Management 101 – People Can Be a Pain

In business we talk a bunch about bad bosses. We all have stories of truly awful people we have had to work for at one time or another. The reasons we think of them as bad managers can take a long time to list. I get that; been there, done that, have the T-shirt.

Courtesy 123rf.com Peter Bernik
Courtesy 123rf.com Peter Bernik

However, anyone who has ever had responsibility for a team can tell you that having people work for you is one big pain. SHOCK! Most managers will never admit that. “Oh not me” they will say. “My teams are all good.”

Phooey! I don’t believe there is a manager or owner anywhere who hasn’t at least once put their head in their hands and muttered,

“What is going on here? Why is this so hard?”

Managing people is hard. If you are committed to being a ‘good boss’, you spend a lot of time trying to think of ways to better yourself and your approach to leadership. Yet all of this effort often falls into desperation. Every Human Resources professional I have ever known chants one common quote:

[shareable cite=”Anonymous” width=”90%”]“No good deed goes unpunished.”[/shareable]

Courtesy 123rf.com Piotr Marcinski
Courtesy 123rf.com Piotr Marcinski

This is a sad indictment against management’s well meaning efforts to make good things happen for the staff. Regardless of how well thought out, planned, analyzed, and executed, every employee benefit ever given has usually had a backfire somewhere along the way.

That one person runs off the rails and ruins the program for everybody else. One legal exception is found and the whole plan gets canceled.

As a manager, these things may even compound daily. You have to deal with what I see as three distinct groups.

1. The Champions –  This is the top 10% or so of the team. You know, the heroes who will do anything, anytime. They are not suck-ups, but extremely diligent players who see no task as too small. They do their job and even put paper in the copiers, refill the coffee brewer, keep a positive attitude, and. if work was school, make straight “A’s” on their assignments.

These guys are great. Unfortunately, they are often the first ones to leave when better opportunity comes along. Why? Because they deliver great value anywhere they work. Their names get known in your business and they are hot commodities. Treating them well and keeping them properly recognized and compensated is tough to do.

2. The Middleton’s –  These are the next 60% of the team who generally perform well enough on their job description. They meet requirements and occasionally exceed expectations. If they could just do what they are supposed to do, you might be happy as their manager.

The problem with this group is that many of them can become a Jekyll and Hyde persona. One day they are solid teammates. The next day they are ready to mutiny. There is no easy way to predict either response. Maybe they bring a problem from home or maybe they get crosswise with a co-worker. The causes are many. The bottom line is that performance takes a hit.

3. The Slackers –  This is the last 30%. Yes, 30%! Why do I say this? Because I’ve surveyed a lot of business leaders in my day. This number stays pretty consistent regardless of the industry.

Unless your hiring system is incredibly nimble and sharp, you will make a mistake on at least 30% of your hires, leaving you with bad matches for your team’s needs.

The biggest problem with this group is the attitude they bring everyday. Once they get hired, they are incredibly hard to release, given the labor laws today. At a minimum, the coaching and release process consumes hours of valuable time and energy to address the issues.

So, what is a manager to do? Clearly the effort to just juggle the management of these three groups poses a big problem. It can be exhausting. And why would anyone ever want to become a manager?

I’ll offer my answers in reverse order.

1. Why become a manager? –  You believe you can make a difference. Hold onto that thought. It is valuable and needs to be kept close to your heart.

Maybe you hold the best knowledge about the team and its purpose, so the organization needs you there. Fine. Use that too. Let the position be your starting point to build leadership and respect.

2. Managing to the different groups –  Probably the toughest aspect of being an effective manager. Whether you’ve been formally trained on Myers Briggs “MBTI”, DISC or any of the many other tools to assess and manage people, you need a knack for discerning who is who on your team. Developing the sensory skills to read your team and manage accordingly becomes not just the path to better success, but sometimes a basic survival skill.

3. What is a manager to do? –  Now that is a fine question. I am going to leave this one for the next installment.

Question: What was your most challenging management moment? If it is not tied up in legal proceedings, please share by commenting below.


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