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Can your managers manage … workflow?

In this semi-regular Can Your Managers Manage … series, we’ve talked about managing performance but how about just managing the work? It’s easy to focus on other, more people-focused issues such as feedback, motivation, and dealing with conflict and take the workflow for granted. But it’s a key management skill all the same …

Systems are secondary

Do you have a system for managing the work your employees do? It might be software, completely verbal, or even an old-fashioned ledger. Whatever it is exactly doesn’t matter but pretty much every kind of business needs to have some way of tracking what needs to be done, who’s doing it, and when it’s completed. And the kind of system you use is less important than your managers having an understanding of the underpinning principles. After all, anyone can learn to operate a system (in the same way they can drive a car or operate a smartphone) but understanding how it works and why things are done in a certain way is a different prospect.

Essentially, workload management can be broken down into a number of simple stages:

  • Planning

Managers need to know:

  • Exactly what work needs to be done
  • How long it will take
  • What skills someone will need in order to complete the work competently
  • Who on their team is responsible for this area of work
  • Who has the available time to do it

Part of the planning process will inevitably be prioritising the different tasks and responsibilities. What is important? What is urgent? Where should the team focus its time? Who else needs to be in the loop regarding these priorities and the plan?

  • Allocation

When distributing the work according to the plan, individuals should be clear on what is required and by when. If responsibility is being delegated, the manager needs to agree what authority the individual has to make decisions regarding the work and under what circumstances they should refer decisions back. Naturally, for routine work, deadlines and authority will mostly be the same from day to day and so are unlikely to need repeating often.

  • Monitoring

Managers should identify which tasks or duties require checking. Sometimes this is about the task, sometimes the individual (e.g. new and inexperienced staff will require more supervision than someone who has done the job for years). How often does the manager need to check in? Finally, most importantly, what exactly are they checking for – quality, quantity, timeliness, etc?

  • Reporting

No team (or manager) works in isolation. The ultimate accountability rests with the CEO, business owner or equivalent. Similar to employees carrying out their tasks, the manager must be clear on what responsibility he or she has for decisions.

Similarly, the ‘boss’ must be kept informed on how the business is running but equally does not need to be bothered with every single detail. Agree what information is required, when updates are needed and what the procedure is in the event that – horror of horrors! – things don’t go according to plan.

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