2015-08-06

The management series: the challenges of teaching self-management

Bruce Tulgan

How many of your employees always come to work a little early, stay a little late, make very good use of their time; use good systems to stay organized; make good decisions; and generally gets things done? Most managers have direct-reports who sometimes come in a little late or leave a little early; take too many breaks; miss deadlines; waste other people’s time; lose track of information; and/or become stymied by decision-points.


Our research shows that there are four fundamentals of self-management which virtually all managers agree they’d like to see in their direct-reports:

  1. time-management
  2. interpersonal communication
  3. organizational skills
  4. basic problem-solving


How do you teach employees these fundamentals?


Coaching on time-management does not mean necessarily that you tell employees exactly what time to come to work, what time to take breaks, and what time to leave. Time management means planning and working to optimize your time and always making sure to make only good use of others’ time. Here’s a great bonus: It turns out that when employees get really good at time management, they usually gain more control over their own schedules. Scheduling flexibility is one of the things employees want and value the most.


Coaching on interpersonal communication does not mean you tell employees exactly what to say and what not to say, every step of the way. You might need to teach some of the old-fashioned fundamentals, like good manners. You might need to teach people to err on the side of in-person communication rather than electronic communication, and looking people in the eye when one is speaking in person. If you’re doing regular one-on-ones for several weeks, then the structure of your ongoing dialogue should help retrain the employee in more professional communication habits.


Coaching on organizational skills does not mean necessarily that you tell employees exactly how/where/when to do every single task, responsibility, and project. Organization means using good systems to keep track of guidelines, specifications, expectations, timelines, and measurable concrete actions every step of the way. Another great bonus: It turns out that when employees get really good at using systems to stay organized, they usually gain more discretion in how they do their work.


Coaching on problem-solving does not mean you need to anticipate every single problem an individual could possibly face and give him standing orders for every scenario. But you should have standing orders for regularly occurring problems. One more bonus: When employees are well trained in implementing established solutions to recurring problems, they usually get better and better at extrapolating from those solutions in order to improvise in the face of unanticipated problems.


You can teach self-management and it works. All you need to do is build it in to your regular ongoing one-on-one dialogues: Teach it. Require it. Measure it. Reward people when they do it. Hold people to account when they don’t.


Most employees will benefit tremendously from your investment in teaching them the fundamentals and be very grateful for it.


Credit to: Bruce Tulgan, Founder and Chairman of RainmakerThinking, Inc.Follow: @BruceTulgan 

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