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Is Manager Crafting a vital skill for your career toolbox?

I've recently been trying to understand what drives mine and my colleagues discretionary effort at work. It was easy to find the first three major drivers; pay, benefits and recognition but after further investigation I discovered a fourth driver that consistently came up in conversations with my colleagues and friends - management quality. As the saying goes people don't leave a workplace, they leave a manager and I think my very non-scientific discussions with my circle confirms that the quality of manager support is a key driver to discretionary effort.

While the first three drivers tend in the main to be benchmarked against peer companies and consequently have only limited variability across different organisations the quality of managers can be very team specific. Even within an organisation the full spectrum of management quality can be found. Given this variability in management quality what choices do people have?

Over my working life I have had a wide variety of managers including the micro manager, the passive virtually non-existent manager, right through to the amazing changed your life manager. When your manager is not up to scratch you have two main choices; leave the organisation in the hope that you'll find a better manager elsewhere or learn to 'Manager Craft'.

'Manager Crafting' follows similar rules to job-crafting including seek resources, seek out challenges and optimize your time but this time the focus is on your discretionary effort in relation to your manager. It is not simply a case of accepting the situation but rather finding a way to make the best of the situation using these three steps;

  1. Seek out resources - Most corporate organisations provide some sort of personality or strengths/weakness type profiling of employees and having access to your bosses profile is you first step in seeking out resources. If such a profile is not available then the alternative is to ask around; other colleagues who they currently manage, staff who have worked with them in the past, etc... Once you better understand your manager's strengths and weaknesses, their preferred style of management and also how interactive and involved they like to be with their staff you can then begin to see how best you can interact with them. For example I once had a highly analytical manager with limited emotional intelligence. I have a relatively balanced profile and high levels of emotional intelligence so I was often left dumbfounded by his behavior. Once I took the time to understand his profile and drivers I focused on providing him with information via graphics and data rather than simply talking around an issue. Visualizing the issue was revolutionary for our relationship.

  2. Seek out challenges - If your manager is on the more absent/hands off end of the management scale a good way to stay connected is to seek out challenges. These can either be challenges that require their input or ideas for new products/processes that you would like to trial. It doesn't really matter which way around you choose to present the challenge to your boss the point is that you are creating an opportunity for positive and meaningful interaction. This will not only improve your mood towards your boss but will also highlight to your boss what a valuable member of the team you are.

  3. Optimize your time - Even if you have actively sought to better understand your boss and tried to create positive ways to interaction with them sometimes the only option is to optimize your time. This does not mean slacking off but rather seeking out ways to focus your discretionary effort away from your manager and towards projects and activities where your discretionary effort is more valued. An example is a colleague of mine who actively sought out new challenges around developing cross team integration. This was not necessarily something valued by her direct manager but soon enough her activities began to get noticed by other managers and within a year she was able to smoothly pivot to a new role where her skills were valued and the management style better suited her.

There is no guarantee of the type of manager you will get at each stage of your career so learning to 'Manager Craft' is a vital skill to have in your career toolkit.

If you enjoyed this post please check out my other blog posts on the topic including How to Un-Slump Yourself and the Power of Support Networks.

All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.


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