Rational management skills

Achieve results

As a manager, you have to achieve results. Results are not always about delivering a profit: not everyone has P&L responsibility. You may be responsible for project outcomes, quality outcomes, costs, product design, development and delivery, and recruiting and training staff. There are endless possible results for which you may be responsible. Ultimately, you have to deliver results. For better or worse, many organisations do not look too closely at how results are achieved, unless these are immoral or illegal activity involved. Conversely, if a manager fails to deliver results, the manager fails. Results are better than excuses.

There are five ways in which you can achieve acceptable results:

1. Work harder

This is an unpalatable truth in the era of work-life balance, which is shorthand for a wish to work less. This is also the 27/7 era, when we are attached permanently to various electronic tags that constrain us as much as a prisoner’s leg irons. There is no escape. Working harder, however, is not a lasting solution. Given the ambiguous nature of most managerial work, bosses do not know how much effort you are putting in. If you achieve results, the assumption is that you can do more. So the reward for working harder is to get more work. You get less work only when you can no longer deliver or complain loudly enough. Hard work is necessary, but it is not enough.

2. Work smarter

This is the desired outcome of results obsession: we find ways of doing things better faster cheaper. It is the essence of capitalism. If you deliver better faster cheaper, the ideal result is promotion. The more immediate consequence normally is the same as working harder: an increased workload rather than decreased working time. Like working harder, working smarter is necessary but not enough.

3. Fix the baseline

Beating a soft target is easier than beating a tough target. Many managers realise that it is better to negotiate hard for one month securing a soft target than it is to work hard for 11 months trying to beat a tough target. Even CEOs do this: watch the frequency with which a new CEO discovers a black hole in the organisation’s finances that requires write-offs and adjustments to the corporate goals. Fixing the baseline does not enhance the prospects of your business, but it does enhance the prospects of your career.

4. Play the numbers game

There is an annual ritual in most organisations called “meet year-end budget”. Experienced managers know that this is coming, and they know that, even if they are doing well, they are likely to be asked to deliver a little more in the last two months to make up for shortfalls elsewhere. This is where you need to be creative. If you are doing well, hide spare budget for the inevitable year-end rainy day. If you are behind use a combination of real actions on costs and whatever accounting smokescreens and mirrors can come to your support. This may appear cynical, but it is part of the reality of management survival.

5. Manage for results

Managers make things happen through other people. There is a huge difference between doing (working harder and smarter yourself) versus managing (enabling other people to work harder and smarter). Managers who try to do it all themselves are not really managing and, in the long run, are condemned to fail. Management is a team sport.

As a manager, you have to make the crucial leap from “how?” to “who?”. As a team member, when you are assigned a task you many think “how do I do this?” As a manager, your reaction should be “Who can do this or help me do it?” No matter how creative you are in answering the “how” question, there is a limit to what you can achieve. As soon as you start asking “who”, you are not constrained by the limits of you personal time, effort and insight. You start to unleash the efforts of the team and you colleagues.

You can manage for results only if you focus on the essence of management: making things happen through other people. You need to have the right people tackling the right challenges the right way.

Adapted from

Owen, J., 2006. How to manage. Pearson Education.

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