Coaching

Great managers: A step by step guide to becoming one

Being a good manager is all about responding to people’s needs and unlocking every employee's potential, and it’s no mean feat: discover the tools that managers can use to become better at their role in our step by step guide.

Great managers: A step by step guide to becoming one
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What does a ‘good manager’ look like?

It’s hard to put your finger on any particular trait or approach. Not only is every manager different, but so is every person’s ideal of what a manager should be.

Being a good manager is essentially about responding to people’s needs and unlocking every individual’s potential, and it’s no mean feat: one manager has to wear a lot of hats to get the best out of every part of their team.

This adaptability is just one of the key characteristics of a good manager – but it’s not something that most managers pickup overnight. Learning to be flexible, engaging reports at an individual level, and taking a different approach depending on the person or situation, are skills that are learned, not automatically built in.

Many managers are star performers or results-driven individuals who are promoted into the position, but just because someone has excelled at their job, it doesn’t mean they have the skills off the bat to be a good manager – or that they are prepared to step into that role. Becoming a good manager takes time, patience, and a commitment to learning and developing. It’s never going to be an overnight change, but with the right support and framework, almost anyone can become a good manager.

Below, we share some key learnings on the tools that managers can use to become better at their role.

1. What makes a great manager?

The role of the manager is changing. Once seen as a taskmaster, managers now need to be so much more than someone who can delegate, keep time and measure performance metrics. High-performing workforces are increasingly prioritising employee empowerment, autonomy and purpose, as opposed to a ‘conveyor belt’ culture of output above everything.

Managers are a key component of this new way of working, shifting away from dealing with problems and monitoring output, and instead morphing into leaders who drive performance, happiness and engagement in their teams. A good manager today needs to know how to get the best out of the people who report into them and be able to create a better experience that enables everyone to thrive. They are, essentially, a support system: helping every employee to deliver their best. There’s evidence to support the commercial results of this approach, too. Highly engaged teams are more profitable for their business, and as their managers’ people skills go up, employee attrition goes down.

But…how does a manager approach this? What does this support need to look like? How can managers replicate that blueprint for the two, three, ten employees in their team? The truth is, they can’t. There is no one size fits all, no ‘perfect’ way to manage that’s right for every business, or team, or individual. Every manager will have different responsibilities, different remits, different objectives and, importantly, different people reporting to them.

A great manager today needs to be more than a monitor: they need to be a coach. They need to understand what’s driving performance, good or bad, be it professional challenges or aspects of their personal life. They need to see the complete person, and that means having the right conversations at the right time – no matter how difficult they may be.

2. What are the shared traits of good managers?

There is no prototype for a good manager. As we’ve said, they are all different, and some will have different strengths to others, yet there are some traits that all good managers share. It’s less about their management style, and more about a shared method, approach and frame of mind.

They build trust.

Managers need to do more than build a rapport with their teams – they need to build trust. That means listening to what employees have to say, advocating for those employees where appropriate and acting on the issues and challenges raised.

They promote open & honest dialogue (a safe space).

There are lots of reasons why people may not be forthcoming with their thoughts or feelings in the workplace: it could be fears for their job security, embarrassment, or even just their personality type. Managers need to create a safe space for their employees, creating a forum for open dialogue where the employee can be truly honest.

They lead by example.

There is nothing less inspiring than a leader who tells you what you need to do, then doesn’t do it themselves. A good manager leads by example, by being communicative and transparent and taking their own steps to growth and development.

They put in the time.

In a busy workplace, this is one of the hardest things for managers to commit to – but it’s important. If employees know they have a regular time to speak with their manager, they will feel more secure in their role and more able to raise issues, rather than bottling up problems.

They give their people clarity.

Confusion is the enemy of productivity. Managers who are clear and concise – for instance, by setting straightforward, achievable goals and objectives – are more likely to have a thriving and engaged team.

They have a growth mindset.

A good manager does more than maintain the status quo – they help their reports to grow and develop, furthering both the employee’s career and fulfilment, and the growth trajectory of the business.

They prioritise career development.

Employees who feel that they are stagnating in their role can feel undervalued, disengaged and, to put it bluntly, bored. A good manager should take time to understand the employee’s vision for their career development, and the development pathways available through the business.

They prioritise self-improvement.

No-one reaches a point where they become the perfect manager. It is a constant evolution. Just as managers need to facilitate their employees’ learning and development, they also need to keep pushing their own, learning from their mistakes and successes.

3. The tools to become a great manager

1:1s (or one-to-one conversation)

1:1 conversations are one of the most effective tools a manager has to impact performance, understand their team members as individuals, and make progress from the very beginning.

