Tips for company heads of department


Last year, a friend of mine was promoted to head a department in his company. He asked me to share with him tips on how best to head a department. This person has vast experience as a supervisor and even as a manager and senior manager. He acknowledged that working to head a department was a step into another layer of leadership. Over the next couple of weeks, we will discuss here under the Rise and Shine column the notes I prepared for this friend. I broke down my tips into six sections: managing people, processes and results, managing oneself, company issues and effective communication.

Today, let us focus on the first one-—managing people. The first aspect on people for a director or head of department is to align with the chief executive officer (CEO) or equivalent. It is often called ‘managing upwards.’ You need to clearly understand the direction that your CEO wants to take the company to, his or her major priorities and things that he or she worries about a lot. That is a good foundation to help you make plans for your department to support the CEO’s direction, priorities and strategies while helping to tame his or her pain areas. At the same time, ensure that you have a healthy relationship with your peers, the fellow directors. Support and help them but never allow them to abuse or belittle you. Respect them and demand the same from them.

The second aspect on people is to inspire your team so that they can be motivated to produce maximum results for you and for the company. Many directors or heads of department forget this very basic and important aspect. If you do not inspire your soldiers do not expect magical results. Staff who are not inspired will work at average levels if you are lucky. On the contrary, inspired and motivated staff will operate at double or even treble of the expected rate of productivity. We have discussed the mechanics of inspiring your teams here at Rise and Shine many times. Remember that there are more things you can do besides paying them well. Show you want them to grow personally and professionally. Show that you value their work.

From time to time, your team will face major challenges. Be there to support them. Give them a good and conducive environment where they can thrive. Give them good tools of work, depending on the resources that your company or organisation has. Some directors or heads of department simply want their staff to ‘suffer’ so that people can know who is ‘the boss’. This does not help your staff to maximise their productivity. When your staff are under undue attack, defend them.

Observe the cardinal rule to commend them in public and correct them in private. In your particular case, as director or head of department, you will have senior managers, managers and other quite senior people reporting to you. Do not shame such important people in public or before their juniors. You need to preserve their respect and reputation. Even when correcting them, be gentle. If you do this, they will respect you and they will rarely disappoint you. Do not leave them alone when they face major challenges. Be with them throughout as they face the challenge—if not physically then at least in spirit.

Empower your teams. Make your managers know that they can make some decisions. Give each of your managers their territories to command and take full charge of. Simply demand what you expect from their sections and then let them run their show. Your role is to give them direction—that is why you are called ‘director’ —you are no longer manager.

Your role is to coordinate efforts between your sections and section managers. Avoid micro-managing. But in exceptions, do not hesitate to micromanage. Even in those circumstances, it should be only for a defined period and not a long-term approach as it is neither sustainable nor healthy for you and for the managers below you.

Finally, make sure that you provide time and resources for training and professional development of your teams. n

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