Consultant lays out secrets to being a more effective manager

After more than 30 years of working with dealers, distributors and manufacturers we have seen winners in many fields and industries - companies that consistently achieve outstanding results. We have even seen these organizations achieve outstanding results in the midst of good and bad economies. The condition of the economy does not affect them. Why?

Well, most of these companies are focused on their own business and not listening to the newscasters for direction. Next, most of these outstanding companies are peak performers, they get things done, they motivate their people to greater productivity and they have a strong business plan that they follow in good times and bad.

Secrets of Top Performers

- Top performers are goal oriented, which is clearly communicated to their employees.

* Create a presence and inspire others by consistently acting with purpose. Don't forget in difficult times employees need to be reminded what the goals and benchmarks are, and also what they are doing that adds value to the company. They want to hear that they are important to your business.

* Top performers have expectations of performance, productivity and behavior and deal with their own performance and others' in a systematic, developmental and strategic way.

* Top performers are always delivering. They share with employees, suppliers and anyone that cares to listen. They know that sharing their business, their life and their insights are not going to diminish who they are, but will make a better world, better relationship and better business.

* Effective leaders differentiate among various levels of priorities and act accordingly. They can see cash flow problems when people are talking about expense reduction, they can see the market impact of changing pricing or offering discounts.

- Peak performers demonstrate mental agility.

* High-performing executives embrace complexity and confront ambiguity. Complexity is one of the hallmarks of good management and the way that an executive navigates the complexity of business will demonstrate their abilities.

* The executive pursues complexity out of heightened curiosity and achieves more effective thinking.

* Effective thinking is not the same as positive thinking. Effective thinking is directed toward getting results. Effective thinkers understand the difference between perfect and "what it looks like when it is right." If we always strove for perfect we would never start anything, and probably never finish anything. Effective thinkers prefer to do well - they don't need to do well.

- Top performers view penetrating questions as more important than the answers.

* When the financial report comes out each month, are the managers happy that the numbers are better than the goals, or are they asking what made them go up and what can they do to control those numbers and make them better? And when the numbers go down, do they also ask what happened instead of merely blaming the business climate, the competitor's discounting or a poor boss?

* Pursuit of various interests and perspectives constantly keeps the high-performance executive looking at questions from different directions, and learning new products and management skills. And, top performers never stop learning. They know that last year's promotion will not work this year, they know that last year's solutions are out dated in today's business. They learn from customers, vendors, employees and their peers.

- Peak performers have learned interpersonal finesse. They appreciate people, their contributions and their challenges. Peak performers know that without themselves and other people results, numbers, profits and success do not happen.

* Top performers have a culture of pride and people. They care as much for their people as they do for the numbers. They understand the inter-relationship of people and business. They have delegated responsibility and trust their people.

* Top performers enjoy self-reflection and augment self-awareness. They have a rich life. They know that there is a balance to life and they know how to work hard and play hard. They can let their hair down when having fun, and are not arrogant or distant.

* The high-performing executive is so self-aware that they can catch their own counter-productive behavior and modify it! When the new employee is asking the same question for the sixth time and you want to yell, you can stop and remember what teaching new employees is about, and when the department manager is pushing your buttons, you can stop and rephrase your response without sarcasm or criticism.

* Varying their role and style to the situation. The peak performers know that sometimes they are teacher, sometimes a mentor, sometimes a director and sometimes just a sounding board. Being responsive in each way for each different employee or person makes them more valuable.

* What top performer has not had to deal with conflict? But what is different is that they harness it, and bring out of it creative ends that improve the organization and unite people, not dividing them.

- High-performance executives and managers have harnessed change! They have broadened their repertoire in a variety of areas.

* Behaving strategically is what peak performers constantly strive for. - They look at decisions regarding employees, expenses and marketing from a larger perspective. What will this do in setting policy, what will be the impact on the bank account, what will happen to the company's credit position or what is the downside.

* Top managers have flexible thinking and problem solving. They work on removing obstacles from employees' projects before they occur. They think 3 to 6 months into the future when recommendations are made and ask what the impact, results and problems will be.

* The managers that are focused on change mastery are looking for continuous improvement. They look at things like invoicing, and ask how many people have to touch that document before the customer receives it. They ask why and why not with challenges to people to improve processes, profits and productivity. It is not something they stop and do; it is a constant element of their process.

* These top performers understand that commitment and tenacity are sometimes all that will differentiate between success and failure. Many people will resist change; they fear what they do not control. Top performers grasp how to present change, encourage participation and then hold the line until it reaches completion.

How to Become a Top Performer

* To become a Top Performer, look inside yourself. Your performance starts with yourself. What is your passion, what is your direction and what are the guiding parameters of your life? Are you responsible for yourself? When you experience a failure, what do you do? Do you blame others or do you say one thing did not work and you won't make that mistake again, but it will not stop you in your path? If you don't make mistakes, you probably aren't taking enough risks and probably are not learning from them.

* To turn others into top performers you have to care about people, and about YOUR PEOPLE! You have to get to know them, what motivates them and what they are passionate about. Is it their children, grandchildren, their fishing, weight lifting, their sense of accomplishment, their gardening or their '56 Chevy? You don't find these things out in the employment interview, on their resume or walking through the building nodding good morning. Money alone seldom is enough to motivate people, find their passion and you have something that unlocks their creativity and direction.

* Think Smarter - Apply new solutions to old (and new) challenges. This is the time to be talking to your employees and customers about the VALUE that your company offers. If you were not here, they might be buying from the competition; but at what costs? Don't let your company be dragged into the price wars when the real VALUE comes at a higher price. You're service repair will give them more "up-time" and that is VALUE not price. If you don't sell this VALUE who will?

* Be Resourceful - The expenses can be reduced, the assets used better. How do you improve these? Ask your employees, the more people looking at this the better things will be. Things could be as complex as your credit and collection policies, a new inventory management system, or as simple as recovering service vehicle expenses.

* Teamwork - You are all in this, so bring your employees into the discussion of what is happening. One dealer asked everyone to go to 4-day weeks so that they didn't have to do layoffs. After everyone agreed, the HR manager found a state unemployment program that paid the employees 60% of that "unemployed day." It is teamwork that makes a company pull together. Give people what they need to excel at their jobs and you are more likely to excel at yours.

George M. Keen is senior consultant for Currie Management Consultants Inc. in Worcester, Mass.