How to Manage the Unmanageable
There has been an enormous amount of discourse in recent times on the difficult economic climate and on how to stay resilient when times are tough. Now, however, much-anticipated optimism seems to be materialising following the recent news that the British Chambers of Commerce has upped its 2013 growth forecast. This is great news for business, for the economy and for you.
However, what if the problem in your company lies much closer to home? What if your concern on a Monday morning is less to do with profit and loss or GDP predictions and more to do with a troublesome individual, the employee that is under your management and drives you around the bend? No matter who you are or where you work, there will, without doubt, come a time when you have to work alongside, or do business with, an individual you don’t get on with. This can be tiring and frustrating in itself, but managing someone you don’t like is a whole different ballgame.
There is a straightforward method for dealing with employees whose work is clearly substandard, are disruptive to other staff or have a bad attitude to clients.
There is a straightforward method for dealing with employees whose work is clearly substandard, are disruptive to other staff or have a bad attitude to clients. But what if none of the above are a cause for concern? As a manager, what can you do if the problem with your employee is purely a case of personal dislike as opposed to professional incompetence? Surely you should just hire people that you like or fire individuals that you don’t?
Robert Sutton, a professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and the author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst, emphasises that the infuriating colleague is an office norm. Sutton also highlights the corporate benefits of not always agreeing with colleagues, arguing that innovation and success are often instigated through disagreements and difference of opinion. Ben Dattner, an organisational psychologist and author of The Blame Game, advises to focus on the strengths of those you manage and highlights the bonuses to be found from working with someone who challenges and tests you. The people that would create the most successful team are not, and should not, be the same group of people that you would invite round for a Sunday roast. The office would be an easier place to be if everyone got along, but it wouldn’t necessarily be as effective. So, it is not realistic, or even productive, to see eye to eye with all your employees, but read on for a few tips to help you make the day in the office run that bit smoother.
Look towards the positive
As you look around your office, is everyone just like you? Would your team unanimously agree on everything? Would you enjoy an after-work drink with those that report to you? The answer is probably (and hopefully), no. The success of any business demands different perspectives and diverse personalities that can offer fresh ideas, angles and views. Embracing the various characters and contrasting viewpoints in your workplace is imperative to its success. Also, try to focus explicitly on Jamie Harrison’s promising attributes. He was hired because someone saw that he had something great to offer, so try to locate the positive and concentrate on using these qualities for the good of the team.
Nine to five, Monday to Friday can seem like a lifetime when you are persistently working with an individual who rubs you up the wrong way. They are not going anywhere fast, so Dattner advises that a bit of self-reflection will go a long way. Does the problem lie specifically with your colleague, or does he represent a collective that you disagree with? Does he remind you of an unpleasant individual? Once you pinpoint where the annoyance stems from, it will be easier to adjust your reaction, allowing the office to return to being a comfortable, innovative and pleasant place to work.
Cool, calm and collected
As a manager, it is up to you to remain impartial and unbiased. Your employee will inevitably pick up on any negative attitude or quiet displeasure and due to a lack of mind-reading talents will assume your aversion is related to his performance. It is therefore hugely important to remain professional and constructive throughout the day. You don’t need to particularly like each other to build a successful business relationship, but there must be mutual respect and civility for it to work.
Ask for advice
Sutton emphasises that management should be viewed more as a team rather than an individual sport. It doesn’t need to be lonely at the top, and it might be beneficial to ask a fellow manager, in confidence, their opinion of Jamie’s work. It will soon become clear if yours is a personal rather than a professional discontentment. Dattner recommends that when reviewing or appraising individuals in your team, it is important to standardise the process across the board to reduce prejudice.
An employee whose perspectives and opinions are not like yours will have different perceptions and will see things you do not. This dissimilarity can be hugely beneficial to project results and encourage healthy debates and discussions. Differences aren’t personal and they shouldn’t be unpleasant – they are an essential ingredient for a successful, diverse and modern business.