by Segun Awoyemi
Managing a group of people anywhere in the world to achieve set objectives in a workplace is very difficult. Inspiring them to be a better version of themselves can be harder – you need to explain, appeal, goad, force, advise,
even manipulate employees to get desired results.
It is difficult because being a manager isn’t an exact science – two plus two is almost never four. The variables can be so high you get confused. But one thing is for sure – every employee requires a different set of ‘stimulus’ (approach, if you may) to respond positively.
Managing people over the years has however taught me a few things I would like to share…
Change is (still) a process: I have heard some people refer to this generation as the Indomie generation – they want that task, job, money, power, NOW! Yes, you can get your noodles now but you’ll agree with me that there’s hardly anything ‘special’ in noodles. It takes time to cook anything special. Change Management is a time consuming endeavour. I know you’ll ask: “What if I have a timeline to deliver?” My answer to that is simple: always factor in the process before setting timelines – arbitrary timeliness are the bane of many projects.
Don’t be too lazy to do the real work: The ‘real work’ is not the task. It is the work you do in the hearts and minds to those people whose hands get the job done. Yes, this is not kindergarten, but I tell you the job of a manager isn’t too different from that of a nursery school teacher. You often find yourself wondering how you can communicate more than you’ve already done. Well, communication is the real work. Do it.
Communicate like a boss: Now that we know how critical communication is in getting the job done – let’s go even further to something just as critical: how you communicate. Managers need to communicate without ambiguity – put yourself in the listener/receiver’s position and imagine if you’ll understood YOUR own message. Don’t send mails for messages that require face-to-face discussion. Sending a simple message to your staff in war-like fashion only breeds negativity – an atmosphere filled with disgruntled resources and conflict in the work place. Nothing special comes through that. Nothing.
Your employees know when you’re being manipulative: You didn’t employ these guys because they are stupid. If you did then it’s your fault they’re failing at all. But let me assume that they’re employed because you think they intelligent, think on their feet, and meet every other standard those HR guys have to tick on those small book pads. If they do, then you need to maintain some transparency and consistency in your conduct. You lie, they lie. You give excuses, they give excuses. You waiver, you can surely expect them to waiver. After-all you’re the head; all they’re doing is following your lead.
It is ultimately your vision/dream, not theirs: As a manager, I expect you have set objectives to achieve leading to your your ultimate goal – whatever that is. One, don’t expect everyone to sync immediately with you – different people sync at varying pace. Employee 1 might be the exact person you need as s/he steps right in through the door, while Employee 2 may take months to become the superstar your company sorely needs. Once again; never treat them all the same – we’re all in the same hospital but getting administered different medication.
Stop changing: Please understand that I do not mean change is a bad thing. No. But you can’t afford to change so much. You can’t set goals and plans of action for the month and then go-ahead to shift goal posts daily. This is not continuous improvement, it is death by change. Let me tell know what this does – it confuses the heck out of your employees. If it continues, they get convinced that you are confused then sit back to watch the plan fail. Yes, they can afford to see it fail, but you can’t afford to let your dream die, can you?
Listen up… and down: The thing managers have working for them is direct assessment. Not those perfunctory quarterly appraisal stuff companies do, but that one you do personally by noticing change in behaviour, reading body language and understanding the words not said. Employees cry for help in many ways – they only act rash, aloof, disinterested, or even leave when they are convinced you’re not ready or willing to listen.
Value is the bread: I reckon every Nigerian manager values his/her employees but only a fraction show it. Yes, some say it, but few actually show it. This is not about bonus salaries, health policies and all of that. These incentives are great, but genuine value is a bit more than that. This, of-course, is difficult to explain – but it’s something you recognize as soon as you see it. No, it’s not love, it is value.
Put the blame on me: I’m sure this is difficult for a lot of managers to accept, but we’re sometimes wrong. Publicly accepting that you are wrong isn’t a sign of failure, it is taking responsibility. What follows also matter – pledging to do better next time and actually working towards that. Many of us prefer to put the blame on others so we can be seen as a perfect manager. Sorry, there’s no such thing, you are far from perfect. Don’t spend time looking for a fall guy, sometimes that guy is looking straight at you in the mirror. Take responsibility, and take it now. It is easier than you think. You see, did you die?
Feel the rhythm: Your employees’ needs change with time, what inspired them last year doesn’t have to be the antidote this time. Be perceptive – it is everything.
Awoyemi writes from Lagos.