In a perfect world as a manager, especially a new manager, your team would make it easy on you. Every team member would understand their job and do it, follow up on tasks, and anticipate business needs. However, in my short time as a new people manager I have learned having a team member who is just not performing, needs additional coaching, doesn’t get along with others, or all of the above is inevitable. Working with these employees can become an emotional drain on a manager and can cause you to spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on them.
When I found myself dealing with a difficult staff member, I was less productive, not excited to go to the office, covering their work to save face to customers, and overall just trying to avoid it. As I look back over this experience, I realize how much I learned and how I might approach things differently in the future. Here are 5 things I learned through the experience:
Don’t avoid the issue: you can’t avoid the issues. Trust me, I tried. By avoiding confronting the problems an employee was having, all I did was delay them until they became bigger. I found myself sidestepping conflict because of how emotionally draining it could be; but in doing so, it just got worse, more taxing, and I became more frustrated. I realized I had missed an opportunity at the beginning to set my expectations and create an environment of feedback that made it harder to constructively address things in a timely manner.
Be consistent with the expectations. When dealing with difficult staff members, I often found myself accommodating them because I thought it would make it easier for me. I would allow them to reschedule meetings, extend deadlines when they were not met, or let them slide on not following through on tasks. As performance became less and less satisfactory, my own inconsistencies early on made it harder to set expectations and created greater conflict when attempting to hold staff accountable. It also made it harder to manage my high-performing staff to expectations as they saw their coworker essentially “getting away with stuff.”
Document everything. I have many skills but note-taking, follow up emails, and paperwork are not my strengths. I learned how important it was to have records when trying to work with underperforming staff. Follow up emails from meetings with important dates and key points meant that the employees couldn’t claim they were not informed of a task or a deadline. I also learned that having a log of the behavior was necessary to follow company protocol as well as to take corrective action. Constantly keeping a record, even if I never ended up needing to use it, would have made this so much easier.
Ask for help. As a manager, I didn’t want to admit to my boss that I was having problems with an employee or wasn’t sure how to handle a situation. My fear of asking for help and guidance compelled me to cover for my underperforming staff. If there was not a problem on paper it was easier to avoid. Once I moved past that hesitancy, the support I received on how to coach the staff, and how to deal with some of the issues significantly reduced my own stress and unhappiness.
Admit your mistakes and learn from them. The biggest thing I learned from my whole experience is admitting that I could have handled things differently and ensuring that I do so the next time. As a new manager, you are going to have missteps. It is easy to manage the perfect employee, but it is harder with the less than perfect ones. I have looked at my recent experience as a way to become a better manager and not repeat past mistakes.
Director of Community Development, American Cancer Society
Cidne Christensen is the Director of Community Development for American Cancer Society at the Utah Branch. She has been with American Cancer Society for 10 years and has a degree in Marketing and Economics from Southern Utah University. Originally she is from New Mexico, but she grew up in Clinton, Utah. When she isn’t helping patients, caregivers, and communities in the fight against cancer, Cidne is an avid traveler and an enthusiastic Real Salt Lake Supporter. She studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria, Galway, Ireland and did an internship in Washington D.C.
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