There was a time not long ago when karaoke reared its ugly head in mainstream America in a big way. I remember wondering why so many people in so many places thought they could sing when, clearly, that was not the case.

Along this same principle, too many folks think that they have what it takes to be good managers as well. After all, what’s so hard about it? You’re the boss, you tell people what to do, and if they don’t, you let them know about it. Well, guess what? It’s not that easy. There are a few really good managers who just instinctively know how to manage. But, for the others, becoming a good manager takes time, experience, and learning a lot of hard-won lessons.

Some of the best lessons managers can learn come from their own staff members. Who better to judge management than those being managed? Toward that end, we asked TechRepublic members to tell us what they feel managers should do to keep their staffs happy and productive, and what they shouldn’t do. Here’s what we learned.

The don’ts
Don’t micromanage
Perhaps the sentiment echoed most frequently among our members was that good managers don’t micromanage. Good managers tell their people what to do without telling them how to do it.

“Nothing is more insulting than being given a project and being told in great detail how we should implement it. Just give us the problem, give us the parameters, let us have access to resources, and leave us alone to do our job,” said Doug, a software developer in the Philadelphia area.

Member Brandi Tarvin, MCSA, added, “There’s nothing worse than a boss who stands over your shoulder while you’re concentrating on fixing a problem and asks, ‘Is it done yet?'”

One member admitted that she once left a job because the manager refused to give her ownership of her projects.

Miscellaneous don’ts
Here are some varied don’ts offered up by some of our members:

  • Don’t scrimp on resources. “When we ask for things like revision control systems or staging servers, don’t argue with us about whether they’re needed. Not giving us the proper tools to do our jobs is akin to tying our hands and just makes us grumpy,” said Muth.
  • Don’t tell us you don’t have the time to write/review specs and then proceed to nitpick things after three or four weeks of code writing.
  • Don’t talk up respect and then in a most unprofessional way, do things that show you don’t mean it.
  • Don’t ignore accomplishments.
  • Don’t play favorites.
  • Don’t believe that criticism alone helps an employee understand what you want. Say “thanks” once in a while.
  • Don’t make decisions that affect IT independent of your technical personnel. “It’s the technical staff who often can make the best recommendations of what strategy to take, what software/hardware to choose, or what type of outsourcing should be done, if any,” said rdtweb.
  • When it comes time for that yearly review, don’t have the employee fill it out and then forget to get around to discussing future growth.
  • Never let employees find out about raises, or lack thereof, when they get their checks.
  • Don’t make insensitive remarks regarding sex, religion, or race. At the very least, it’s annoying. At the most, it’s illegal.
  • Never call a meeting without letting anyone know what the subject will be.
  • Don’t overwork good people. People who are conscientious tend to work beyond what’s expected of them. Some managers take advantage of this while letting other, less-driven workers off the hook.
  • Don’t be clueless as to what your staff really does or what they contribute to the organization.

The do’s
Respect and acknowledge
Respondents were unanimous in their feelings that managers should respect their staffers and acknowledge their accomplishments. Treating people like people and not like robots should be priority number one for managers.

“Respect and acknowledgement from the upper levels go a long way toward making an employee feel appreciated,” said Catadman.

Private acknowledgement can be a nice touch. Send an e-mail to a staff member, thanking him or her for doing a good job. “I really appreciate it when my boss sends an e-mail, either unsolicited or in response to an update I’ve given him, that thanks me for doing a swell job. He’s also good about sending along praises from staff outside of IT,” said JGingrich.

Public acknowledgement is even better. Vjayaraman said, “Every employee needs recognition. Be lavish in recognizing an employee in public, but be sure that you are specific about the accomplishment. Don’t just say, ‘You did a good job.’ Say, ‘it’s great the way you handled that customer in getting his cases today.'”

Pay these do’s
Here are some more do’s, courtesy of our members:

  • Communicate, even if it’s bad news.
  • Deliver on your promises. If workload is increased due to layoffs, don’t tell everyone it’s only temporary unless it really is.
  • Make your employees feel engaged in the setting of specific tactics designed to reach organizational goals. Who doesn’t want to feel like their opinion matters?
  • Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each individual who is part of your all-star lineup.
  • If you’re operating a help desk or support center, recognize that the star performers shouldn’t be tied to the inbound phone/e-mail/Web support queue. Make sure they have mobility in order to attend to higher priorities.
  • Be selective in choosing mentors for junior-level employees or new personnel. Just because someone’s an all-star performer doesn’t mean he or she is an effective educator.
  • Encourage training, and not just technical training. “Encourage and support short seminars, one day or partial day, as they are frequently networking opportunities with other IT professionals,” said JGingrich.
  • Encourage feedback, even if you don’t like what you hear.
  • Reprehend in private and compliment in public.
  • Be proactive, and take small yet effective opportunities to interact with individuals. “You might be surprised at the insight staff members possess on organizational processes, interdepartmental business flow, and corporate culture. This yields two important benefits: recognizing your best performers for their accumulated knowledge and ensuring that you provide them with the attention they require,” said dmccoy.

We hope that these comments, culled from our members, will lead you to recognize some of your own managing strengths and weaknesses.