Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Be Present in Your Managing

That sounds very Zen, and could mean anything. I'm going to try to extrapolate around the concept, though, so hang in for some meandering.

On a side note (see, meandering!), I've always believed the sound of one hand clapping was a slap in the face.

A slap in the face is pretty direct; the ripples from that are, literally, on the skin of the person being slapped and on your slapping implement of choice (I'm a open-hand slapper, and typically only slap people who get fresh with me).  Immediate repercussions are that the person being slapped doesn't think the Zen koan answer is very funny, and are likely to be pretty upset as a series of hormones are released into their system causing them to want to fight or flight. In the immediate span after that, you might get slapped back (no joke at all this time), or worse, depending on how healthy their fight reflex is. The less immediate ripples include the potential for broken friendships, explanations to management, HR involvement, police involvement (technically it's assault)...the list goes on.

So, what I mean is, be aware of the ripples your behavior creates. The above example is very easy to anticipate and think through (although when people typically resort to any kind of violence they aren't well known for thinking things through). But after some distance, you can look down the road and see that HR, police, or managerial visit coming (or trip to the marriage counselor, or return with lots of strong men to beat the guy up who earned the slap), etc.

A less obvious example is what ripples come out of you dealing with someone who does really good work and does that work really fast. You praise them. You appreciate them. You might even take them to lunch. But you're also going to give them more work and responsibility. Their reward for working harder and faster than everyone else is getting harder work and more of it. Not everyone finds that as rewarding as the verbal praise or the lunch out (unless you're buying them lunch every day). To help control the ripples, to reduce the radius, to keep that person happy and coming back for more, you have to think about what their good work means to you, and to your group, and then think about how to tell them that getting more work exposes them to more people, increases their chances of promotion and bonus, etc. You can stop after you've thrown the rock in the water; you need to cup your hands around the pool and help the ripples go where they suit everyone best; funneling towards improving that employees lot in life at the office. People will work hard for you because they like you, but they stop liking you so much when you don't think ahead to what they get out of working hard for you, besides you liking them back. You can stop ripples by having your employees' backs, being visible about it, and by showing them how their contributions are not only helping you, your team, and your company, but also helping them.

Another ripple example is all about you.  Everyone knows that when the manager changes behavior drastically SOMETHING is coming. Well, they all know that, but as the manager you may know that you slept funny last night and there's a hitch in your back so you're moving slower and sort of limping (newsflash: getting old sucks). A team newly forming or a tight knit group--it doesn't matter the state of the team--will be affected by the affect of the manager. Can't get too high, can't go too low, and you need to be reassuring. I find jokes work pretty well, and, when I don't feel like laughing, I hand out candy. Since I do that a lot when I am happy, they really don't know the difference, and never should: even if the whole team is being laid off tomorrow, there's no sense in their agonizing about it today.

This also goes for professional relationships, as the boss. For example, you can't not like anyone who works for you when you're the boss, even, and especially, if you really don't like someone. The team will notice you don't like a member. Factions will form--those who think its unfair you don't like that person, those who stand by you, those who don't want to be involved with the conflict, even though there actually isn't any conflict. People are not stupid, and, hopefully especially not the people who work for you. So, if you dislike someone or are unhappy with them, even if you're undergoing a performance plan with someone, no one should see you being down on that person. You should highlight them like you do all your employees. Greet them, small talk with them. Be human. It goes a long way towards reducing ripples that might otherwise overturn your work boat.

Finally, employees themselves can cause ripples; a divorce at home, a custody battle, a death in the family, a health issue...any and all these things (and more) could cause difference in behavior from what the team is used to. Many of them are in fact, NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, or that of the team to manage or untangle. But their behavior will create ripples that you will have to deal with. In this situation, talking to them, but not demanding they talk to you, is best. Explain the ripples, offer yourself, HR or any options the workplace may have as support (legal services, counseling, time off, etc.); when they begin to act out, change the subject and pull them aside to give them time to calm down. Each situation is different, but each employee can and will create ripples, and may or may not be in the head space to understand the repercussions of what they are doing.

In our daily lives we don't think about repercussions constantly; some people would never get into a car and drive if they really looked at vehicle accident statistics. As a manager, you need to set some time aside each week to look at yourself, at the team, at what is going on, and look for those ripples; you can trace them back to the source and reduce any additional damage if you take time to be present in your managing.

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