Whether you are new to managing, or you are an experienced manager, becoming a better manager can be accomplished in three easy steps.

Clearly Define What is Expected

In the beginning of the evaluation year, during a new hire’s orientation or when you first start managing a group, focus on the positions first, not the people in the positions. Look at the job descriptions from a business perspective and look at how each position has been put in place to help you and your team support your company’s overall objectives.

Review each direct report’s job description to ensure you understand what needs to be accomplished and see if any part of the job description needs to be updated to reflect current responsibilities. Meet with your direct reports, individually or in a group to discuss what is expected in terms of tasks, responsibilities, behaviors. During this meeting, clearly define how to meet the expectations of the position. Ask for feedback from the employees about any questions or concerns they have about the expectations.

Try not to leave anything up for interpretation. Both you and your direct report should know exactly what needs to be done and how it needs to get done to meet expectations. The goal is to avoid this:

Do Not Avoid the Difficult Conversations

One of the most common mistakes made by managers is avoiding ‘difficult’ conversations about performance or behavior with employees. The three main reasons we hear for this avoidance are (1) “I don’t want the employee to get upset.” (2) “I don’t know what to say!” or (3) “It will work itself out on its own.”

It doesn’t matter why it was avoided, but if a manager avoids a difficult conversation, the situations will only get worse, not better. When managers avoid these difficult conversations, the employee does not know that what he/she is doing is not meeting expectations and just continues to do it. And, to make matters worse, other employees see this performance or behavior issue and think it is okay.

If, as a manager, you consistently do what is listed above in step #1, this step is much easier. When you have the difficult conversation, focus on the gap between what was expected (and what you discussed) and what the employee actually did or does. Keep the conversation focused on specific, observable behaviors, skills and results. Keep emotion out of it and remember that the employee is responsible for his/her actions – not you. You do not need to feel bad about having this discussion. You did nothing wrong!

Deliver Feedback that Motivates

This tip is easy – STOP using the term “Constructive Criticism”. Everyone wants to hide when they hear they are going to receive constructive criticism. Why is that? Well, even though constructive criticism by definition means “comments that are carefully considered and meant to be helpful”, most people do not hear the helpful part and most managers do not provide the helpful part.

Employees often react negatively when they hear they are going to receive constructive criticism because the focus is on the ‘criticism’ element, pointing out one or more faults. Managers mean to be helpful but often do not include specifics about what the employee is doing well and what the employee can do differently because they focus on what is wrong.

Instead of giving constructive criticism, focus on delivering feedback. Feedback by definition means comments intended to provide useful information for future decisions and development. Feedback is based on specific, observable behaviors, results and facts and is delivered to improve future performance. When positioned this way, most people are open to receiving feedback.

In summary, you can become a better manager by being clear upfront about what is expected; not avoiding the difficult conversations and delivering feedback that motivates. Happy managing!