The Importance of Self-Management

Over the past few weeks, two different – but oddly intersecting – things happened that both reinforce the title of this post. First, I had a meeting with a mentoring client that sort of kicked this off. And second, a week or two after that conversation, I gave a short lecture about our assessments to an MBA entrepreneurial class, and their questions and concerns connected with the heart of the client meeting.

Starting with my client: he works in IT with a local company, and we were discussing challenges he was having with a help-desk colleague. As he told it, the colleague doesn’t listen to the callers, jumps to conclusions, flashes his ego in every interaction, and is apparently hovering on the edge between a written warning and termination. In talking this over, I suggested that they do some communications training (have I mentioned that we do that?) for the whole help-desk group. My client jumped on the idea and asked me to turn in a proposal.

I did . . . the next day. In following up, my client lamented the current state of his company: he had to talk first to his boss, who then had to check with the VP, who had to get HR’s blessing, and they’d “let us know.” Probably from frustration, my client said: “You know what the real problem is?” Before I could even guess he said, “The ones who really need this training are the managers. They’re the worst communicators we have. None of them seems able to make a decision like this, and you can’t even talk to them about it.”

While there might be (a little) over-statement in that, I understand what he was saying: managers (and certainly executives) ought to be among the best communicators any company has, right? Are yours? Are you? Surely some managers are, but are good communications – particularly active listening, reflecting skills, and with-holding judgment – common strengths among your managers/ executives? Is there training offered for such skills, or are they supposed to pick it up on their own? Is there any appreciation of the need?

So that was the tangent my client took as he vented about management over the next 20 minutes or so. He’s worked at this company for about six months (the first five months as a contractor), and only as a direct employee for a month, give or take. He was also bemoaning the training, or lack of it, that he received when he started, which he says is common, and that he sees throughout the company (and which I assured him is pretty typical).

He said there is almost no internal training for either new hires or the recently promoted. There are a smattering of external courses people can take, but the reality is that most of the training is done OJT. And “you’re lucky” if you get someone who’ll bother to do training for more than a couple of hours. So this idea of OJT, no formal training, ‘pick it up on your own’ sort of focused the light (once more) on the importance of self-management.

Think about it: if OJT is the typical approach most people have to take to learn their jobs, won’t they be more effective and better-trained if they’re naturally self-managing? Doesn’t it make sense that when people are properly matched to a job and a culture, they will naturally be more self-managing? If they’re in a role they’re well-suited to perform, if they appreciate the culture (and maybe even their manager), won’t all those things combine to make someone want to direct him or herself, internally, without external guidance or direction? I think the answer is yes, and I think it’s obvious.

As the name implies, a self-manager makes his/her own direction and mission first priority. These people set goals, plan an approach, check progress, make adjustments, and keep going until the goal is attained. Wouldn’t companies want to CHOOSE this kind of person when making hiring decisions? Again, I think it’s obvious that the answer is yes, or should be. Why wouldn’t you want to hire a self-manager?

As I was mulling over the importance of self-management in today’s world, our company got an invitation to speak to the MBA course. The students – all future entrepreneurs, inventors, franchisees, etc – had a couple of weeks before asked the professor if there were any reliable tools to help them hire the right people, pick complementary team members, and figure out all of the usual personnel-related dilemmas. We had earlier done some work for the professor’s company, and he really liked our tools.

After the lecture, the students’ questions were the usual: How do I find someone who will really work? How do you know who won’t plateau or need to be “baby sat”? How do you put teams together where people will communicate, cooperate, get along and achieve? And the fact is that these things are all critical . . . and achievable.

Unfortunately, there are so many tools out there which purport to do just that – but don’t – that the tools which actually are effective get “tarred with the same brush”. And those HR and other professionals who’ve been tasked with finding and using effective tools – and who’ve been burned in the process – doubt that anything will really do the job.

So my conclusion is this: if you’re responsible for finding effective selection and hiring tools, make sure you look here. Despite your experience (and despite the fact that ‘predictive’ is THE buzzword around assessments these days), there are assessment tools which do the job you need done.

These tools statistically or comparatively, predict which people have the talents to do a specific job (and be a self-manager in the process), identify issues in team formation (with strategies to maximize effectiveness), and tell you which people WILL do the job.

You don’t have to be a statistician to understand these tools. In fact, I’d love to simply show you what I shared with those MBA students about selecting people who are self-managers.

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