I read somewhere that one manages constraints and leads towards possibilities. Certainly, as a manager, getting things done and delivering services and products with the constraints of finite resources, including staff, within the time frame and the level of quality expected is a core of our duties. This responsibility gets even more difficult during stressful times brought on by budget cuts and increased mandates, but with no additional staffing to support the increased demands. However, It is too easy as a manager to get caught up in trying to get the most out of our staff in ways that may not be the most productive and produce unintended consequences. For example, to become more efficient during busy times, managers begin to micro-manage details, ensuring that staff are focused and are following procedures to minimize waste.

In some cases, new procedures are implemented to promote efficiency without realizing the additional time, energy, and effort to implement new procedures. Activities that are not considered part of completing projects and tasks are discouraged. For example, one-on-one meetings with the staff are eliminated as they are a waste of time and take time away from projects. However, treating staff as machines and robots as units of resources may not be the most productive strategy. After all, our staff is human beings, driven by intrinsic motivations, with emotions, and in my opinion, more productive when engaged. This is where leadership is needed. There are many definitions of leadership, but ultimately, leadership is about people.  As I read once, you manage resources; you lead people.

As leaders, one of our roles in the workplace is cultivating an environment that promotes engagement which should lead to increased productivity and improved quality of work. As I learned in one of my leadership workshops, engagement is the maximum level of personal satisfaction and productivity in the workplace. One without the other is not engagement. For example, one can be personally satisfied doing work that does not contribute to the organization’s goals. On the other hand, one can contribute to the organization’s goals, yet they don’t feel personally satisfied.

As leaders, we cannot lose touch with the idea that we must be available and build relationships with our staff. Managers must take the time to recognize their staff, acknowledge their contributions, and resolve staff issues. Having one-on-one meetings when staff have the opportunity to be heard and listened to is a very important activity to have on a manager’s schedule.  Having lunch, taking a walk, or doing an activity with staff without talking about tasks are good examples of how to be available and how to build relationships.

How we also delegate matters. In my opinion, giving orders in a command and control style does not really work. Not when working in an environment that requires independent thinking and creativity. This style of managing only leads to resentment and staff not wanting to do more than what is expected from them. I’ve found that staff will go beyond what is asked of them if they know their managers care about them. Even small actions to show managers do care about their staff matter. Stopping by to say “how are you?” means a lot to some. Taking the time to explain what is being asked of them in person instead of in an email that can be misinterpreted also helps.

As managers, don’t lose sight of the idea that our staff are human beings and not just units of resources. If organizations are to be productive, managers must make themselves available and build relationships with staff to build an engaged workforce. Being short-sighted and just giving orders to complete tasks can lead to unintended and counterproductive consequences.