Getting things done is the basic requirement of management; getting things done willingly and enthusiastically is the high art of management. The difference is significant—it determines how much and how well work is done, as well as the quality and longevity of employees.
Impatience and frustration are in the definition of manager, but they should never show a public face in people problems. A good manager can deliver even the most difficult messages with respect and consideration.
When an employee has so little buy-in to company goals that only a threat motivates him, he performs only when we’re over his shoulder. In addition to being unreliable and unproductive, he frustrates motivated employees, serves as a bad example of what’s acceptable, and drags down the attitudes and culture of the company.
Spare the threats and remove the cancer.
Suggestions for improvement in people problems needn’t be as sensitive as some fear. Establishing a regular routine of discussing progress is key, and balancing suggestions with compliments keeps the conversation positive. “Nice job on …. How do you think you’re doing with …? I noticed you’ve gotten really good at …. To solve your challenge with …, have you considered …? Congratulations on ….”
A manager’s role is combination coach/cheerleader/fan. Once employees recognize that, channels of communication can open wide.
Errors are easy to see after the fact—hindsight doesn’t require genius.
In most cases an employee who has made a mistake knows exactly what went wrong and how to avoid it next time. Such situations don’t need much from the manager. Constructive review is occasionally helpful; preaching, ranting and scolding are counterproductive.
Understanding and reassurance are often a surprising response that builds confidence and motivation (as well as appreciation).
Employees need and deserve to know how they’re doing. Regular feedback encourages good employees to even better performance, and gives underperforming employees the opportunity to improve or look for more suitable work.
A poor appraisal shouldn’t be confrontational or offensive. When we begin by asking for their own assessment, they usually sum it up pretty accurately and we need only agree. If they miss an important aspect, we should ask about it. In the rare case they’re totally off, we have to give a contrary opinion, but it seldom requires heavy emphasis; their hearing on this topic is acute. It’s a simple and friendly discussion, and with continuous communication none of it should come as a surprise.
When asked what they would like to do, they’ll almost always say they’d like to try to do better and usually can offer a plan. If it seems feasible, we should welcome their effort and tell them we’re pulling for them.
Quick answers to people problems can create long and difficult problems. As much as we might like to, we just can’t reel words back in and start again. And the worse the gaffe, the more memorable and lasting it is.
We don’t have to have ready answers to people problems. When we’re faced with a new or unusual question or issue, we can almost always afford a little time to think before responding. “Let me get back to you on that,” or “Let’s make a time to talk about it,” aren’t admissions of inadequacy; they’re acknowledgements that we take the issue seriously and value an intelligent answer.
A raised eyebrow or faint frown is sometimes the only response we need give, especially to disappointing behavior. If our values are well known, our disapproval is often more powerful when we don't elaborate. Reviewing expectations is seldom necessary and “scolding” is demotivating.
The message is clear and there's little to add.
Offending or berating an employee serves no useful purpose and usually creates irreparable damage. In most cases the employee quits—if he doesn’t walk out on the spot, he begins looking for another job, often leaving without notice when he finds it. He sometimes takes particular pleasure in leaving when his departure leaves us in a bind.
The old advice of “let your feelings out” or “get it off your chest” couldn’t be more wrong. A few quick words in anger can destroy a relationship forever.
A manager can’t resolve disputes between employees. Whatever solution he imposes will inevitably be resented by at least one side, and hard feelings not only remain but are ratcheted up by his involvement. The battle continues, only clandestinely, where damage runs deeper and is harder to resolve.
A dispute is over not when we say it is, but when the two parties decide they want to get along.
The solution is often in “asking” them to work it out: “It’s not good for the company for the two of you to be fighting. Please get together and resolve this.”
(Such a request includes implications that need no elaboration.)