How to Become a Manager of Choice

Published in Contract Manager
February 2009

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Managers of choice are people who effectively motivate their staff members to be productive, loyal and rise within the organization. Their staff members feel empowered and become creative problem solvers. Employees elsewhere in the organization aspire to join the work groups of managers of choice. Managers of choice themselves are often on the fast track, rising up the ranks of their organization.

Managers of choice motivate and reward their staff members, increasing each individual’s productivity while reducing employee turnover, thereby increasing overall productivity. According to Megan Driscoll, president of PharmaLogics Recruiting, “Industry experts estimate that employee turnover costs them 25 percent of the average employee’s salary; not to mention the sheer time involved with finding and retraining a new employee.” By reducing turnover and having the organization’s best employees eager to join their teams, managers can reduce human resources costs and improve efficiency.

Reducing Employee Turnover

Within a manager’s department, employee turnover occurs either (1) when staff members leave the company or (2) when they transfer to other departments. Usually, companies and human relations professional associations only gather statistics on the first situation. As a personal recruiter, Driscoll has found that there are two main reasons why employees stay with their company, or conversely why they choose to leave:

  • Whether the employee has positive or negative feelings about his or her manager; and
  • Whether the employee feels there is growth potential within the company, or a lack thereof.

Neither of these reasons for employee turnover can be addressed simply with a monetary or tangible reward. So what do Driscoll and other experts suggest?

Motivate Your Staff Members

Motivation is the key to improve performance and increase employee retention. Managers should begin by treating everyone with respect. No motivation technique will work without this as the foundation for a manager’s behavior.

Judicious use of tangible awards for excellent performance can be a powerful motivator. These tangible awards include promotions, raises and bonuses. Non-cash awards, such as plaques recognizing outstanding accomplishments and/or recognition lunches or parties, can also be powerful motivators and promote staff loyalty.

Be sure your staff members understand the purpose behind what they do. Doing so helps them maintain a positive attitude. Relate the overall goals of the organization to your work group goals and to the individual goals of each staff member. By using these cascading goals, employees can see how their individual efforts contribute to the team and to the entire organization achieving its large-scale goals. Let your work group know when the organization has accomplished significant wins and, in particular, when members of your work group have done so. Do this in a timely way. It can be quite motivating for the team or high achiever scoring the accomplishment and for coworkers as well. Use the basic principles of project management, such as setting milestones, timetables and tracking spending on each project. These can help project team members do their jobs better, while feeling informed and empowered.

Practice Situational Leadership

According to management consultant Ken Blanchard, of The Ken Blanchard Companies, managers should tailor their management style to each individual’s level of competence and commitment. Blanchard calls this approach situational leadership, which means using different levels of direction and support appropriate to each staff member. Blanchard defines four combinations of direction and support:

  • Directing (high direction, low support);
  • Coaching (moderate direction, increasing support);
  • Supporting (low direction, high support); and
  • Delegating (low direction, low support).

These four combinations form a continuum relating to each employee’s level of job skills and motivation. For example, newly hired recent college graduates may need a “directing” style of management, while the same style would leave highly trained and experienced staff members feeling over-managed and wondering if the manager trusts them. By the same token, using the “delegating” style, suitable for highly experienced and motivated employees, may leave the newly hired staff member feeling lost and directionless. By applying the appropriate combination of direction and support, effective managers are able to help employees develop themselves to their fullest potential, while also assuring that the needed work is completed. As an employee gains skills and experience, the manager of choice will shift from one mode to another.

When an employee skilled and experienced in one area in which the manager delegates shifts to another, the manager should shift to a more “directive” management approach. When the employee masters these new skills, the manager can shift toward the “delegating” mode.

