How to be an effective manager

Everyone likes the idea of working for a good boss, but what does that actually mean and how can you succeed at managing teams? 
by Steve Smethurst


A special message for CISI members from Manager ToolsHow do you know if someone is a good manager? When Manager Tools – which provides tools to facilitate effective management – asks this question of delegates at its effective manager conferences, it receives answers that might cross your mind: their people like them; they communicate a lot; they’re smart; they care; they listen well.

From the perspective of an employee who has a manager, this sounds like the dream boss. But that’s not the only perspective that counts. “Your first responsibility [as a manager] is to deliver whatever results your organisation expects from you,” writes Manager Tools CEO Mark Horstman in his book, The effective manager. A manager’s second responsibility is to keep their people. 

The book says that managers who consistently achieve results and retain their teams display four key behaviours towards the people that they manage:

  • they get to know them
  • they communicate with them about their performance
  • they ask them to do more
  • they delegate work to them. 

What they don’t do is take responsibility for their happiness. In an interview with The Review, Mark says: “Make no mistake, happy employees without results will end up unemployed. The idea that a manager can make an employee happy is a bad one. No one can legitimately be held responsible for somebody else’s happiness – happiness is a personal choice.” 

Instead, Manager Tools uses retention as a proxy for happiness. If someone chooses to stay, you can reasonably infer that they are happier than they could be somewhere else. Retaining people comes down to building trusting relationships with those that you manage, Mark says, and the best way to achieve that is to communicate through weekly, structured one-on-one (or ‘O3’) meetings – more on this later. 

Watch Mark's keynote address to the CISI Financial
Planning Conference 2018 (available to CISI members only)

No need for recruiters The first step to effective retention is effective recruitment. For Mark, whose new book The effective hiring manager is due out this autumn, one key to better recruitment is to develop solid, professional relationships with potential recruits, which means spending time at sector events. “After knowing people for two to three years, you should have a pretty good sense of their strengths and weaknesses. You shouldn’t need to hire a recruiter,” he says.

The other key step is to have a standardised process that every person goes through during the recruitment process. If the approach changes, you can’t learn from it when you make a bad hire. “Do not trust your gut, do not give a clever interview and do not just have a chat,” Mark says.

Bloomsbury Wealth has been applying lessons learnt from Manager Tools since 2014. Charles Wood CFP™ Chartered MCSI, a wealth planning manager at the firm, has found the Manager Tools process to be priceless on recruitment, with podcast questions that prompt applicants to give examples of the behaviours that the manager is looking for proving particularly useful.

Manager Tools’ online ‘Interview creation tool’ generates interview questions based on the information you provide about the requirements of the role you’re recruiting for. The questions follow a three-part format: 

  • a lead-in sentence referencing a situation

  • the question

  • the behavioural response. 

One example of a question might be: ‘We have to feed back with sensitivity to clients. Tell me about a time when you had to defuse a difficult situation with a client.’

Wayne Hayhurst, Chartered MCSI, is Ribble Valley branch principal for wealth manager Raymond James in Longridge, Lancashire. He also favours an approach based on behaviours. “The few people I’ve recruited that haven’t gone to plan have been those I took on because of their qualifications. Their integrity and values weren’t a priority.

“You can give someone the knowledge and training they need to pass exams and to become a competent wealth manager, but it is much harder to change someone’s values, work ethic and integrity. It makes more sense to recruit individuals with these embedded traits and behaviours and then give them the skills to develop into quality wealth managers.”
Five steps to successful meetings 
“A monkey could run a meeting,” says Mark Horstman. “It is not hard, yet most managers are terrible at it. Once you learn how to do it, people will actually look forward to your meetings.” Here are his five tips.

Step one: Set an agenda
Send out an agenda for the topics to be discussed and timings for each topic. It’s what gives you the authority to say, “It’s now 10.15am, we have to move on.”

Step two: Start on time
This sends a message that the meeting will be run with professional standards. Don’t worry if people show up late at the first couple; they will soon figure out they need to be on time. 

Step three: Set the rules
Set ground rules for all future meetings: starting, staying and finishing on time; one person talking at a time; laptops closed; phones on silent. 

Step four: Keep talkers in check
If someone is dominating, warn them, “We’ve got two minutes before the next item.” It’s a polite cue that you’ll soon have to move on. A minute later, interrupt with, “Just one minute on this, OK?” And then, “I’m really sorry, I’m going to have to cut you off.” If there’s push back, just say, “I’m sorry, we started on time and there is an agenda and we have other topics to discuss and the ground rules say we need to stay on time. I’m happy to return to it at the end of the meeting.”

Step five: Deliver on promises
If you’ve had to cut off a long-winded speaker by promising to return to their point, do so at the end of the meeting. By this time, most people won’t want to revisit their points; they were just holding court and by now everybody in the room knows that if there’s nothing to add, they get to leave five minutes early.

In 2018, Wayne established an in-house academy that takes on postgraduates. The first cohort is still undergoing training but they are all still at the firm and on track to do what they were brought in to do. Wayne says: “I look at their core values as well as their qualifications, then give them experience. It has worked brilliantly.”

