Don’t take this the wrong way. But the truth is: if you are in charge, you almost certainly have no clue what’s going on. It’s true.

There are reasons for this. Some of them—I’d say most of them—aren’t your fault. But if you learn a few things and do some work, you can be the best manager in your company. Here’s what’s going on, why, and what you can do about it.

If you are a normal manager, you see your job as increasing revenue, cutting costs and getting the maximum amount of good work from those who report to you. And those are, essentially, the orders from YOUR boss.

There’s a problem with that: the opportunities for better productivity and fewer mistakes requires a focus on how things are done more than the work of individual employees. Why? Because the people are always scrutinized but when personnel changes nothing really gets better. Because processes are the key.

What are processes? They are the way work actually gets done. They are patterns of behavior. You may (or may not) have explicit processes (or procedures) for your department. But if you do, they haven’t been reviewed in a long time, if ever. And they aren’t being followed because they don’t work. People are getting work done as best they can. They’re winging it.

Your staff doesn’t trust you because you are the boss. They fear you. They aren’t doing things strictly by the book—because that doesn’t work—and they don’t want to admit that they aren’t doing things as expected.

You need to work with employees and diagram exactly how work gets done in real life. This must be done with your subordinates because they are the only people who truly know how the work gets done. Once you diagram processes, you can analyze them. Usually, areas where mistakes or problems occur are obvious once you see a diagram of a process. You have a holistic view and can fix things without carelessly ruining other things. Of course, there are more sophisticated tools for analyzing and fixing processes. (We’ll learn about them in future blog posts.) But because they are rarely looked at, even without these skills, you can make major improvements. And because they are process improvements, they will continue even after staffing changes.

Unfortunately, there are two huge barriers to diagramming processes and making the needed changes:

  1. Your staff doesn’t trust you and won’t give you the information you need, and
  2. Your boss doesn’t understand or care and wants you to do things HIS way.

Your staff doesn’t trust you because you are the boss. They fear you. They aren’t doing things strictly by the book—because that doesn’t work—and they don’t want to admit that they aren’t doing things as expected. They don’t want to challenge you. So, they quietly do the job as best they can. But you NEED them to trust you so that you can find out what’s really happening.

So, your first job as manager is to earn the trust of your staff. Admit to things that you’ve done that didn’t turn out right. Let them know that sometimes you need to improvise. And when they finally trust you, then you can begin working with them on those diagrams.

What about your boss? As long as you are also doing what the boss wants, it doesn’t matter if you are also doing something to improve the performance of your department. Maybe if your boss ever notices the improvement, you can let her/him know how you did it. Use your judgement.

There’s more to know, of course. So, I’ll keep blogging. But remember the importance of diagramming. Figure out what’s going on. That’s the first step to better work performance. It’s also the beginning of making life at work better for both you and your subordinates. We’ll talk about that next time.

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