UK: Ask Bill Gates.

UK: Ask Bill Gates. - Q. On your way to the top you must have learnt a thing or two about good management. Any tips you can pass on?

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q. On your way to the top you must have learnt a thing or two about good management. Any tips you can pass on?

A. Unfortunately there isn't a magic formula for good management, but maybe these tips will help you be more effective.

1. Choose a field thoughtfully. Make it one you enjoy. It's hard to be productive without genuine enthusiasm.

2. Hire carefully and be willing to fire. You need a strong team, because a mediocre team gives mediocre results, no matter how well managed it is. One common mistake is holding on to somebody who doesn't quite measure up. It's easy to keep this person because he or she isn't terrible, but a good manager will replace the employee in question or move them where they can succeed unambiguously.

3. Create a productive environment. This is a particular challenge because it requires different approaches depending on the context. One element that almost always increases productivity is providing an information system that empowers employees.

4. Define success. Goals must be realistic. Project schedules, for example, must be set by the people who do the work. People will accept a 'bottom-up' deadline they helped set more readily than one they had nothing to do with. Unachievable goals undermine an organisation.

5. To be a good manager, you have to like people and be good at communicating. This is hard to fake. If you don't genuinely enjoy interacting with people, it'll be hard to manage them well. Establish a wide range of personal contacts within your organisation and encourage people to give you feedback on what they are thinking about the company and your role in it.

6. Develop your people to do their jobs better than you can. This can be threatening to a manager who worries that he's training his replacement. If you're concerned, ask your boss: 'If I develop somebody who can do my job super well, does the company have some other challenge for me or not?' Many smart managers like to see their employees increase their responsibilities because it frees the managers to tackle new or undone tasks.

7. Build morale. Make it clear there's plenty of goodwill to go round and that it's not just you, as some hotshot manager, who's going to look good if things go well. Give people a sense of the importance of what they're working on. When you achieve great results, everybody involved should share in the credit and feel good about it.

8. Take on projects yourself. You need to do more than communicate. The last thing people want is a boss who just doles out stuff. From time to time, prove you can be hands-on by taking on one of the less attractive tasks.

9. Don't make the same decision twice. Spend the time and thought to make a solid decision the first time so that you don't revisit the issue unnecessarily. People hate indecisive leadership, so make choices. That doesn't mean, however, that you have to decide everything the moment it comes to your attention, nor that you can't ever reconsider a decision.

10. Let people know who to please. Maybe it's you, maybe it's your boss, and maybe it's somebody who works for you. You're in trouble - and risking paralysis in your organisation - when employees start asking themselves: 'Am I supposed to be making this person happy or this other person happy? They seem to have different priorities.'

Ask Bill Gates questions: askbill@microsoft.com.

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