From self-reflection to action: how to improve your management skills

Written by: Michael Scheiner | Edited by: Alison Robins | Illustrated by: Anne-Julie Dudemaine
Published on January 7, 2021 |  Reading time: 10m

You’re trying to be a better manager. But search: “How to improve your management skills,” and an avalanche of content buries you. 

Here’s where we promise to be different. We’re not just starting from management theory this time. We’re basing it on a two-step process: self-reflection and action. 

We’re sharing one of our own in-house management tools. It’s a combo of a survey we’ve expertly compiled, where your answers lead to actionable tips. Because here at Officevibe, we start by developing our own managers and infuse our knowledge and experience into our content.  In this self-assessment, we ask you to reflect on five key skills or areas of management: ambassadorship, planning, accompaniment, communication and fairness.

We list some critical introspective questions for each category as well as actionable solutions you can put into practice right away. This is the first step toward answering that burning question of “how to improve your management skills”. Let’s get started!

Self-reflection: Where you’re crushing it, where you can improve

Key management skills to evaluate yourself on using the below chart

Let’s do a quick warm-up before the survey-tip tool; it’s more of a freethought exercise. Think of all the management skills needed for employee engagement, and put them into three assessment groups. Here’s a brief list of management and leadership skills:

  • Embodying company values
  • Planning projects and prioritizing tasks
  • Explaining your decisions
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Involving your team in decision-making
  • Creating an atmosphere where people feel confident and creative
  • Communicating expectations or important news to your team
  • Having difficult conversations
  • Maintaining impartiality and fairness

The three initial self-assessment groups are:

1. To continue working on:

Skills that good managers recognize they’re decent at but could still be improving. Ex: I’m good at communicating expectations to my team at the outset of a project. I need to improve keeping everyone on track without micromanaging.

2. Strengths:

If you’re confident you’re great at something, embrace it and see how you can apply these strengths to other areas. Ex: I am good at giving positive feedback. What am I doing well here that I should apply when giving constructive criticism?

3. Areas to amplify:

Here’s the room for improvement category. If you recognize something here  yourself, chances are your team does too. Self-honesty is the first step toward becoming an effective leader. Ex: My team doesn’t seem confident to experiment and make mistakes. I could do more to encourage them to trust their instincts.

Dig deeper: Assess yourself based on these key questions

After the initial assessment, we get granular. Our in-house management experts developed these self-reflection questions to guide you. Consider specific areas of your strengths and areas needing improvement, so you can learn exactly how to improve your management skills.

How does it work? Firstly, we share the questions we’ve carefully curated for our survey. For each one, put some honest thought into how you answer, and try to find concrete examples to back up your assessment. The questions are all “yes/no,” and it’s up to you to avoid evasive, half-answers that land in the middle. Because remember, the first step to becoming a better manager is self-awareness

Here are our instructions:

  • Understand each category
  • Ask yourself each question 
  • Really think about your answer honestly 
  • Check out the action points 
  • Select the ones that are meaningful to your circumstance and that you can apply 
  • Share your findings with your team so they see your commitment to improve
  • Repeat the whole process every few months, or whenever there’s a change in your team 

Ambassadorship

One thing that makes a company great is a unified vision and set of values. One role of management is to represent the larger organization to their team and get them to buy into those shared goals, culture and overall vision. And when you act as an ambassador, you help your employees feel more connected to the company too.

Do I embody my company’s values for my team and get them to buy-in?

  • Ask yourself: Do I know the company values and where they stem from? 
  • Ask yourself: In what concrete ways do I embody these company values? 
  • When I speak about the company or its leaders with my team, am I motivating and positive?
  • Share the company history and values with the team often. 
  • Make ‘values’ a part of interviewing new employees.
  • Hold meetings to discuss culture and values without any specific work on the agenda.

Do my work habits represent my company’s work style, and is my team following along?

  • Keep consistent hours with your managers and colleagues.
  • Use the same apps as you expect your team to use, especially for communication. (example: don’t send emails if everyone uses Slack).
  • Be present and active at non-work company events.
  • If working remotely, be online for the same hours as your team should be.

Planning and prioritization

Project management skills are highly relevant to your role in managing ongoing work. It combines organization and clear communication, three of the key ways to maintain employee engagement

Am I making our priorities clear, and is the team staying focused on them?

  • Have open-door time after each meeting in case someone needs extra clarification 
  • Use project management apps like Jira with priority settings: the clear visual setup helps employees recognize which tasks take precedence 
  • Include discussions around priorities and planning as an essential part of your 1-1 meetings, making sure everyone is on the right path.
  • Put the team goals and objectives in a document where employees can check when deciding on what initiatives to prioritize
  • Challenge your employees to be explicitly clear about how their initiatives and priorities align with the overall team strategic direction.

Do I adequately explain my reasons when I make a decision that doesn’t please everyone?

