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3 Essential Management Habits for 2021


January 22, 2021

Hone your Management Skills and rise to the challenges of the new year

In the midst of the new lockdown, many organisations may feel that they are in the same situation as last Spring.

We disagree.

Last Spring the repercussions of the pandemic caught us all by surprise.

This time, we have the opportunity to learn from 2020 and meet those same challenges with renewed understanding and determination.

To equip you for the coming year, this article shares our 3 Essential Management Habits for 2021.

Watch the 3 Essential Management Habits for 2021 video

Listen to Rob McWilliam explaining the three habits in our Facebook Live event earlier this month.

The new context for managers

As we move into 2021 we are facing a different way of working.

Managing people remotely

Over the last 12 months there has been a big shift towards remote working. No longer can we look over our desk to see how our teams are doing. It has become more difficult to monitor their levels of energy, whether they’re stuck on a task, if they have questions or need advice.

For many managers and their reports this is a real challenge.

It also means that managers struggle to get feedback on their own performance, because they’re distanced from the impact they are having on their team.

Staggered working hours

In our “new normal” we, and our teams, are working around domestic responsibilities. The working day might start early or continue late into the evening. And everyone in the team will be working at different times.

Twelve months ago it would have been a real cause for concern if a team member was sending emails at 9pm. Now we have to accept that this is a necessary way to balance home and work responsibilities.

As a result, managers have to allow for different work patterns and look for opportunities to manage people in different ways.

The workplace

When physical workplaces are in regular use again, how will we use them?

Many team members might be cautious about returning to crowded offices. Hot desking may not be considered an appropriate way of working. New office layouts may be required.

We anticipate that some sort of hybrid will evolve. Formal workplaces will be used for specific activity, such as creativity, innovation, collaboration and formal meetings.

Other activity might continue to be carried out remotely for some time.

When considering this, productivity also needs to be taken into account. Some team members will perform more productively in a physical workplace. For others, a more flexible approach might work.

Intensive focus on wellbeing

In this challenging period our wellbeing, both at work and at home, has been a hot topic. Numerous articles have been published relating to the wellbeing of children who are not able to attend school, the adults juggling home schooling and those keyworkers who have continued to work throughout the lockdowns.

The point is clear – managers need to focus on their team’s wellbeing more intensively than ever before.

This can be difficult for some managers. When taking on a leadership role, you don’t expect to have to act as a counsellor or a mental health specialist. Some managers may feel that they lack the competencies to deal with these new considerations.

What hasn’t changed

There are plenty of things which haven’t changed, even if the way we go about them has:

  • The need to achieve results – for our organisations, clients, stakeholders and ourselves.
  • Focus on effective collaboration and teamwork – this continues to be important, even when we’re not in the same place.
  • Desire to learn and develop – recent research suggests that in some companies these opportunities have halved due to remote working.
  • Continuation of career progression – whether people are moving to a new job, or simply looking to progress in their current company.
  • Having purpose and belonging – we all want to have something to aim for and feel a sense of camaraderie.
  • Be well led and managed – employees want to feel engaged and valued.

So, how do managers need to adapt?

Habit 1 – Talk about enjoyment

Why you need to do this

Your engagement and fulfilment at work is a combination of your personality, what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing.

Managers tend to focus on ‘what you’re good at’ – ie employees’ performance on particular tasks. But, to optimise productivity and engagement, we also need to focus on what our teams enjoy.

Performance management has become more complex. Because often we can’t see people performing their tasks, we run the risk of being only output-focussed. It becomes difficult to monitor the process of completing each task or to identify whether the team member found it enjoyable.

As more tasks are being carried out “solo” in people’s homes, it is increasingly challenging to motivate our teams. We don’t want people to just go through the mechanics of the task. We want them to be fully engaged and motivated – doing something which they like, which energises them and through which they can master a new skill.

It’s only in interactions with managers that the tasks become more than just functions. Leaders need to focus on the level of enjoyment, as well as the task. And encourage the independence of each team member, so they can think for, and motivate, themselves.

How to do it

When discussing tasks with your team, it’s important to ask open questions. This will help you to ascertain whether the task was enjoyable for them, and what you could do to increase their pleasure in their work.

Example questions could include:

  • What did you enjoy about this task?
  • Which elements engaged you?
  • When did you feel ‘in the zone’ when doing this task?
  • What are the common threads to the types of tasks you enjoy?

As a follow up, you might ask:

  • What other tasks might you enjoy?
  • How can we build more enjoyment into your work?

The benefits of this habit

By simply being asked this type of question, employees will feel more valued. And, if they feel more valued, they will be more engaged and put more energy into their work.

It also helps to increase the emotional connection. Not just with their manager, but with the task itself.

As a manager, you’ll obtain useful information about what new tasks you might be able to delegate to this team member. And you’ll be in a better position to support them on their future career paths.

Finally, asking this type of question can provide valuable warning signs. If someone is struggling to express enjoyment in their task, then it’s important to understand why. Is it the task that simply doesn’t appeal to them? Or is this an early warning of a deeper mental health challenge which they need support to deal with?

