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How to Manage Staff without Driving Them Crazy

Whether positive or negative, the way in which staff are directed can play a gigantic role in shaping and defining the overall climate of the organization.

Who’s the boss?


An age-old question, and one that every organization has to answer. Depending on the size of the enterprise, there can be various managers across many different levels. And whether a small business or nonprofit has one manager or fifteen, the only way that true operational efficiency and solid development ever happen is if every person in a managerial position is really exercising balanced oversight. Amazingly enough, in far too many organizations, that never quite seems to be the case.


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “manage” as “to handle or direct with a degree of skill”. In some business entities, great skill is definitely leveraged in the management of operations. But why, then, do so many people have terrible experiences during their work career dealing with people in management who don’t seem qualified to run a lemonade stand? It can seem that some people dubbed with the label “manager” were put into that situation accidentally, much to the chagrin of the staff who report to them. Perhaps most ironic of all, it can often seem that the people least qualified to manage others are oblivious to their own shortcomings. The team members who look to them for leadership find none, but the organization somehow manages to plod along in spite of their deficiencies.


The team members in business entities will fall into one of three categories: those who manage the entire organization, those who are managed by someone else, and those who both manage and are managed. Irrespective of which category you find yourself in, you can’t escape the influence of the managerial style of your organization. Whether positive or negative, the way in which staff are directed can play a gigantic role in shaping and defining the overall climate of the organization. Whoever has their hand on the tiller is piloting the ship somewhere, and it’s unfortunate that more managers don’t take a sober approach to the way they approach decision making.


If you’re in the unenviable position of reporting to someone who seems incapable of properly directing those over whom they have oversight, the sad truth is that there might be little you can do to improve the situation. Poor managers can often couple their inadequate performance with an egotistical belief that they’re marvelous at what they do and that no one else is going to tell them anything. Trying to make positive inroads in that kind of environment can be draining at best and completely demoralizing at worst. Toughing it out and hoping for the best might prove to be nothing more than a long, fruitless wait. But if you happen to be a manager yourself, the good news is that you can take concrete steps to truly serve not only the organization you work for but also the people who report to you.


Skillful and productive management might be augmented by a business degree, but the greatest tool to effectively manage is ultimately embodied in the overarching approach that’s taken. There are countless nuances to the steps involved in being a good manager, but poor management will usually be the result of one of two destructive managerial styles – micromanagement or macro-management. Bosses who embrace either of these might even do so with the intention of making real, valid contributions to the organization, but it’s generally only bad fruit that comes from adopting these counterproductive methodologies. They represent opposite poles of the paradox, but each is guaranteed to make the team members subjected to it utterly miserable.


The term “micromanagement” has been in the popular vernacular for so long that most people have a reasonably good understanding of its definition. But the connotations associated with it go far beyond the stereotypical image of the boss breathing down the employee’s neck. That’s part of the picture, but there are deeper levels that play out when this style is actually being utilized in a real working environment. The first negative byproduct involves the stripping away of what should be one of the most fundamental aspects of an employee’s workplace psyche – feeling empowered and trusted.


A micromanager prevents either of these from ever manifesting by constantly stepping into every situation whether it’s needed or not. The boss who takes this approach will end up completely eroding the self-confidence of even the most capable employee. By giving instructions and then not freeing the employee to operate within clearly-defined parameters, a climate is created that will end up conditioning team members to expect the intrusion of the manager at every turn. This will usually cause two things to unfold, often completely outside the awareness of the micromanager who’s causing them to happen. The first is a dependency on management – rendering staff unwilling or unable to make their own decisions – and the second is a hindrance to any real chance of collaboration.


Collaborative efforts can only occur in an environment where staff members are actively working and engaging in problem solving in a mutually-cooperative environment. But the micromanager renders this virtually impossible, because the constant invasion into the independence of the staff removes the incentive for figuring anything out. Team members who should be operating in the realm of being led are now in the terrible predicament of being led around. This contributes to yet another negative outcome of micromanagement – a resistance by employees when the topic of cross-training comes up. Lacking confidence in their abilities to truly perform their own job functions without the direct involvement of management, staff will have little enthusiasm for tackling new assignments.


The unfortunate phenomenon of macromanagement comes from a different perspective, but it’s equally toxic to the development of a healthy team dynamic. This style is grounded in the mindset that all the emphasis of the team’s efforts should be placed on the fulfillment of the greater goals and visions of the organization. In this case, rather than truly supervising employees, the manager instead opts for a “hands-off” approach. This results in a downright Machiavellian approach, where the underlying belief is that the ends will always justify the means. This type of boss ends up doing precious little when it comes to oversight, and virtually no good can come from this loose and random method.


Whether micro or macro, either managerial philosophy is woefully out of balance. People don’t know how to function in that kind of environment, and productivity and quality aren’t likely to flourish. Further imbalances can develop, usually in the areas of workload disparity and timeliness. The 19th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto developed what’s commonly referred to as the “80/20 Rule” – the concept that 80% of your results will come from 20% of you efforts. In a bad management scenario, this can turn into an “Inverse Pareto Principle” where 20% of the people end up doing 80% of the work. Again, innovation and collaboration are out the window, so only a handful of the team may end up being real contributors.


Another outcome can be what’s referred to as “Parkinson’s Law”, named for the British mathematician Cyril Northcote Parkinson. His observation was that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. What this translates into in a bad managerial environment is a situation where team members drag things out as much as possible, taking much longer to complete a task than is actually required because the manager isn’t creating a reasonable structure that encourages good time management. This, coupled with the “Inverse Pareto Principle”, can also end up being the catalyst for the team to succumb to “siloing”, where everyone is so focused on what they’re personally doing that they end up losing sight of the bigger picture.


Being a good manager can’t be defined by a narrow set of parameters. The truth is, personality, work experience, and personal skillsets all contribute to shaping the approach a boss will take when it comes to exercising oversight of others. The key is to avoid the managerial extremes, and to always look for a moderate balance. If you are a person who manages others, commit to finding a happy medium between micro and macro – between overdoing it and underdoing it. No manager is perfect, but those dedicated to a measured and balanced approach will be perfectly positioned to set up their team members, as well as the organization they serve, for true success.

 

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