Seven rules of the road for managers

Seven rules of the road for managers

Coaching senior managers can be difficult, simply because they need to find a stretch of uninterrupted time to review their decisions. So, every year, we bring senior managers from across the Virgin Group to my home on Necker Island to discuss the challenges and opportunities we face.

We celebrate our achievements, reflect on our mistakes and discuss how we could better work together.

In a session led by Sally Morgan, a former aide to ex-British prime minister Tony Blair, who now serves as one of our advisers, our group came up with some handy guidelines for managers by looking at lessons learnt from the public, private and non-profit sectors. Whether you are launching your first start-up or leading an experienced team, these basics will hold true in almost every situation.

1. What’s the plan? Keep your team informed

It is crucial to set objectives for each period according to your business’ strategic direction—and then make sure that all employees know about them.

The cabinet would meet for a week to discuss these plans before members of Parliament returned from their summer holidays and had the opportunity to analyse and challenge the approach.

Thereafter, the team received a note from Blair every Sunday, which they would discuss at a meeting the next morning to agree on key actions.

Communicating your objectives regularly will help you to ensure that your team has a framework for making their own decisions. It is important that all must feel welcome to discuss the group’s objectives—that open debate is encouraged—because everyone will have a collective responsibility to follow through.

2. Define the rules of the road

It is important to define a core set of values for your business, which you and your employees can refer to when making decisions.

When assessing investments and new directions at Virgin, we have always considered whether the proposed business meets our core values, which helps us to manage our diverse portfolio and maintain some consistency.

We look at whether the business will do something differently than most or all of the other companies in the industry or sector; whether it will provide real value, great customer service, and still retain the sense of fun and pride that distinguishes a good business from a great business. More recently, we have added a new core value: We also test whether a new business will have the legs to go overseas and can be scaled up within about three years.

3. Focus, focus, focus

It is always tempting to try to do too much; for ambitious managers and their teams, there are always too many projects and too little time. But successful organizations know what their priorities are: They tackle the really important projects and the rest falls into place. Look at your strategic plan and rules of the road, and choose accordingly.

4. Who’s in charge? It’s up to you

A good manager provides clear roles for the members of his team, which enables everyone to get on with the job of running the business. Once you’ve made these choices, do not micromanage. If you make a habit of diving in and changing a major project’s direction or otherwise intervening, your employees will learn to be dependent on you, and they will not reach their full potential.

5. Champion your employees’ ideas

When your team makes a judgement call, you need to follow through with conviction. If you merely cast doubt and let their project languish, your team will not have the impetus or confidence to take the next steps. If you insist on making every big decision yourself, you will create a terrible logjam.

Do not fall into the trap of asking for further, endless reports in order to justify moving forward. It is always better to act; it is debilitating to dither.

6. When mistakes happen, learn from them and move on

It is impossible to get every decision right. When things go wrong, take time to review with your team what happened and learn from it together.

But don’t linger too long—just dust yourself off and tackle the next challenge.

It is important not to keep tinkering with or working on a project in hopes of delaying its end. At Virgin, we have not always gotten this right—for instance, we hung onto our Megastores for a few years longer than we should have.

7. Celebrate successes every day

When someone on your team has a big success, celebrate it and tell others.

Success often breeds more success. And this is something that should be a part of your everyday work—as I’ve said before, you should try to catch your team doing something right.

By NYT syndicate

©2011/Richard Branson

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Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog