Whether you are a brand new manager or have worked your way up the ranks into a management position, don’t fall into the trap of being your employees’ friend. Remember – you all are at work to complete a job. You can be friends off the clock, but while you are on the clock – they need to know you are the one in charge…and respect you for it.
No one likes confrontation with their employees, especially if they have more tenure than you, and everyone wants their employees to “like” them in hopes that they will be more inclined to be a team player. But enforcing the rules and making the tough decisions is part of being a manager – whether or not is will inevitably ruffle feathers with the employees under your control.
The quickest way to loose control of your employees is to loose their respect for you. Think of your employees like kids: they will tempt and push to see how far you will let them get away with things, so you have to know when and how to put your foot down. Does this mean you have to be Attila the Hun at the office? No…but you will have to be able to put your foot down without fear of “ruining a friendship.” Without it, you run the risk of creating a dysfunctional department where you days are spent putting out fires instead of focusing on performance.
Unlike the workplace of 30 years ago, managers today are taught to use a more positive leadership approach. This is where “performance evaluations” hold even more important meaning. Where employees used to fear their managers and always expected the “talk” with management to mean that they were going to be disciplined or criticized, today’s employee are actually hungry for guidance and feedback. They want to know exactly where they stand and how they can improve their job. This now comes less from an “improving performance” stance and more “personal growth and satisfaction.” If you were to ask your employees, the biggest complaint they would probably offer is “lack of communication” with you and other managers. Ask one employee once told me, “hearing nothing is worse than hearing something critical.” Be direct – don’t use generalities. Tell employees exactly what they are doing incorrectly and also be sure to offer steps to correct it. Remember – you are more a “coach” than an iron-fisted manager.
Don’t avoid these types of talks either…you are not doing yourself or your employee any good using this approach. Eventually, the issues will have to come out. By addressing them as they occur, you build a trust with the employee that you are honest and truly trying to help them. Worst thing you can do is never bring up the problem until it comes time for their annual performance review. Waiting until its time to review the employee, especially if its going to be tied to a potential raise, will only create resentment in your employee. And they will know how to toe the line…doing exactly what is needed to complete their job and nothing more. How can you discipline an employee for doing their job simply because you expect them to do more?
So what is the best way to take on a new management role when you are a newbie?
Set the tone from Day One.
Hold a meeting with your employees to introduce yourself (if you are new), share your manager’s expectations of the department (instilling that you want to be a “group effort” and not a dictator) and tell them directly – “I want us to work as a team but know that it is my responsibility to keep everyone on track.” I would even go so far as to sit down with each employee individually and ask them about their job, their struggles with it and any ideas they have for improvement. Open the door – build the bridge between yourself and the employee. ..and then keep that door open, knowing it swings both ways.
Avoid “special treatment” for those employees you bond with or were friends with you before you rise to management. Will there be special situations that may warrant some sort of concession? Yes – but make sure it isn’t permanent or too different from the norm or your other employees will begin to resent not only you but the employee receiving the special treatment. This will lead to a breakdown in teamwork, scheming and back-stabbing – again forcing you to spend your time managing the situation rather than focuses on goals or performance.
Hold regular “team meetings.” Yes – meetings are the last thing managers have time for with all their other duties, but you need monthly or weekly meeting to keep those lines of communication open. Spend the first half of the meeting recapping what has occurred or changed since the last meeting (goals, progress, policy changes, etc) and then use the second half of the meeting to ask for ideas and suggestions. Especially if you have worked your way up through the ranks, you will know that most ideas for performance improvement and customer satisfaction come from your employees – not management. Listen to what they have to say and challenge them to come to the meeting with solutions. Empowering them with their own success will add to their personal job satisfaction…and make you look good in the process.
Bottom line – being a manager means walking a fine line.
Focus less on making everyone like you and more on building a relationship with your employees based on mutual understanding and trust. It will make things much easier to address when those tough situations come along.