One-on-ones Another factor of effective management is weekly, structured O3 meetings with people that you manage. The recommended length for an O3 is 30 minutes. Charles was initially dubious about losing half a day a week for meetings. “I feared it was a management fad. But with Manager Tools you get right down to the nitty gritty,” he says.

It recommends having a clear agenda for an O3: the first ten minutes should be given to the managed employee to speak; the next ten minutes to the manager; and the final ten minutes to talk about future issues. 

Manager Tools research suggests 74% of people with managers and 89% of managers want to spend their allotted times talking about work. People who are managed may ask for guidance on approaching a problem or seek clarification on assigned tasks. Managers typically ask for updates on ongoing work and share ideas for potential new work. 

Charles finds O3s provide a structure and process that lets him focus on the team member, getting to know them and forming a solid relationship. “The O3 is there for them to tell me what’s bothering them, or to ask any questions. Then towards the end it allows me to say things like: ‘You’re doing X and Y – which appears to other people that you’re not paying enough attention to detail, or you’re not trying hard enough.’”

He now has fewer interruptions because team members are more aware of business priorities. As he says, “Most financial planning firms are very structured and process-driven in terms of what they do for clients, so it feels good to know we also have a process for managing the team.”

This extends to delegation. Charles advises other managers to challenge their team, but to be careful to not overdo it “as it can just result in a bunch of stressed out people”.

Dealing with resistance According to Manager Tools, the three most common reasons managed people resist O3s is that they are a form of micromanagement, they don’t have time, and communication takes place on an informal basis already. 

In The effective manager, Mark says that not only is an employee who wishes for no oversight a risk, but people who are too busy to change their behaviour by accommodating a weekly O3 have dangerous implications for the wider organisation – their resistance prevents the organisation itself from changing. 

In such instances, Mark suggests managers highlight the actual definition of micromanagement and point out that the O3 is not seeking to do that. He also advises starting the O3s three to four weeks down the line, when the employee’s diary is not likely to be full, and pointing out the small percentage of time the meeting will take up. If these efforts fail, managers should resort to using their ‘role power’ – the authority assigned to them by their role – to kickstart the meetings in the hope that resistant team members will start to experience the benefits.  

Managing an employee who offers one-word answers is another potential problem. Give them time to open up. Begin with an open question such as, ‘How are things?’ If there is not much in response, move on to the next agenda item. If this continues for three sessions, start the next three sessions by inviting them – through three different questions – to share information. If that still doesn’t work, start to ask specific questions about the status of work and any specific concerns or needs they have.

Asking more of your people
“We’re obligated as managers to get the most out of our directs [people who report to us] as we can,” Manager Tools CEO Mark Horstman writes in his book The effective manager.

This is something that can be achieved through coaching, which Manager Tools defines as a “systemic effort to improve the performance of a direct in a specific skill area”.

Manager Tools’ coaching model comprises four steps: collaborate to set a goal; brainstorm resources that can be used to achieve the goal; create a plan; act on the plan.

Crucially, the coaching process should involve a series of short-term tasks for which the deliverable is reporting on the task being completed. Each task should embody a deadline, a behaviour that needs to change, and a success metric. One example quoted in The effective manager is: “By 1 January, you will submit the capital plan without any errors.”

Reviewing progress on coaching should be part of the weekly O3 discussion and take up no longer than five to ten minutes of the meeting. 

Beyond effective people management skills, financial planners and wealth managers must ensure that they also meet regulatory requirements in supervision of staff. For example, the FCA’s Training and Competence sourcebook sets out requirements for supervisors of employees who advise retail clients. The FCA also provides several examples of good practice, including: putting in place procedures to ensure supervisors are properly trained and competent; having clear criteria and procedures for assessing the competence of advisers; and reassessing competence regularly and using the results to influence the level of supervision

Outsized returns

The great thing about effective management, concludes Mark, is you don’t have to put in Herculean efforts. “The average manager sucks at their job,” he says. This may sound glib but a major Gallup survey of US employees in 2018 indicates that only 34% are ‘engaged’ at work and 53% are ‘not engaged’. The average engagement level over the past 18 years that Gallup has been tracking this number is 30%. If a manager’s job is to keep employees engaged, they are clearly not excelling at it.

“The moment you invest a little bit of time and effort in learning how to manage effectively, you get an outsize return,” says Mark. “You’ll have less tension, less conflict and your employees will stick around longer – more work will get done too.

This article was originally published in the July 2019 print edition of The Review. All members, excluding student members, are eligible to receive the quarterly print edition of the magazine. Members can opt in to receive the print edition by logging in to MyCISI, clicking on My account, then clicking the Communications tab and selecting ‘Yes’.

Once you have read the print edition, keep coming back to the digital edition of The Review, which is updated regularly with news, features and comment about the Institute and the financial services sector.

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Published: 16 Jul 2019
  • Financial Planning
  • The Review
  • Training and competence
  • Management
  • Mark Horstman
  • Manager Tools
  • leadership
  • CFP
  • Career advice

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