People management mistakes and how to avoid them

A friend of mine often says if you learn from your mistakes, then she must be one of the smartest people around. This certainly applies to me and most others in leadership positions who have had to learn their people management through experience. It is even better when we can learn through other people's mistakes.

Here are five common pitfalls of people management to avoid.

  1. Being too busy to touch base. It can be all too easy to forget the importance of touching base with our team members. We feel the need instead to process all of our emails, respond to urgent matters, read policy documents, etc. We somehow forget that speaking regularly with our staff is one of the most important things we can do. Human beings are social animals.

    Although some people like to be left alone to do their work, the majority like social interaction which gives the opportunity to form friendly relationships with co-workers, gain support when needed, and deal with challenges that are occurring. Genuinely asking ‘How are you going?', thanking them for their efforts, and laughing with your team mates, are all important parts of team well-being. Interestingly, the research says that the closer the personal connection at work, the harder people tend to work and the less likely they will take sick leave.
  2. Not communicating expectations. In many workplaces, managers often think that if staff members have been given their duty statement, they will know what is expected of them. Of course a duty statement is not enough. Here it is important for Team Leaders to communicate their key expectations. One manager I know says she has three key expectations of her staff - that they are reliable, responsible, and respectful.

    So what are your expectations of your manager and co-workers? And have you let them know? People have a need to know that they are on track. I remember one role I started. On my first day I was shown an empty office and simply told to ‘go for it'. I would have found it much more helpful if my manager had communicated their expectations for how I approached this role and priorities to be worked on first. Of course, I could have also approached my manager, asking what he expected, or taking to him my recommendations.
  3. Not being open to feedback. Two-way discussions between managers and individual team members will help you both to be on track in meeting each other's expectations. Your team members will certainly be more open to your constructive comments if you are open to their feedback as well. Such feedback about your behaviour is not always given well. But you have to remind yourself that you will not always like what you hear, but you are unlikely to die from it. However, it is important to look for something valuable that you can use.

    Nor is feedback always given directly. It can be quite a hard thing for some team members to let their manager and other team members know what they need or would prefer. So here managers can make it easier for team members to communicate their expectations by asking what they can do differently to help that team member feel better about their work. You will also make it easier by responding non-defensively to any comments that are given. Notice also the feedback that comes through non-verbals - how people respond to various actions by you. This can be just as valuable.
  4. Not adjusting oneself for individuals. Smart managers know they need to manage different people differently. There are lots of variations between individuals - differing expectations, sensitivities, and what they find motivating, for example. Take for instance communication styles. I often say that there are two types - direct and indirect. Direct people tend to excel at communicating their expectations and frustrations directly to the person concerned, though they can be somewhat blunt. People with an indirect style tend to avoid potential conflict, either putting up with their frustrations or influencing change in more subtle ways.

    You can imagine the dynamics that can arise between a manager who has a direct style and a team member who is indirect, with one potentially frustrating the other. Here I think both people can do their part. Direct people can become more sensitive to how their approach may be read by others and ease off somewhat. The sensitive types can practise becoming a little more direct. To some degree, we all have to adjust ourselves to others. Hopefully, they will return the favour.
  5. Not acting to address performance problems. Although there is a time to ‘cut people slack', doing too much of this for too long can allow small frustrations to grow into much bigger problems. Reluctance to act may be occurring due to a concern about how the other person would respond, especially if the other person is more senior or has a track record of responding defensively.

    Problems can also escalate when feedback is done in a way that comes across as disrespectful. Here a plan and a back-up plan are needed which include follow-up to make sure progress is taking place and the plan revised if necessary. Although action does not guarantee improvement, there is no improvement without action.

So which of these do you need to work on first? You can gain some clarity by indicating on a scale of 0 to 10 the level to which you agree with the following statements - with 0 indicating no agreement and 10 indicating high agreement.

  1. I regularly touch base with my staff, engaging at a personal level, asking how they are going.
  2. I know what is expected of me and have communicated my expectations to others
  3. I am open to feedback from my manager and team members and make it easy for them to give constructive criticism
  4. I adjust myself for the different people with whom I work
  5. I address performance problems well when they occur.

If you want to deal well with difficult co-workers and bring out the best in your team, then check out my newly-released DVD Training Packages on my Products Page.

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