Unlike a traditional performance management meeting, thats potentially backwards looking, appraisal based or infrequent, a 1:1 should extend beyond objectives and output, and include recognition, feedback and wellbeing check-ins, as well as covering the individual drivers and motivators that enable an employee to succeed. They benefit the manager and employee: by giving managers real insight into the employee, and enabling the employee to communicate their challenges, goals and concerns.

To make 1:1s a success, think about:

Frequency: are you creating an open culture with regular 1:1s? There is no right or wrong frequency, but at OpenBlend we recommend a fortnightly check-in as best practice.

Wellbeing: be sure to address wellbeing, even if the employee seems happy. We’ll come back to this point shortly.

Agenda: employees and managers should both have the ability to add to and co-create the agenda, to cover both individual and commercial priorities.

Dialogue: a 1:1 should facilitate open, honest dialogue, bringing depth to conversations that motivates the employee and enables progress.

Prioritise: you don’t need to discuss everything in every 1:1. Just make sure both parties have the opportunity to bring their talking points to the table.

Coaching

Understanding coaching techniques is a valuable tool for managers – but it’s not just about training and developing a coaching mindset. By applying a coaching framework to 1:1s particularly the goal setting process, managers can adopt the fundamentals of coaching into their management. The GROW model, for instance, boils the coaching process down to four distinct stages:

Goal: What are we going to do

Reality: Where are we right now

Options: What can we do

Way forward: What are we going to do

By applying this to discussions, managers can maximise every employee’s potential and improve accountability. Employees gain clarity over their goals: not just the destination, but the steps they need to take to get there. It’s infinitely more effective than simply setting an objective and leaving the employee to their own devices.

Prioritise employee wellbeing.

Wellbeing is a word that’s thrown around in a lot of workplaces today, but not every manager really understands how to manage it. It’s key to employee happiness, engagement and productivity, but there’s more to wellbeing than simply checking in to see if a direct report is ok. Some will be more upfront with how they are feeling, while others may suffer in silence, but it’s important that managers understand every employee’s wellbeing, not just a select few that share.

It’s important that wellbeing issues aren’t only raised when it is too late and the employee is struggling. Things like stress, happiness and confidence rarely spike or plummet overnight: by monitoring these by asking the right questions, managers can spot declining wellbeing and take steps to improve it. If the employee is happy – great. They can find out why and take the right steps to keep it that way.

The key to getting a good perspective on wellbeing is asking the right questions, and measuring responses over time. Asking ‘How well are you able to manage stress’, for instance, is far more direct and impactful.

Focus on feedback and recognition.

When employees receive feedback about their work regularly, in real-time and in a structured manner, they're more likely to fully understand what is required to drive their productivity and performance. While many managers find sharing so-called ‘negative’ feedback challenging, employees want to hear that feedback so they can progress. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that 57% of employees preferred corrective feedback – yet managers did not feel comfortable sharing it.

Feedback is critical to driving individual performance – but it needs to be constructive, grounded in coaching methodologies that help employees learn and grow from the experience. 

For managers, there are three core traits of constructive feedback to remember:

Be specific. Let your employees know exactly what they have done well, or need to improve on, rather than summing up in vague terms: e.g., ‘You did really well on that project’ becomes ‘You handled this aspect of the project well: here’s why’.

Be objective. For feedback to be constructive, it should never be emotive. Lose language that is personal to you – ‘I like/I don’t like’ – and make it factual. Feedback should be performance based, not based on opinion.

Don't forget the positives. As much as construction feedback is vital, it is important to balance the feedback conversation with what the employee has done well or what you have been impressed with, alongside highlighting areas for improvement.

Applying a process to feedback doesn’t just benefit the employee, it reduces conflict and defensiveness and enables a more productive outcome. Employees feel supported, instead of attacked and concerned, thanks to having full clarity over the feedback and clear actions to make changes. 

Anyone can become a good manager if they have the right mindset, support from their organisation and a framework to enable them.

That’s where a platform like OpenBlend can make all the difference.

OpenBlend acts as a foundation for managers, both experienced and those new to the role, to build on their managerial skills, learn coaching techniques and develop their confidence.

By giving accountability for discussions to managers and employees alike, and sharing easy ways to discuss wellbeing, objectives and motivations, it provides the groundwork for every manager to succeed – and for every workplace to benefit from the impact that good managers bring to their teams OpenBlend has been used by the likes of Dr. Martens, Lacoste PCL and Gymshark to turn its managers into leaders. To find out how it can do the same for you, book a discovery call with one of our team.

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