Have you recently stepped into a management role or have you been managing people for a few years? Many people working in Higher Education (HE) agree that keeping your team happy and motivated is challenging. In the following article, I have collected some guidance to help to keep your team happy
Managing other people is a balancing act. First, you need to look after yourself in order to be able to give the best support to others. Taking regular breaks at work can help as well as recharging the batteries at the weekends. In addition to looking after your physical well-being, working with a coach can make a big difference. You will be able to express some of your work-related concerns in a safe and supportive environment, and brainstorm solutions with your coach. When you share your challenges and worries verbally, you can often start seeing a way forward.
A recent Harvard Business Review article by Marcus Buckingham reveals the quality that sets some skilled managers apart: ‘They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.’ As a manager, you would need to spend time getting to know your team. You might find it helpful to have regular 1-2-1 meetings, scheduled on a weekly, two-weekly or monthly basis. As a manager, you would want to listen out for staff members’ needs and wants. Some employees may struggle to meet family and work commitments, and they would deliver higher quality work if they had a flexible work pattern. Others may be struggling to meet ever-increasing targets. They would complete their tasks more effectively if they could delegate some of their responsibilities to a more junior colleague.
Get to know your team
Individual meetings can provide the opportunity to learn about each person’s career aspirations. Do take the time to find out about each person’s strengths. You could get your team members to complete an online strength assessment and find out about their strengths. You could ask questions about what areas of their work they enjoy most and if they have a professional area they are particularly interested in. Individual meetings can provide the space for people to open up and share some of the challenges they are going through in their personal life.
According to research published by Education Support, 25% of employees in the UK Higher Education sector feel that they can never discuss work-related stress with their managers. Managers need to provide an emotionally safe and supportive environment so that more staff members are able to share their stress-related concerns.
You will be able to provide better support to your staff if you know about their strengths, aspirations and challenges. You would be able to signpost them to counselling sessions, training events or professional development courses.
Encourage new ideas
Your team members are likely to have lots of creative and innovative ideas which could help to enhance the performance of the whole team. It is vital that they are able to express their insights, share their feedback, and politely disagree if necessary. In meetings, you could ask coaching questions, use open body language, and have a non-judgmental approach.
Lisa, who works for a well-known large university in the Midlands, has recently attended a coaching course. She was sceptical at the start and was not sure about what to expect. However, she found that the course helped her to develop her listening style. As a result, Lisa started to use a wide range of effective coaching questions in meetings, and her team was able to come up with innovative ideas. She has also learned to welcome new ideas and avoid being judgemental at meetings.
Give specific feedback
Many HE managers find it challenging to provide feedback to staff members. They often struggle to find the right language and give vague feedback to others. Some managers try to avoid feedback conversations as they feel uncomfortable delivering them. When you provide individual feedback to a staff member, do include the following components: recognise a specific action, identify the impact of the action, and establish clear future expectations. The feedback conversation should end with a couple of actionable steps. It is a good idea to record these steps in writing and follow up on them at a later stage.
In a recent Harvard Business Review Article, Joe Hirsch suggests that feedback should be a two-way conversation. Managers need to focus on asking questions as opposed to giving orders. According to the above article, managers could ‘engage employees in thoughtful conversation about their current strengths, future goals, and how to bring those elements closer in line’ which helps to keep your team happy.
Many managers are trying to handle everything on their own. They feel vulnerable when asking for help and avoid expressing their genuine feelings. Honesty however builds confidence in other people. As a manager, you can openly admit if you do not know the answer to a question or if you need help resolving a conflict. People generally like others who can open up about their own struggles and admit if they make a mistake. You may at times tell your team if you are overwhelmed or you are struggling to find a solution.
It is important that you do not expect individuals to perform perfectly at all times. We all make mistakes, go through stressful situations and struggle to manage relationships. Do try to look at challenges from different angles and show empathy in your communications. Putting yourself into other people’s shoes is a helpful strategy as you will be able to see the world from a different perspective.
Do remember to praise others for their efforts, hard work and achievements. It can be easy to forget to say ‘thank you’ or well done’ when you are spinning many plates. However, holding back praise could lead to your team being less motivated. Do celebrate both individual and team achievements, no matter how small these may be.
To continue the conversation on mental health we are hosting a webinar to support World Mental Day with Advance HE. Find out more information and to register for our exclusive webinar Mental Health and Wellbeing: HE Minds Matter.
Further advice articles:
- How to Promote Inclusion in the Workplace
- Mental Health Awareness for Managers
- Managing Your Continuing Professional Development
- Top Tips for Conducting Appraisals