  • Ask yourself: Did I give enough visibility on the “why” behind the decision? 
  • Have important discussions face-to-face (or video chat) to better read the reaction of your employees and adjust your communication style accordingly. 
  • If you were them, ask yourself: Have I been given enough visibility and transparency as to why a decision was made? Would I understand the decision despite not liking it?

Accompaniment

Accompanying employees means being by their side as they develop. It’s all about coaching and guiding, ensuring they have the best tools and information to do their jobs, but also the right mindset and motivation to continue growing.

Am I giving enough feedback and in the right way?

  • Ask yourself: Do you know how different employees prefer to receive feedback? If not, take the time to understand people’s preferences.
  • When preparing for 1-1s, have constructive feedback specific to each employee, and always follow the criticism with advice for improvement. 
  • Think of employees who seem stuck or haven’t met their goals, and take some extra time with them.
  •  Officevibe is a great tool for employees to rate the quality and frequency of feedback from their managers, giving you, as a manager, real-time insight into your feedback skills.

Does my team know that I’m open to feedback from them?

  • Set up times where the purpose is solely for your team to give you feedback and ask them specific questions on areas you feel you are struggling in to focus the session.
  • Let your team meet without you to discuss your management, and have them give you an anonymized summary.
  • Remind your team why you want their feedback, and how much you appreciate it. Make sure they don’t feel intimidated to say something, no matter how “constructive.”

Do I involve my team enough in setting our goals and objectives?

  • Hold a project overview meeting and ask everyone for input on plans and deadlines.
  • A good feedback question is: “Do you feel involved in decisions that affect your work?” 
  • Another question to use with employees: “Could this project have gone better if you’d had more say in its planning and execution?”
  • Ask yourself: Do I “tell” employees what our goals are, or do I “ask” my employees to participate in creating our goals as a team? 

Have I created a work atmosphere where people feel encouraged to learn and experiment without worrying about making mistakes?

  • Ask yourself: Do I own up to my own mistakes and share the lessons I’ve learned? 
  • Create a message thread for people to submit out-of-the-box ideas or methods.
  • Have a “coolest unintentional discovery” game where people could light-heartedly share their mistake-experiences. 
  • Set up parameters for experimentation and risks where it’s clear the situations and extent where risk-taking is encouraged and where standard procedure should be followed. 
Example of anonymous feedback in Officebvibe

Use Officevibe to provide your team with a safe way to give you feedback. Who knows what you’ll learn when the pressure is off thanks to the platform’s anonymity.

Communication and mobilization

Effective communication skills are about how you mediate between the company and your team and lead people toward a certain vision.  It also touches on the more difficult aspects of managing, which require more soft skills and emotional intelligence.

Do I communicate effectively the instructions given to me by my superiors?

  • Meet with your team shortly after you meet with your managers to give early visibility over what’s happening “upstairs.”
  • Give regular updates on decisions being made at higher levels and the rationale behind them.
  • Don’t make excuses for your superiors if things don’t make sense; if things aren’t clear, take it back upstairs.

Am I managing difficult conversations properly?

  • Send an initial message or email agenda letting them know you want to talk and ask for their input on when is best for them. This will let them mentally prepare.
  • Learn about managing your own emotions, and do  “centering” exercises before a difficult talk and shed that negativity (free tool in this article!) 
  • Do light follow-ups with the employee who had to take some negative feedback.
  • Banish all ambiguity from your speaking style. Bring specific examples of what you aim to criticize.
  • For every specific criticism, discuss actionable solutions. 
  • Make it clear that your motivation for a tough talk comes from a desire to help them. 

Get our Communication guide to structure your objectives and express them with clarity

The 4 steps guide to powerful communication

Fairness

We all have personal biases and gravitate towards people similar to us. This won’t work in management. Managers need to be inclusive and fair to each member of their team. Fairness is about respect for every member of your team and not abusing leadership privileges.

Do I act impartially and equally fair to everyone on my team?

  • Ask yourself: Who have I been least attentive to? Go chat with them about their recent achievements. 
  • Don’t let meetings get dominated by the more charismatic people. Make sure everyone gets the chance to contribute. 
  • Show an interest in each member of your team, like their hobbies, backgrounds or aspirations.

Am I displaying extra privilege as a manager?

  • Admit to mistakes, and try and cut some slack accordingly to those fixing them.
  • If anyone on your team needs to stay late, stay with them.
  • If a lot of work is piling up close to a deadline, roll up your sleeves and help along.
  • Be extra flexible with work hours and availability if you’re managing a work-from-home team.

This last question can be the most difficult when it comes to being honest with yourself. It’s here that platforms like Officevibe can give you that extra insight into how your team views the way you handle your managerial position. The anonymity and security ensure you get the tough-loving honesty you need.

In conclusion: walk the walk

As a team dedicated to thinking about all things “managers,” we’re eager to put our money where our mouth is. 

This tool and subsequent article result from our proud and conscious push to better answer that question of how to improve your management skills. A great leader looks in before they take action.