Being a manager is not something that I have any natural ability for. I’m more of the doer, follower type. And I became a manger probably the only way I possibly could. I started in my current position as the first and only IT person at my company. It was a fast growing company with no IT infrastructure and me a programmer hired for the company’s first full-time IT person. A year later they let me hire help. Suddenly I was a manager with no previous experience. I pretended I knew what I was doing. I did what I always do when I have a problem. I turned to books. I read the One Minute Manager books. I read books for new managers and books for former Indians who are now Chiefs. I read books for women managers which tried to teach you how to think like a man or use your strengths as a woman in your new manager role or how to not be a bitch. I read them all and took what I could use from each and somehow managed to not get fired.
I made plenty of mistakes but I learned to listen to my employees, really listen and provide feedback. I learned to be a better communicator, to tell people things I previously had assumed they would just know. I learned to allow my people to do their jobs instead of taking over tasks. I learned to provide feedback on the things they were doing wrong as well as the things they were doing right. I learned to ask questions and lead my people to their own solutions instead of providing all the answers. I learned to reach out to HR when I had a problem with an employee that I didn’t know how to handle. I learned that HR is not always right. I learned that it was my job to provide the resources to my people so they can do their jobs. I learned that every person is different and I have to figure out what works for each individual. I learned to recognize under performers and rock stars. I’ve learned that rock stars make mistakes and need leadership and oversight also. I’ve learned that its my job to make sure that my employees succeed.
I’ve also learned that telling an employee they don’t meet the standards set for their job sucks. Providing negative feedback with the hope of improving the employee is much more palatable than providing negative feedback when you’ve made up your mind that the person just is not going to work out. If you have expectations that the employee can improve and will eventually take the criticism and rise to the occasion its a conversation that is easier to have. If you want to keep the employee there have to be some good things to talk about too. I’ve learned from a wise man that making your simple statement about what is wrong then being completely silent is usually a good approach. Most people can’t tolerate silence. It makes them uncomfortable. They will start talking and maybe telling you things they weren’t planning to just because they feel the need to fill the silence and the pressure to say something about the situation. Let them talk. Avoid trying to make them feel comfortable by filling in silences with your own voice. You’ll probably gain some insight.
However, if you’ve made up your mind that you have an employee that is never going to mesh with the group or get the work done the conversation is different. There is no hope to hold out to the employee. I’ve learned that honesty is the best tactic for handling an employee that I am planning to replace. After a few conversations about mistakes, performance or attitude most people start to get the picture. And if they aren’t blindsided its kinder. Its not fair to let someone think they are doing fine and then call them into your office and let them go. Generally after a few of these conversations the braver soul will ask ‘Should I be looking for another job?’ The simple answer is Yes. Problem solved. You can now let them think about the situation and then have a frank conversation and try to set a timeline. I’ve had people just start rambling and admit that the job is not for them, they can’t handle it and are very unhappy. And depending on the rules where you work this might turn into a win-win situation. The unhappy employee gets unemployment and you get to replace them with a clean conscious.
Having ‘that talk’ with someone always sucks. Nobody wants to tell someone they suck at their job. But if you’ve been providing feedback all along it should not come as a shock. And if you are honest with people they respect you for it and they walk away feeling like they’ve been fairly treated. Most people can recognize when they aren’t doing a good job. Most people are not happy in a position that they feel they cannot handle. Some honest feedback from a manager helps them to make a change and gets the right person in the job.
Being a manager is a completely different skill set than what I started this job with 9 years ago. But thanks to some good leadership from my superiors I think I’m finally getting the hang of this. If you are struggling with some management issues look around your company and see who seems to be respected by their employees, who gets things done? Then approach that person for advice. Most people will be flattered and happy to provide their input.