Let me just start by saying that managing people is not easy, but what we hope to provide are some examples and tips that will help you navigate your way, especially if you are new to supervising people.
In my previous roles I have had to deal with the following human resource management issues:
- Chairing interview panels.
- Conducting performance reviews
- Performance management of staff
- Not renewing peoples contracts
- Not continuing someone’s employment past their probationary period.
- Making people redundant
- Managing staff with mental health issues and putting programs in place to support those staff
- Having difficult conversations with staff about behavioural issues
The above issues are in many ways just some of the things that one might expect to happen when managing staff. Then there is a separate list of things that I was not expecting to deal with:
- A staff member passing away at the age of 30.
- A staff member having an affair and after they ended the relationship the unhappy person constantly ringing me to get the person fired and making it very public and dragging the organisation into the conversation on Face Book.
- A staff member making a false claim against me because they were after a payout.
- Dealing with an unwelcome sexual advance in the workplace.
- Dealing with and supporting a staff member who was being victimised by the community due to their sexual preference.
Managers can prepare for some things where there is a process or structure they can follow such as; conducting performance reviews or putting together a performance management plan. Then you get issues that you aren’t expecting and have to deal with as best you can in the circumstances.
Sometimes even when there is a legal structure to follow a manager can handle situations very differently. For example, one of the most unsettling changes in an organisation is when there is a restructure. When a new CEO joins an organisation, one of the first things they usually do will look at the structure and see what changes they want to make. In one of my previous roles I witnessed two restructures, the first when the CEO joined the organisation and the second three years later under the same CEO.
When the decision was made that the CEO wanted to review some positions within the organisation, two were identified in my area and two in another department. The CEO told both managers that we could handle the situation, of potentially affected staff, anyway that we saw fit.
As soon as I knew which positions were being reviewed I made a time with both employees to let them know their positons were under review. A hard conversation to have, especially as one of the employees had been my first appointment when I joined the organization and we had worked well together for over seven years. The other employee had been with the organization longer but we also had a great working relationship.
I still remember very clearly the day that I told these two employees that their positions were under review and I came out of my office and saw all of my direct reports and a couple of other staff from our department in a huddle at the end of the hallway. I must admit I stood there frozen for a minute, not sure what to do, do I go and speak to them or do I let them be so they can process it together?
After what seemed like a lifetime I decided to bite the bullet and I went up to the group and I said “Am I persona non grata? “ Thankfully one of the employees whose position was under review laughed loudly and said no don’t worry, join us. We then had a long debrief together as a team and in many ways it brought the team closer.
About four weeks later after the review had taken place, the CEO and I broke the news to the two team members that their positons were being made redundant. As I had been having open and honest conversations with the team throughout the last four weeks, neither person was surprised and both were prepared for the decision. Both employees decided to leave that day.
I have maintained a relationship with both these people and still catch up with them for coffee every now and then. One actually got a full time positon two weeks after being made redundant. That person has thanked me for being honest with them because as soon as they knew their positon was under review they started applying for other positions and hence was only out of work for two weeks
The other started their own business and is very happy with the new direction in their life.
The review process was undertaken and it was determined that only one position from this department was going to be made redundant. The manager did not mention anything to the employee that their position was under review.
The employee did approach the Human Resources person and made a comment that they didn’t have to worry because the only two who were under review had been told so everyone else must be safe.
The employee found out they were being made redundant the same day as the other two employees were told. The employee was not expecting the news and became quite abusive and had to be escorted from the premises.
The employee did get another job but it did take a while and at any opportunity they talked quite disparagingly about the management team. The person blamed the whole management team for the way their positon was handled rather than just their manager.
You can make up your own mind about these two approaches but I do want to reiterate that as managers we all do what we think is right. Remember that we are dealing with people and emotions, and, because you never quite know how something might turn out, make sure you equip yourself with the tools to deal with this sort of situation. Although, I sincerely hope you never have to do anything like this!
What I hope to have highlighted is that this is not easy for people so make sure you spend some time dealing with not just the process and the plan but also the human side - show patience, empathy and communicate openly.
Tips for managing people
Never employ someone if they are not the right fit for the position.
