Clever Clogs: How to manage talented people
A team of top performers can pose a whole range of management challenges – not only do they not fit traditional expectations but they can be bloody hard work.
And that's your problem to deal with as a Chartered Manager
When you work with the best, Management 101 just doesn't cut it. Your team already knows the question and the answer – and they’re probably smarter than you too. They are motivated to go out and deliver. So what's the problem? It's you and me; we’re the problem.
I caught myself thinking, “if my team is brighter than me and already knows what to do – then what the hell am I doing here?”
The answer is simple: each member of the team is a cog in the machine – you supply the oil and have some control over how quick the handle gets turned.
Ironically, the key to managing talented people is not to give them much management at all. They are generally more motivated than your typical nine-to-five crowd and would work from 6am to 9pm if you let them. They also attract a similar calibre of people to work with them, drawn together like magnets.
The secret is to always keep your team informed and working towards the bigger picture. Talk to them both as a group and individually – but don’t make it too formal: get off your backside and make them a brew – formal ones-to-ones put these people on edge.
Explain where you are going (intent) in plain English, how you are going to do it (your grand plan), and group/individual objectives (mission). Then leave them alone.
The most difficult bit here is setting your amazing people objectives that stimulate them and stop them from getting bored. Setting goals is hard, and it’s not something you do on your own, nor should you ask your team to send you objectives. You need to do this together and it takes time. Only by collaborating and taking into account each person’s passion will you get a task that hits the spot.
I’ve used this technique with army operations and with tech teams in the UK. It took some time to get my head around what my team needed from me in order to give them a decent challenge. I found the question “what are you passionate about?” was a pleasant surprise to them and an opportunity for the individual to talk about what really fired them up. With this information it was much easier to give proper direction and then leave them to get on with it!
But why are talented people considered to be such hard work? ‘Normal’ doesn’t cut it and they are often looking for something that has never been done before. Oh, and they want the chance to do it their way.
You can fight against this and lose them, or use their passion and drive (with the occasional nudge) to the benefit of your business. Up your ‘management game’ to meet the standard of your people; if you don’t, you will be pouring sand into the machine. You may have the world’s best gears but they won’t turn.
About the author:
Major Oli Morgan cut his teeth commanding Apache Helicopter technicians in Afghanistan, and later ran equipment trials in Helmand. He now supports the Bloodhound Project, as it seeks to break the land speed record, leading a team of highly skilled engineers from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), is responsible for the project’s PR and marketing, and spearheads the Army Education Outreach Programme; receiving the accolade of Modern Day Visionary from the IMechE for his work to inspire children into engineering and science.