Constantly Express a Positive Attitude

Employers’ economic difficulties can foster negative attitudes among employees; so can personal problems and daily frustrations such as a long commute to the workplace. Staff members often reflect their supervisor’s attitude. Therefore, stay positive and avoid expressing negative attitudes. Don’t be a ‘Pollyanna’ by ignoring adverse developments but discouraging staff members from expressing negative attitudes. Negativity interferes with problem solving. Encourage your team members to view the glass as ‘half-full’ rather than ‘half-empty.’

Performance Reviews

Management consultant Mark Harris of the Harris Development Group believes that annual performance reviews should:

  • Give employees feedback on their results, helping them to understand what worked, what didn’t and why;
  • Motivate employees to engage in the right behaviors to perform better;
  • Provide personal development opportunities so that employees can improve their performance and undertake additional responsibilities;
  • Set performance expectations for the coming year; and
  • Foster clear and open communications between the manager and the employee.

In addition, performance reviews should enable the manager to:

  • Distinguish the top performers from the poor ones, and
  • Establish a framework for termination decisions based on sustained poor performance.

Managers should help employees do well in their annual performance reviews. Employees should be encouraged to draft a list of their accomplishments throughout the previous year to help refresh both their memory and your own. They should also include work they did in addition to their normal responsibilities and continuing education accomplishments that improved their job-related skills.

However, annual performance reviews alone are not enough to provide timely guidance to improve employee performance. Annual performance reviews tend to focus on the past, often on work done months prior to the review. They also tend to focus on the employee’s results and not on the means of obtaining improved results. Managers should use the performance review to look forward as well. Discuss with each employee the new skills he or she could master that would be most useful to the company and best advance his or her own career. Discuss a program whereby the employee might develop these skills and put them to use in the workplace.

In addition, monthly discussions provide a means to review current performance and lessen the stress associated with annual performance reviews. These discussions should include what the employee is doing exceptionally well, including recognition of recent accomplishments, while also discussing how to improve performance. These discussions are less formal than the annual review and can be a powerful motivator. However, they are often easy for managers to neglect due to the pressures of a busy schedule. Driscoll suggests, “Schedule a half-day once a month to specifically drop in on your employees with the only goal being to tell them how great they are doing.” Lisa Prior, Principal of Prior Consulting, says, “Great managers take the time to create a personal path forward or individual development plan” for each staff member.

Understand How Your Organization Works

Some managers say they don’t want to get caught up in politics at work. They incorrectly view politics as being about manipulating their coworkers and superiors. In the positive sense, workplace politics involve understanding how your company works, including how power and influence are managed within your organization. According to management consultant Louellen Essex of Louellen Essex and Associates, workplace politics is a game of strategy enabling managers to get the resources and influence they need to accomplish their team’s goals.

Playing this political game well is crucial to your career success and the success of your team in fulfilling its responsibilities. Avoid getting involved in this type of workplace politics and you may find your own talents and successes ignored and those of your team as well. Therefore, control workplace politics and use them to your advantage.

In addition, determine your company’s most important goals and strategic directions, and then encourage your staff members to develop those skills most consistent with these goals and directions. (You should do the same yourself in your own personal development efforts.) Don’t let yourself or your staff members lag behind in utilizing new technology, quality improvement efforts and customer service approaches that are important to the company’s success, your work group’s success and individual staff members’ success.

Playing the political game includes being an advocate for your outstanding employees so they can get in the front of the line for promotions and coveted perquisites, such as telecommuting or attending a conference. Diplomatic bragging about your own accomplishments and those of your staff members can help you establish influence and credibility within higher-level management circles. Always be sure to give credit where credit is due when talking about your work group’s accomplishments.


Put these various strategies and tactics together and you’ll see improved performance and productivity from your staff members. However, don’t expect dramatic results overnight; ingrained attitudes and habits will probably take a while to overcome. Also, implementing these practices doesn’t mean you should become permissive and not have high-performance expectations for your staff members.

© 2017 Louellen Essex and Associates
408 Parkers Lake Road #211
Wayzata, Minnesota 55391
Office: 612.867.8291