The Bus is Coming, but When?
You know when you work in a place where you feel enthused, respected, where you have a sense of autonomy and you’re getting great results? The feeling of drive, satisfaction and productivity is powerful and becomes self-perpetuating. But, what about when there is a single change in the shape of your line manager and all that is turned upside down? Here is the true story of just that, with very serious consequences for the business. There are important lessons to be learned.
Mike (name has been changed) loved his job. And he was very good at it. He was respected by his colleagues and management and was achieving great results. And then his manager left and was replaced by someone new to the business.
It was immediately apparent that the new manager Terry (name has been changed) was very different in personality. But that wasn’t the problem. It was his management style that sat at complete odds to anything the team had experienced before and went against the grain of the workplace culture that had been evident previously. Almost overnight, the negative commentary started and within weeks there had been a significant shift in Mike’s ability to do his job.
Over time it has become more evident that Terry feels out of his depth, realising that he doesn’t have the skills or know-how to fulfil his role. His way of coping seems to be hiding away from everyone, sitting at his desk, behind a mound of paperwork and Excel spreadsheets and attempting to orchestrate from a place of solitude. The only time he really interacts with his team is when he (very regularly) asks them to drop everything they have planned and to focus on his new priority for the day.
This is having devastating consequences on the employee and will come back to bite the manager…
- Individual morale is low. Mike’s demeanour is flat and resigned to failure compared to the enthusiasm he showed only a few months ago. Mike’s motivation is waning – what’s the point?
- The relationship between Mike and Terry is strained. There are no one-to-one meetings to identify what Mike is doing, how, the outcomes and the support required, despite this being one of the most important roles of a manager
- Mike’s innovation is ceasing to exist. His practical, client-centred practice that has achieved amazing results is being replaced as it doesn’t align with the desk/ paperwork approach of Terry.
- Mike’s reputation is on the line. Terry doesn’t really understand the work that Mike does (due to the fact he doesn’t have one-to-ones and he is fixated on his new ‘safe’ model) and so no information or worse, the wrong information, is being filtered upwards. That’s damaging for Mike but is also embarrassing for the company when the wrong data is reported.
- Relationships with customers are struggling as the clients no longer getting the face-to-face, responsive and respectful support they’re used to. And timescales are slipping as Mike is pulled away from his projects to jump onto his manager’s agenda.
- Trust is non-existent. Mike told me one day “I’m just waiting for the bus to come.” He has started documenting everything (time consuming in itself) to cover himself, as he anticipates he’ll be used as a scapegoat when the time comes and people in higher positions recognise that Terry has ‘failed’.
- Mike is now looking around for alternative job opportunities in different teams under different management.
So, what are the lessons to take from this? It is typical that a new manager wants the make their mark. But it needs to be the right one. There are some simple key points that change the relationship from one of control to one of respect, from one of mistrust to that of teamwork and from disengagement to success.
- Take time to observe what each member of the team does, how they do it, what results they achieve, their ambitions and their barriers. Find out what excites employees. What motivates them to come to work? Allow a period of time when you make it clear to those around you that you will not be implementing anything new but will be learning from those in the know.
- Ask clients what they value about your team. What is it about your employees that motivates them to continue working together?
- Have regular one-to-one meetings, preferably face-to-face. It is more effective having shorter, more informal meetings, ideally weekly, than those associated with performance reviews. It builds the trust that is essential for relationships to thrive.
- Mutually agree goals based on what your employees have been working on in line with how you want to shape business. This has to be an adult conversation based on respect so that you can reason with each other and both commit to the same outcomes. You may be open enough to trust your team to achieve those goals in the way that works best for them and their clients i.e. you don’t need to get involved in the detail of how as long as the outcomes are good for everybody.
- Review how information is communicated. You’ll be on a steep learning curve and will be able to see the gaps in what you do and don’t know. How does the correct information get to the right people at the right time? Transparency and frequency of information is key for people to be able to do their job well.
It is easy to be critical of managers like Terry but the reality is that they may not know another way. Many people are given a role without any support about how to fulfil their responsibility in the best way possible. So, instead of blame, do something positive and provide the necessary guidance that employees at all levels in new roles need.
For more information about support for managers, get in touch. We need to get people right to get business right.