fix it,” no matter what the problem is or how it got out of whack.
The whole team should know that you are on an endless quest to get rid of any barriers to progress and will do everything in your power to make it easier for them to do their best work.
This also includes making sure that everyone is spending the bulk of their working day doing what they love to do. If they are being burdened with things they hate to do, things that someone else might love to do, it’s your job as the Main Facilitator to suss that out and make some changes. Don’t be afraid to make changes that move in this direction. You will get some wonderful, unexpected pleasant surprises if you do this consistently.
4. Get over yourself. When you are the person at the top, it is very easy to fall into the trap of being the “big boss,” a Devil Wears Prada character (male or female).
Yes, the buck stops with you. Yes, you are ultimately responsible for everything that your team does as they are working for you. Yes, you pay the bills and take the big risks. No one in the company works harder than you or risks more than you.
But none of that gives you permission to treat your workers as “little people” who are beneath you. On the contrary, how you behave will set the tone for everyone in the company, and if you aren’t a snob, anyone on your staff who starts to act like one will stick out like a sore thumb. Everyone will know that you don’t tolerate that behavior and someone will be brave enough to tell you what is really going on.
Your job is to be the Main Facilitator, constantly on the lookout for ways to make it easier for everyone. Keep an eye on systems, processes, policies, people, and the work they are assigned.
If you do this right, people will love working for you, and will be reluctant to look elsewhere. This is how truly successful managers manage—and retain the best people.