Habit 2 – Set the tone

Why you need to do this

In the sudden move to remote working last year, your team members would have taken home their experiences of your organisation’s culture and the climate in your workplace. Over time, these frames of reference will naturally fade away if they are not reinforced regularly.

Since the change to remote working you may have also seen members of your team leave, and new ones start. These new team members don’t have experience of physically working with their new colleagues, or the culture and climate in your organisation. Managers need to teach them what it’s like to be part of this team.

It’s also important to remember that employees are frequently switching between domestic and professional responsibilities. They’re home schooling in one room and then walking into another to go straight into a Zoom team meeting. This constant changing of mindset can be a real challenge.

How to do it

When you hold meetings, or one to ones, with members of your team, you should decide on the ‘tone’ of the interaction. And communicate this in advance to attendees, so they know what to expect and can walk into the room in the right mindset.

You can do this by simply stating the aim of the meeting and how you’d like to hold it.

For example, “The aim of this meeting is to discuss our new marketing initiative and I’d like to hold it in an imaginative and creative way”.

There are many different tones you can use. And perhaps you can represent them in different colours, to visually reinforce how employees should approach each one?

For example:

  • Fast, serious, solution-focused
  • Brief and bright
  • Imaginative and creative
  • Relaxed but business-like
  • Playful and light-hearted
  • Consultative and curious
  • Celebratory” (we urge you to seek out for opportunities for these)

The benefits of this habit

Setting the tone for each meeting will prepare team members for how to “show up” to it.

It will give managers a useful tool to improve their meeting planning process and an opportunity to demonstrate their emotional intelligence.

By creating the right focus from the start, you will increase engagement and productivity at the meeting.

And this habit doesn’t just have to apply to remote meetings. It’s just as good for face to face or hybrid meetings.

Habit 3 – Lead the way in asking for feedback

Why you need to do this

High performing people know their strengths and are curious about their areas of development. This “growth mindset” is a significant part of their success.

We know that many formal performance management systems have “360” feedback built in. However, this can feel automated, too template-driven, too impersonal. A personal feedback request is much more meaningful.

Research shows that when you personally ask for feedback it puts you into a much more receptive state, so you’re more likely to appreciate and learn from the feedback. Equally, the responder will feel more confident and comfortable delivering their feedback if they’ve been asked for it personally.

How to do it

When asking for feedback it’s important to explain your aims and what you’ll do with the information you’re given.

It’s vital to set the context and explain what you want to achieve. Be clear that you’re asking these questions for your own development and that you’re genuinely interested in their feedback. It puts people at ease and makes them likely to be more honest and open.

The questions should be as specific as possible. This will avoid generic or bland responses.

Some example questions:

  • What’s it like to be a member of this team?
  • What am I like to work with?
  • How well do I lead meetings?
  • What specifically do I do well and therefore need to continue?
  • What can I do to get the best from you?

You should construct your own questions, based on specific topics you’d like feedback on.

When requesting feedback you should also consider how you approach respondents. For example, introverted team members might prefer to provide feedback in writing or ‘off camera’. It’s important to adapt to their personality so they feel trust in the process and in the person asking the questions. The simplest way to achieve this is to ask them how they would like to provide the feedback.

If you’ve followed all this advice and are still receiving short or non-committal feedback, then you could try the “feedback in the here and now” approach. This means identifying that there’s an issue while it’s happening. For example, by saying “I notice that you’re only giving one word answers. Is that because I’m asking questions in the wrong way? Is there something I can do to make this easier for you?”. Confronting the problem in this way can take a bit of courage, but ultimately it will help you get to the bottom of it and resolve the issue.

The benefits of this habit

This habit will ensure that your team members increasingly trust the feedback process. They should start to see it as less threatening and more useful. And it demonstrates that their managers are open to feedback on their own development.

Feedback conversations will become more regular and more effective, creating a “feedback culture” throughout the team.

And, ultimately, confidence and competency will increase as a result of taking onboard the feedback provided.

How to implement these changes

There are several steps you may need to take to introduce these new habits into your organisation:

  • Developing managers so they are able to hold effective one to ones.
  • Equipping managers to hold effective meetings – this can be a real stretch challenge for some.
  • Promote an ‘asking for feedback’ culture yourself.
  • Refine everyone’s skills in holding feedback conversations.
  • Developing leaders with empathy and emotional intelligence.
  • Emphasising the importance of employee engagement.

Ultimately, the best way to integrate these habits into your business is leading by example.

Inspire senior managers to adopt these habits first, upskill them where needed, then continue this work throughout your organisation.

Leading by example will inspire other managers and help to give confidence to those with less experience.

About Change Formation

We enable and inspire organisations to develop, perform and achieve.

We do this through development, training and coaching programmes – for senior leaders and their teams.

We equip leaders to excel when making complex decisions, implementing change and managing their people.

Discover more about Change Formation – call us on 01444 702 701 or email

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