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Management Tips from Practitioners in the Field

Managing employees isn’t easy. We often make reference to the title of Warren Bennis’ book “Managing People is Like Herding Cats” which sums up the difficulties very nicely. People have different priorities, are at work for different reasons, and have varying degrees of commitment to what your organisation is trying to do. Here are some tips from a number of practitioners.

Other people are not like me

Writing in HR Magazine, Robert Ordever of OC Tanner said that understanding and accepting that not everyone thinks and feels the way he does was “essential for managing others and learning to delegate.” I know it’s fairly obvious, but this truth is often not grasped. Early in his career he recalled that “I could never understand why I was the only one with no objection to working late, starting early or working weekends. Then it dawned on me that I was the only one living at home with no kids, spouse or mortgage to consider.”

In the same vein, people may interpret an instruction differently from the way you intended due to the way their thinking has developed. You know what you want and what the priority is, but do you make it clear? If one part of the instruction has to be carried out in a specific way rather than being left to the employee’s discretion, do you communicate the requirement clearly and check the quality of the communication has been heard and interpreted in the way you intend it to be? Many managers say: “Everybody knows this rule” but in fact there’s no evidence that it has ever been comprehensively communicated. The grapevine is no way to run a business.

Help employees understand where you are coming from

Writing in Entrepreneur, Alexander Maasik referenced surveys suggesting that 50% of employees leave their job because they don’t get on with their supervisor. Research by Towers Watson also suggests that of 75 possible drivers of engagement, the extent to which employees believe their senior management have a sincere interest in their well-being came first.

We always say: be friendly, but not friends. If you’ve been promoted from the shop floor and used to go drinking with the rest of the team, you need to build in a little distance, so start socialising with new people more often. There will be occasions when you have to manage firmly, and the ability to do that or manage everyone equally can be compromised or at the very least made far more difficult by too close a friendship.

I couldn’t stand being micro- managed when I was an employee and am a great believer in training people to do the job, letting them do it under supervision, then allowing them to manage their own work, with reference to me as and when needed. Why have a dog and bark yourself? Provided my overall standards are being met, my team have huge freedom to deliver in their own style.

If you are letting employees get on with the job, make sure they understand clearly what you are trying to achieve and the general approach you want to take. If they understand that, they are more likely to respect the pressure you are under and craft their approach to match your goals.

Set the right example

Victor Lipman observed in a Forbes article: “Lead in a way that makes it easy for others to want to follow. Setting the right example by your own business behaviour – your own even-handedness and ethics – makes it easy for your employees to respect you.”

Mr Lipman remarked on the regularity with which he sees management playing by different and often less stringent rules than the rules to which their employees are subject. We see this too. “Do as I say, but not as I do” may seem tempting, but people will pick up on it, especially in an open plan office. The question “why should I follow those standards when you don’t even bother?” may be legitimately met with “Because I’m in charge and you’re paid to do it.” If that’s a regular occurrence, it will reduce employee engagement, and you won’t get the best out of the people you pay for.

In managing your managers, empower them to get the job done, but also hold them to high standards of conduct.

Feedback regularly

Tell employees what they’re doing right and highlight where they’re going wrong. Provide examples, explain how they can get it right, and give them a chance to improve. If after several interventions they can’t or won’t meet your standards enter the formal process and take steps to dismiss.

Balance positive and negative feedback to encourage and improve. Not only does this give them the best opportunity to succeed, it makes it clear to them that that’s what you’re trying to do. For most people, that increases engagement in a team. It also puts you in a better legal position if you want to pursue formal discipline.

Relatively few people are natural managers, but with patience and diligence the skills can be learned. I hope these tips from practitioners who found out the hard way gives you a softer landing!

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