Could being a super nanny help you?

I don’t know whether you saw the series on Channel 4 with Jo Frost, dubbed the Super Nanny by their PR people, as she flies in to sort out situations where the team managers (parents) are at their wit’s end. As the father of three noisy girls, I tuned in eagerly to pick up tips.

Jo is one of those people who talks in distilled common sense and it struck me as I was watching that many of her tips apply equally well to adults as well as children. In her world it is all about the behaviours that you need to have in order to prevent problems. And they seem to be exactly the same behaviours that you need to manage a team well.

So, with apologies to Jo, here’s my guide to the manager as Super Nanny:

It’s all about attention - when I think back to the managers who had the most impact on me, one in particular stands out. Whenever you talked to Bob he had the trick of making you feel like you had 100% of his attention. He would put down whatever he was doing, turn his whole body towards you and both look and listen. It doesn’t sound like much but how many times have you had a conversation with a manager who shuffles papers, glances at e-mail, looks over your shoulder or even answers the phone while supposedly listening to you.

Many of us fear to give full and generous attention to our team in case it encourages them! Somehow there is a fear that if you listen too well they will keep coming back. In fact, the opposite is true - the more your team realise that they have your full attention then the less they will need it. Deprive them of your attention and unconsciously they will act up until they get it. (just like kids!).

Explain why - people need context. They need to know why you or the organisation are asking them to do whatever it is you are asking them to do. A fundamental function of the managers role is to give meaning to peoples lives because they are more likely to be engaged and committed to your business if it means something to them. Imagine spending 8 hours a day doing something and nobody ever really explained why you were doing it - how would you behave?

Say it the way you want it - if you want them to have a bath, don’t ask "do you want a bath?" Why? Because it’s a false choice, implying that they can choose to say no. If you want someone to go somewhere or do something then ask them directly to say it or do it. Giving people the illusion of choice might be a clever psychological move but it sounds a false note and eventually you’ll lose their respect.

Remember if you ask someone to try and have it done by 10am then they will do just that - try! And when challenged, they will have a good excuse. If you want it done by 10am then ask for it to be done by 10am!

Give a 10 minute warning of any changes in direction - Very few people like surprises so flag your actions in advance (as far as you can). Interestingly, the research into effective negotiators show that they flag their intentions much more than unskilled negotiators. For example, "In a minute, I'm going to ask a question about…." or "On our side, we’re feeling…".

Speak at their level - ever been patronised? Horrible isn’t it? Ever read a management document that uses 10 words were one will do? Horrible isn’t it? Get out from behind your desk and go and meet your people where they are. 20 minutes walking around could save you hours of future problems, is more efficient than e-mail and you might learn something valuable about your customers.

Praise what you want to see more of - and finally, you always get more of what you focus on. What most of us do is really engage our time, attention and energy when something goes wrong, so it’s no surprise that things keep popping up to use this energy. How about engaging your time, attention and energy in catching people doing something right and then praising them for it?

Perhaps the two most powerful words you can use this week are Thank You.

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