No one ever teaches us how to deal with the vagaries of managing people.
Each employee comes with a different personality, different history and different outlook. Somehow you, as owner, must manage them into a successful venture. There are lots of books and articles on the subject, but some fail to take into account a critical variable: who you are.
There are nearly as many styles of management as there are managers out there and each has some characteristics to recommend it and some things which ought to be reconsidered. The key is to achieve a smooth running operations with the least amount of pressure on you.
We’re going to skip over the obvious management failures like romantic entanglements with your employees, treating people unequally, permitting personal issues to create problems in the workplace. Avoid all of them for your own sake and the sake of harmony in the business.
No one likes it and few actually act on it. So, how do you tell an employee about a problem they have created and get a positive outcome?
One method is to counter the criticism with a compliment (“ I’m very pleased with your written report this morning, but would appreciate it if next time you were better prepared to present it.”). This system is based upon reinforcing positive behavior.
Another is to solicit the employee’s involvement in fixing the problem. So if you have a worker who has poor verbal skills with customers: “It would help our sales if people were better prepared to explain our product to the customer. How can we improve staff understanding?”
Helping the employee: If the employee sees changing the behavior as a plus for him/herself then the behavior is likelier to change. “ If your oral presentations improve I’d like you to present to the board.”
You are not raising your employees. Don’t approach them as a parent. Most will be irked by the inference that they are children. If they like it you’re going to have a whole different problem. Treat them as adults, even if they don’t display any adult attributes. It’s the “people live up to your expectations” rule.
A Few Thoughts on Employees
For most businesses, the successful managing of people is crucial to the success of the enterprise. Yet relatively few business owners have given much thought to the process of keeping employees motivated as a path to growing the business.
Your employees know more than you think they do.
I’ve been a consultant for many years and one of the things I do early in the consulting process is talk with all of the employees, guaranteeing them anonymity. I ask questions, I don’t comment. I’ve never had one fail to talk with me and have never felt anyone failed to tell the truth as they saw it. I only share the gross data with the owner. I do this for several reasons:
If I am to offer useful counsel on how to the repair the company’s problems I need all of the information I can get as quickly as possible. The employees are phenomenal source of information on a variety of topics:
I get insight into the management style of the owner.
I receive information the owner didn’t think important.
I learn how smoothly the company runs – and where the snags are.
I find out what the employees think is wrong with the business.
Yet I don’t believe many owners solicit wide ranging information from the people who deal with their customers, read their mail, deliver their services and are often the face of the business.
Perhaps there has been change in this arena in some industries: smaller tech companies come to mind. But overall, there is a hesitance on the part of owners to invite input from the people who make the business work. Try it. You might be surprised.
If you don’t know what kind of manager you are you won’t hire the right kind of employees.
I’m going to make the assumption that if you are reading this you are also having some issues with handling your employees. Have you considered that you hired the wrong kind?
Let’s look at the ends of the spectrum (understanding, of course, that most people fit somewhere along the axis):
- The motivated, self-directed people who can make decisions and think for themselves
- The agreeable individual who is cooperative, takes direction well and is responsive to the boss.
Owners almost universally tell me that they want to hire #1. Those people will run with the ball, but they will also occasionally run in the wrong direction. They won’t be standing in front of your desk asking for direction every step of the way, but they will make some mistakes, some bad decisions. If you prefer to give them their head and handle the aftermath, then this is the type for you.
If, on the other hand, you try to guide them each step of the way you will have a very unhappy employee.
If you hire #2 you will be expected to provide more oversight, make the decisions, and provide more support. If you are the hands-on type this will suit you. If you aren’t it will feel like the employee isn’t taking responsibility and is nagging you.
I’ve seen a number of businesses with owners who want control of every step of the process, then hire type #1 and don’t understand why they have constant turnover.
I’ve also seen the reverse, although not as often. There you have a hands-off owner and one or more employees who need far more input than the boss is willing to provide. Again, unhappy employees and turnover.
So, find out what kind of manager you are (ask your employees – they know if you don’t) and then make your next hire the kind of employee you prefer working with. Your current staff will benefit as well if you understand why some respond to your style and others don’t. If you understand the issue you can make adjustments.