Chapter 2. Treat People as Individuals

So how many people do you manage? 2 in a small office where you all sit together or 2000 over several sites worldwide?

To many of us, staff are numbers on a spreadsheet who work widgets and that number is either good or bad. The key to making that number good is treating your staff as individuals and not tarring them all with the same brush, whether that be good or bad. In many businesses over performance masks underperformance and underperformance goes without being managed, due to being supported by over performance at a team level. Now we could go into measuring averages and mean averages and standard deviation etc. but that is the focus of many other books. Here I am going to focus on the impact of managing at a team level and not on the individuals within that team.

So your top performer in your team is smashing their targets and making sure you achieve as a team. Great for you as a manager but unless you work in a sales environment its highly unlikely that your pay structure recognises all the extra work your top performer is putting in. Many bonus structures at fist line level are based on performance reviews to adequately remediate for the over performance, especially if you rely on bell curves to distribute the amount of bonus to be paid. Or if you don’t operate a bonus structure of any kind, then you are just paying people the same to do the same job, when they operate at vastly different levels.

So, what does this mean? You basically have two outcomes:

  • Your best staff will get promoted and leave.
  • Your best staff will resent you for not managing the underperformance, see you as weak and you will lose their respect. They will then create a bad atmosphere in the team that will in turn, generate you lots of people issues that you will have to manage. They will also stop performing at such a high level and then will leave.

In both scenarios, the outcome is that your best staff will leave and you will be left with the rubbish that are not performing, resulting in the team stats being destroyed. Final outcome; you are to blame and are impacted, either in your bonus or you are performance managed out of the door.

So, what do you do?

  • Set targets and manage them at an individual level.
  • Have a consequence for not hitting targets and enforce it.

Enforcement can be anything from lost bonus to disciplinary action. You must also always follow through with the enforcement regardless of excuses. As soon as you let one person off, everyone else will see this as a precedent. This enforcement policy should also extend to sickness, lateness, taking extra time at breaks or lunch, going for food outside breaks and still taking breaks, and of course taking more cigarette breaks.

Make this a visible public policy so that everyone is aware and it is transparent. Then once you have set your stall out there can be no excuses for non-adherence.

More importantly, on the other side of the coin, MAKE SURE YOUR TOP PERFORMERS ARE REWARDED AND PRAISED.

Make sure you have a succession plan from within so that when you lose your stars (and you will if you do your job properly) you know who will replace them. A process that works extremely well if you have a tiered structure, creating a conveyor belt of talent, which lets your guys know they have a point of progression that can include money and/or status. This caters for those who want to move on to management roles and those who just want to come in to do a good job, become SME’s. They are good staff but don’t want to move on and you need to ensure they are kept engaged. More importantly you need to ensure that you are using their SME knowledge to help you in supporting the less experienced of your guys.

Tangent time; the ‘I don’t want to progress, I just want to come in do a good job’ guys are the mainstay of your team, overlook them to your detriment and peril! They carry more knowledge than you and most of the team put together on how to actually do the job, the mechanics of the role and its practical application on a minute by minute basis. Just because they don’t want to progress does not mean you cannot utilise their knowledge and that they don’t want to help.

We have several different groups that these guys could fit into:

  • Some may be shy and need the confidence that you can give them.
  • Some may have kids, which means they need to finish on time and think that extra responsibility means extra hours.
  • Some may just need the extra motivation and support to get them going.

Once you get these people on side you will see the benefit and so will those around them but most of all they will shine.

That takes care of the numbers but treating people as individuals also relates to their personalities, including their likes and dislikes. There are several main types of character in every team, I will try and summarise the main ones here and give ideas of how to deal with them:

The Pain in the Posterior

The one who will push and push on everything, seemingly for no real reason other than to annoy you. They will pick at every decision, change in process and have their own desk/chair/mouse/stapler… These people want control but because of their level they feel like they have none and so try and take back some control, in what seems to be a negative way.

Give them the essence of control by involving them in decisions, whether this be in an official style focus group approach or a sneaky chat at the coffee machine. As an example, you want to do something as simple as a desk move but know it’s going to cause far more fuss than it ever should. Take your pain in the posterior to one side in a clandestine style conversation, tell them what you are planning and that as you know you can trust them, you want their input on who should sit where etc. Make sure that you stress they can’t tell anyone yet, as you know there are some people who won’t like it. This will make them feel important give them knowledge over their peers, which will pacify their need for control. However, the pain in the posterior tends to have the ear of a lot of the team and there is a good chance you will learn from them. A more conventional book would call this person a detractor, which will mean they are also a key influencer on how other people in the team will react and they will look to them for their reaction. Nullify them before the event and they may even support you i.e. everyone wins.

The person that wants to progress but isn’t good enough and never will be

They are over enthusiastic and really want to do well but they are just not bright enough to have what it takes. You must tell them and not lead them on. This sounds harsh but leading them on and letting them think they have a shot, is far worse. There is a second stage to this process that rather than just stopping at cutting off their legs, you should try and work with them, to figure out what their next steps are. Just because they are not right for you, they may still have lots to offer to another team or area within your business. Alternatively, with more realistic expectations they could stay within the team at their current level.