I was given this advice very early on in my career. If you interview and there is no one suitable to fill the position, then re advertise or look for other methods such as head hunting to fill the position.
I went against this advice on one occasion and sure enough it came back to bite me. We were interviewing for a position, and as there was no one suitable, I decided to go back to the market. We interviewed a second time and I still felt there was no one suitable. However, I buckled under the pressure from the selection panel.
The position was funded by the Commonwealth, and we were at risk of losing the money to fund the position if we didn’t fill it soon. As I had been to the market twice, we had been without the position for around three months. The other two people on the selection panel thought the individual would do a good job so I made the decision to appoint, even though I had severe reservations. The individual turned out to be a nightmare to manage. They didn’t like being made accountable for their position and actions and the amount of time and effort that was invested on this individual was considerable. The person was not a team player and generally not a good fit for the organisation. So, if you are the person who has to manage an employee, back yourself and your judgement and if no one is suitable, go back to the market.
When something really annoys you, sit on it for 24 hours before deciding whether to respond or how to respond
I have the 24 hour rule before I respond to someone or something that really annoys me. I do this because while we are emotional it can be very difficult to think logically. If you shoot off an email or speak to someone when those emotions are running high, you are more than likely going to make the situation worse. Take the time to cool off, debrief with someone you trust, and then decide how or whether to respond to a situation.
Get yourself a good mentor
If you are in senior management it can be quite a lonely situation when you want to debrief about a situation or get another person’s perspective, because it will generally be about your own team. No matter how close you are to your team, it is not appropriate to discuss human resource issues with the team. Anything to do with human resources is highly confidential, so I encourage you to find a mentor, particularly someone who is outside of your own organisation to debrief with. A good mentor can provide some advice or another perspective on how to deal with certain issues.
If you make a mistake admit it
Don’t be afraid to admit that you made a mistake, people will respect you a lot more than someone who is always trying to shift blame or make excuses for why something went wrong. Transparency and honesty are always the best policy.
Remember to praise in public and provide constructive criticism in private
When supervising people make sure you share people’s successes. Quite often managers get caught up with the things people need to improve on rather than letting them know what they have done well. I don’t know many people who don’t like to hear they are doing a good job. Conversely, if you need to provide some feedback to staff about areas for improvement make sure this is done in a private setting away from anyone else being able to hear this conversation.
People do not leave their personal lives at the door when they come to work, so be prepared to deal with the emotions that come with that
I was 35 when I became a senior manager and what a steep learning curve that was. Now I look back, I know for a fact that I wasn’t that great. I went from supervising four or five people to supervising 35 people. I thought I knew what was required but I didn’t have a lot of empathy or patience and had quite high expectations of people. I have always been very good at separating work from my personal life and I thought everyone else should be able to do this as well. However, I learnt that I can’t judge everyone by what my values or beliefs are - the world according to Susie Bower doesn’t exist! The best thing I learnt was to get to know people at a personal level. Once you truly understand them, it’s only then you can get the best out of people. Trust and respect need to be earned, and you need to lead by example.
Take file notes on staff
When you meet with staff, make sure you take some file notes of what was discussed and agreed upon, and the time frames required. This certainly helps you when performance becomes an issue and you need to address it formally, as you can refer back to your notes. It doesn’t matter how good a relationship you have with staff now, it can change very quickly. So, taking file notes provides a useful record of the past.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a staff member who made a false claim against me as a manager. They made the claim that they resigned from their position because they could no longer work for someone like me as I was a horrible boss. What was interesting about this claim was that it was made three months after the staff member resigned. The original reason they provided to me for their resignation was that they did not want to work full-time anymore. I couldn’t make the position part time because it was funded by the Commonwealth, and we had contractual requirements with them.
As it turned out, I had another position that had recently become vacant that was part time. The claimant emailed me two days after they had resigned to ask me to consider them for this position as it would suit them much better. I kept this email and it was used as evidence. If I was such a terrible person and a horrible boss, as was the claim, why did this person still want to work for me after they had resigned their position? Needless to say the claim against me was dismissed. However, if I hadn’t kept that email and hadn’t made notes in relation to this individual it could have gone a very different way. So, make sure you protect yourself.