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How To Be A Great Manager

9 Steps That Will Make You A Great Manager

Some people are naturally good managers while others need to go through extensive training and coaching. Either way becoming a Great Manager does not happen overnight and will most likely require a number of failures. While there is not one specific thing you can do or a formula you can apply, there are however typical traits common to all those that have been described as great managers by those they managed.

How to be a great manager

How to be a great manager – Click image to enlarge

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Effective Problem Solving

one way to fix a problem

Don’t bring me solutions, bring me problems!

There are many ways to solve a problem and many times in which the same problem recur. There are also different kinds of problems and certainly different ideas on how to fix these. Some people have one standard way of approaching a problem, almost regardless of what the actual problem is. Other people dive straight into solutions, oblivious of the surrounding elements and conditions that might have caused the issue in the first place and finally, other people just do nothing and hope that the problem eventually fixes itself.

These are all ways of dealing with problems; however as a manager you are now faced with more and probably more complex problems and applying a standard method, shooting solutions and running away or play dead are not very effective ways of fixing these.
You also want to fix the problem in the short-term but you certainly want to create the conditions that will prevent the same problem from occurring again.

While there is not one single solution that fits all situations, there is however a proven approach that can be applied to effectively solve problems.

A3 Problem Solving

A3 Problem Solving Template

A3 is a structured problem solving approach first developed at Toyota. It’s called A3 because of the ISO A3 single sheet paper used to lay-out the problem and all additional information and actions related to identifying, analyzing, fixing the problem and validating the solution.

An A3 guides a person or group of people through a series of logical steps that will ensure a common understanding of the issue determining all subsequent actions until the problem is solved. The paragraphs that comprise an A3 may vary a little as this approach has been widely adopted over the years by several businesses and institutions; however the core structure of an A3 always contains the same fundamental elements.

Background

What is the context surrounding the issue? What background information is necessary for everyone involved to fully understand the situation? The answer to these questions will ensure a common understanding of the situation and align everyone involved in fixing the problem.

Issue

What is the actual issue and why is this an issue? Not only you should be able to describe the issue in a short factual sentence, but you should also be able to articulate why this is an issue in the first place? Why does this particular situation need to be addressed and what would be the consequences of not addressing it?

Next to creating a common understanding of the problem, the answer to these questions also creates the necessary sense of urgency. Rather than expressing emotions over a perceived issue and present an anecdotal case, at this point you want to be as clear and as factual as possible. Use numbers, graphs and facts to describe the issue.

Goal

What do you want to achieve? How would you know that the problem has been fixed?
Targets need to be expressed in identifiable terms and need to be specific and measurable.

Root-Cause Analysis

This is a crucial element in ensuring that a problem will not recur. As long as you work on the symptoms and not what is causing the issue then you have not effectively solved the issue but merely addressed the consequences and found, at best, a workaround but not a solution.

Use the simplest problem analysis tool to identify the root-cause of the issue but ensure that you are in fact dealing with the root-cause.
There are several methods to be used and the simplest of all is probably the 5-Whys method. This is an iterative interrogative technique that explores cause-and-effect underlying a specific issue.

Five iterations of asking why a problem is occurring is generally sufficient to determine the root-cause of a problem, hence the name of 5-Whys method, however, it can take six or seven or more iterations depending on the situation. Again, just ensure that you have identified the root-cause.

A study on the lighting of the Jefferson Memorial has become a classic example that illustrates the 5-Whys method:

Problem – the stone surface of the Jefferson Memorial was deteriorating.

  1. Why was the stone surface of the Memorial deteriorating? It was frequently washed with harsh cleaning agents
  1. Why was it frequently washed with harsh cleaning agents? The amount of bird poop on the stone surface required frequent cleaning with soap that proved to be the most effective
  1. Why was there so much bird poop? There were a lot of birds, attracted to the insects at the Memorial
  1. Why were there so many insects at the Memorial? Insects are attracted to the bright lights
  1. Why are the insects more attracted to the lights at the Memorial than other light sources? The Jefferson Memorial’s lights were turned on first each evening so all the insects in the area headed there at dusk
    Root-Cause identified

Lights at the Jefferson Memorial were then turned on at the same time as all the other lights in the surrounding area and the problem never recurred. The issue was effectively solved by identifying and removing the root-cause.

