Management Skills: Not Knowing the Answer

Management SkillsManagement skills: Do you feel the need to know all the answers?

When I’m helping managers, team leaders and business owners develop their people management skills I often come across some reluctance to take action to practice those management skills – to actually take action to manage their employee’s performance.  Often this reluctance is about managers being fearful of not knowing all the answers or not knowing how, exactly, to do something

So they say things like:

I should set some new performance objectives for my employees but I don’t know what, exactly, those performance objectives should be

I should monitor my employee’s performance more but I don’t know the best way to do that

I want to help my employees improve their job satisfaction but I don’t know what it is they want 

From my point of view the mistake these managers are making is believing they have to have all the answers. Why?

Because when we, as managers, don’t know the answers we can then be much more open to involving our employees in coming up with those answers

And if there’s one thing we certainly do know it’s that employees are more committed to actions they have had input into

Do you see how ‘not knowing’ could be one of the key management skills?

The management skills of not knowing the answer

So, you don’t know the answer – but what are the management skills of involving your employees in coming up with those answers?

Let’s take an example

Management Skills: Co-Writing Performance Objectives

Imagine you want to agree some performance objectives (or performance standards) with your employees to improve the way they work as a team

But you’re not entirely sure what ‘effective teamwork’ looks like in practice – what it really means.

What you do know is that if you can’t get some description in clear, behavioural language of what ‘effective teamwork’ means then your improvement plans are doomed to failure

Here’s what you can do:

1. Have a conversation with your employees where you explain:

a) Why you think the team needs to improve the way they work together

(See an example of how to explain why teamwork is important to the business in my blog ‘Management Skills: Helping Employees to See the Bigger Picture’)

b) That you would like their input into defining and agreeing what ‘effective team work’ actually means – for our team

2. Then either:

a) Ask the question ‘what do you think effective teamwork looks like in practice?’

(Being careful here to challenge any non behavioural language e.g. ‘being supportive’ or ‘being collaborative’ by asking – ‘what would that look like?’)


b) Use some objectives or descriptions of team work written by someone else and ask the team to edit, amend and / or suggest further descriptions

Then simply work together – as you usually would – amending and refining until you come up with a series of behavioural description of ‘effective team work’.  Voila! You now have your performance objectives

The real benefit of the management skills of not knowing

It doesn’t take a genius to see that involving your employees in defining objectives has a huge benefit in building their commitment to achieving those objectives. The only thing, at this stage, you will need to do is to say something on the lines of ‘so now we are agreed what effective team work looks like, can we all agree that this is now how we are going to work together?’ On the basis your team has co written the description of ‘effective team work’ it’s unlikely they will disagree, isn’t it?

Management Skills: Not Knowing the Answer Summary

OK let’s be honest. You could take the management skills of ‘not knowing’ too far. If you don’t know anything at all about managing employee performance you might struggle (to say the least!) with your credibility. So, I’d advise you to make sure you know best practice in managing employee performance and then you can choose to ‘not know’!

Want know more about management skills?

If you’d like to know more about how to manage employee performance why not take a look at my e-books HERE 

Or grab some free video training HERE

4 Responses to Management Skills: Not Knowing the Answer

  1. Dorris says:

    I’m glad I’ve learned something new every time I visit your blog Joan, you gave me fresh ideas that I needed for business management. Thanks!

  2. joanhenshaw says:

    Hi Dorris
    Thanks for your feedback!
    Best wishes

  3. Blanche Cordero says:

    As to not knowing the answer, my mentor gave me some excellent advice when I started worked, “It’s not what you know, but knowing where to find it.” This was before computers took over. I think all you have to do is just say, I will have to get back to you to have the most complet the most complete answer. I would give a time frame. If you can’t meet the time frame for any reason, then you contact the inividual and keep them up to date.

    As for objectives, I have always had objectives flow from the top. There are the corporate objectives to meet top lines sales and how we each have a part in those objectives. We have developmental objectives – getting to the next level. I would always include a trainig objective. If there are any deficiencies, they here must be objectives with very specific time frames , actions, expectations and ongoing review times to ensure the employee has every opportunity to succedd. Of course, always mention that you are available for support.
    If you are on a team, then how they function or dont function on the team, would determin another objective. At my former companies, we used SMART objectives so the format was the same across the company. I reviewed the objectives to ensure they were meaning ful and following our expectations; If not, back they went with a copy to the next level up, so the process did not go on foreve.

    If you have a manager with problems of not knowing how to handle a situation, then that was one of their objectives.

  4. joanhenshaw says:

    Many thanks for your input Blanche – good points!

Leave a Reply