The High Achiever who wants to progress

Simple. Enable them like you would want to be enabled by your boss. Give them opportunities, take them to meetings with you to get their face and name known. Talk about them in circles where people who don’t know them, need to know what they do and how they do it. Then let them go to meetings for you when you are on holiday or if you have meeting clashes. Allow them authority to make decisions on your behalf and let them start to know what it feels like to make those decisions. Work is not really difficult, the job itself could be done by many people who are talented. The difference when you step up is the scope of things you need to think about and the level of people who you are accountable to. However, more importantly and the most difficult thing to deal with is the pressure on you to make the right decisions. How you deal with pressure is not something you can teach, it is something you have to experience to see how you react and deal with it.  Some people who are born leaders will love it and thrive on it, whilst others will need exposure to build their confidence. You may be understanding and reasonable but most Directors don’t have time to be. You know how to communicate with these people in a manner they relate to, so you need to make sure you pass this knowledge on too. Think about the old adage, it’s not just what you do but how you do it (sorry for using a quote – I told you I contradicted myself), pass on what you have learnt the hard way.

Everyone thinks they know what you do and could do a better job than you, I can assure you that very few actually can and remembering this is key to passing on this knowledge to your top performer. Make sure you give them the confidence to make mistakes and treat those mistakes as learning experiences, to talk through and develop from. Mistakes are only bad if you make the same one twice. Top performers don’t make the same mistakes twice.

Some managers fear the young upstarts and look at them as a threat to their own position. Newsflash! They are a threat if you aren’t very good at your job and you should worry about them. Conversely, for those of us who are good at our jobs, you are creating staff that are loyal to you and will go on and create excellent careers for themselves. One of them may even go on to be your boss one day. So, at that point you can have someone who hates you, as they know you are terrible at your job, or you will have someone who remembers the support that you gave them and appreciates how good you are. If they go on to other business areas, you will have a person you can rely on if you need them and who you know you can call on for support or favours. Externally, people will hold you in higher esteem for developing talent and you will be able to attract the best staff in your business, as people will want to work for you because they know they will be supported and developed too – it’s a win / win situation all round.

The Middle-aged Man

Middle aged men in entry level jobs can be a bit of a misery and extremely curmudgeonly. Coupled with the fact that they don’t like change and really struggle learning new things, can make them a tough member of your team to deal with. If you have one already they can be tamed and will do a good job. They just have to be managed in a way that makes them feel like they have a vested interest and never spring anything on them. Treat them with kid gloves as they can be spooked. However, the truth of the matter is that the other team members will love them and you will probably enjoy their company too, especially sharing a beer and some life stories. If you can deal with the old misery guts, you will probably have very useful SME on your hands.

The Under Performer

Manage them to KPI’s. Create a staged action plan that they either achieve, or you manage them out. Document everything and make sure you’re airtight, so you don’t leave yourself open to challenges to your decisions or potential come back on you. The better your paperwork the less you leave yourself open to reproach and obviously, make sure everything is signed by you and the person you are managing. If they do start achieving in the short term to get off the action plan, they could regress at some point in the future so ensure performance is sustained and if it’s not, always refer back to previous action plans.

The Young

They live at home with their parents or in rented shared accommodation; they are almost a migrant workforce who move between jobs at whim with little responsibility and very few ties. They will generally sleep with each other and spend most of their time hungover or arranging their next nights out. They will come in late and have above average sick days. However, in today’s market they will probably have a degree or a level of qualifications vocational or otherwise, which show they are bright and with the right stimulus can do a great job and go on to have a career.

So, there are a few ways to deal with them…

  • Manage them out
  • Wait for them to get bored and find a new job
  • Wait for them to get bored and go travelling
  • Give them the career they crave

If you can engage with the later you will have a top team member. So how do you do this?

Appeal to the fact that they are educated and channel their knowledge into SME roles, then support them with training and process mapping. People with degrees in entry level roles feel like they are entitled to more just because they have a degree but you need to show them what is required to get on in the real world. They need to see a path and a future with a realistic expectation on how to walk that path.

I was one of this group and at 24 still on ‘the phones’ miserable and seeing all my friends progressing and starting to earn real money. Then I came to the stark realisation on my own that nobody was just going to hand me a high paid job and new car. I was crying out for somebody to give me a path and a way forward but nobody did, if they had I truly believe that I could have been an asset much sooner, rather than the pain in the posterior that I was. There is a lot of onus put on you doing the hard work, deciding what you want to do and where you want to go. But coming out of University with a frankly pointless History Degree after bumming around for three years, I had no clue, I fell into a job, I got fired for being a waste of everyone’s time and had to take the next job that came up at the agency. This was then my career!

Nobody sits at school dreaming of working in a bank or for an insurance company etc. and you need to recognise that in your guys. It turns out that my motivation was and still is money, I pushed for promotion as it meant more money and the next promotion after that and the next promotion after that and well you get the picture. But the point being I was screaming out for a mentor or someone to notice my potential and when it came, not only did I get the money I also got the job satisfaction and the feeling of working for someone who cared about me and my career. Ever since that day I have tried to be that person for my guys and give them the time, effort and direction they need. Make sure you are this person to your guys and model yourself on all the best people that have inspired you on your journey. It does not have to be just one person either, take bits from lots of people and create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Just don’t try too hard, don’t be a cliché, keep it genuine or you will just end up in the ‘David Brent’ boss category.