Proposal

What should be done in order to address the root-cause, solve the issue and reach the goal? Are there any short-term solutions that can be implemented in the meantime? At this point, you are able to determine how to approach the issue.

Plan

After creating a proposal it’s time to add details to the plan: Who will do what and when? Put down a list of Actions that will need to be taken, assign an Owner for each action, agree on a Due date and monitor progress.

A3 Action Plan

A3 Action Plan example

Follow-Up

What follow-up will be needed? Are there any issues or remaining problems that can be anticipated at this point?
Check that the problem is actually solved. If not, repeat the exercise.


These are the typical elements of an A3 Problem Solving template. Depending on the situation you might want to add details or paragraphs, however try to keep an A3 down to essential information. You want to take away what you don’t need, you don’t want to add things.

The goal is to effectively fix a problem not to create complexity in the process. A3’s have been used a lot in manufacturing and warehousing but also in the office environment. In fact, any kind of problem can be approached using an A3.

Happy Problem Solving!

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Dealing with Multiple Priorities

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed and even discouraged when despite your best effort you see that your to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer?
You just can’t win and you are not quite sure what to do. E-mails are pouring in and deadlines are approaching fast and just when you think you might after all be able to get a grip on the situation, unless a crisis occur, well, a crisis occur. At least what is presented to you as a crisis. The question though is whether everything in your list is equally urgent and equally important. Probably not!

Being able to distinguish what is urgent and what is important is the first and most crucial step to be able to deal with multiple and sometimes conflicting priorities.

You work with a team and you have a number of available hours in a day and days in a week. Tasks can be delegated or planned accordingly and things will get done at the right time and by the right person without you running around like a headless chicken.

Work smart, don’t work hard!

Trying to do everything at the same time, working extra hours, taking on all kinds of tasks indistinctly, indicates that you are working hard. It might also mean that at the end of the day you have probably done a lot and extinguished a lot of fires but you have experienced very little sense of accomplishment.

Dealing with each situation in the proper manner instead is a way to work smart. You will get more tasks completed, hit more deadlines, deliver better quality and feel way less stressed than you did.

How do you do that? Like I mentioned, the key is in distinguishing between important items and urgent items.
Some of the things you need to deal with may be very urgent but not very important and consequently there may be items that are very important but not urgent.

Define Urgent, Define Important

In order to define whether something is urgent you just have to look at the deadline. If you have a deadline within the next 30 minutes you are probably looking at something urgent. Or, is it? Unless we are talking about a legal or a medical deadline for instance, you can always try to negotiate the actual deadline. The easiest way to do this is by asking the requester:”what is the latest you will need this by?” or “is it a possibility to postpone this by [x amount of time]?”

Often you will be able to negotiate a deadline and in that case you just bought yourself some time.

If that is not the case then your non-negotiable 30 minutes deadline definitely falls in the urgent items.

Now, how do you define if something is important or not?

The importance of an item you need to deal with it is not determined by the clock but by the purpose it serves and the value it has. In a typical office environment, important items are for instance those in line with strategic objectives and priorities. If a deliverable is necessary to enable the company strategy then that is an important item. If more items appear to be important and you can’t decide which is more important than the other then you can discuss this with your manager or with your team according to the situation. ideally you would be looking at the benefit this important item can bring or at the consequences of not completing this task.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Once you have a clear idea of which urgent items you are dealing with and which important items and how urgent and important these are, you can then use a simple matrix to decide what to do.

The two axis matrix here below is known as an “Eisenhower Box” or “Eisenhower Decision Matrix”. Items are placed in according quadrants that will indicate how to handle tasks.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Important and urgent items are dealt with personally and immediately.
Important but not urgent items are dealt with personally.
Urgent but not important items are delegated.
Items that are neither urgent nor important can either wait or can be dropped.

Being able to delegate is a necessary part of a manager’s skill set. In future posts I will tell how to delegate the right tasks to the right people.

In the meantime, as simple and as intuitive as this matrix is, you now have a tool to help you prioritize and deal with multiple conflicting priorities effectively.


Suggested reading:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Paperback)


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