Martin Kane was the best manager I ever had the privilege to serve. When he decided to step down as publisher of a string of Milwaukee, Wis.-area newspapers, he promoted me into his spot, the job of my dreams. After delivering the great news, Martin asked how I thought I’d switch hats from editor to publisher. I thought about the management ideas I’d heard of – ideas, actually, that he’d never embraced himself. Wanting to impress him that he’d made the right decision, I presented the list: I’d institute weekly staff meetings, host a monthly employee appreciation event, and set up annual performance reviews. I was somewhat taken aback, then, when my mentor frowned.
“It sounds like you are going to formally open a communication channel weekly, reward people monthly, and correct behaviors annually,” Martin explained. “If you want to be respected by your staff for your leadership, and help them develop their greatest potential, you’re going to want to add a few daily tasks to that list.” I was missing the keys to his own success, which he then presented to me along with his job title:
- Manage by walking (or wandering) around. This is a tried-and-true management principle and involves leaving your desk to have a quick conversation with every employee at least once a day at their stations. This is a very effective way to informally find out the progress of ongoing work, and what is on the minds of staff. It’s also a great opportunity to ask for input and to express your interest in their work.
- Move five pennies from pocket to pocket. Sharon Janes is attributed with this idea, which begins by putting five pennies in your right pocket in the morning. Every time you notice an employee doing something right, or encourage them when they need it, you move a penny to the other pocket. By evening, all pennies should be in the left pocket or you’ve missed opportunities to reward staff that day.
- Delegate a task to each staff member at least weekly to increase their skill level. A manager’s job is to help others grow in their positions as much as it is to get the company’s business concluded every day. While it’s tempting to always delegate the simplest job and then to do the more advanced work yourself – and to take the credit for doing so – instead, train yourself to ask a sales person to suggest an idea and budget for a customer appreciation event, etc. After delegating, don’t take the task back. If someone balks, ask them what it is they need to complete the job – more information, more time, or more resources; then limit your involvement to meeting those needs.
- Give immediate feedback. If you manage by walking around, you know what’s going on and where the employee is on track, excelling, or needing additional training or instruction. This makes a formal performance review redundant. A salary review is the opportune time to determine whether an existing job description still expresses the work that should be done in that position. It is usually tied to a discussion about job position, length of service and experience level in that position, and any recent or anticipated changes with regard to responsibility and authority level.
- Praise in public, correct in private. Nothing kills employee initiative (or morale) quicker than seeing a co-worker being admonished for making a mistake – even if they understand why. Regardless how justified you feel in dressing someone down, it is best to take any corrective action in private after a thoughtful examination of all of the facts. Instead of punishment, mete out instruction and establish a performance improvement plan, if the transgression merits a formal response. Meanwhile, when you see behavior that you want to encourage group-wide, praise the person for meeting or exceeding standards.
Many years have passed since Martin passed along his torch, and when I later retired as publisher of a Madison magazine group, I gave Martin’s same advice to my protégé, Jon. His suggestions first became my management style and then the principles by which I’ve helped other companies develop their management teams. It’s so simple, really, because taken together, Marty’s five practices form a foundation of respect and encouragement from a manager who is involved and present every day. And that makes it advice worth passing along to you.