I’ll Do It Myself, Shall I?
How to get the best out of your team
Several years ago, on my first day at a new job, I was told the person I thought would be doing the same job as me, and I’d be sharing the workload with, had been demoted to my assistant. Even better — I was responsible for overseeing her work.
I’m sure you can understand we were both less than enthusiastic about this new arrangement.
It was toxic. She was toxic.
It was clear very quickly why she hadn’t lasted long — she couldn’t do her job correctly, despite talking the talk, and wasn’t motivated to try.
I recall thinking, ‘I’ll do it myself, shall I?’ many, many times as she let me, and our customers, down.
It didn’t take long to realize it was often easier to do tasks myself than persuade her to do her job correctly, especially as I was new and keen to make a good impression.
This wasn’t the right approach at all.
Managing staff depending upon the situation
I’ve recently come across Hershey and Blanchard’s model of situational leadership (academia speak for changing your management style to fit the situation), and I immediately thought about the toxic situation I’ve described.
The model gave me the tools to reflect on my experience and whether I could have done anything differently or better. It offers four different approaches to managing team members depending upon their skills and motivation. They are:
1. ‘These are the tasks I need you to do.’
This approach is useful for situations like the one I found myself in, where staff aren’t good at the job and lack the motivation to learn.
Give them a list of things to do and a clear deadline, then let them rise or fall — it’s their choice.
If they can’t take direction and are given every opportunity to do the tasks they’re set, then disciplinary procedures need to be put in motion. Sometimes terminating someone’s employment is the only way to go.
This is where my situation went wrong. I didn’t have the power to discipline my assistant, and I needed the support of my manager who was reluctant to take the necessary, and obvious, action.
Eventually, I left my job. I wasn’t prepared to deal with the simmering resentment and loss of confidence (mine), not to mention my growing workload.
My toxic, failing, assistant remained. My manager, no doubt, ended up dealing with her shortcomings directly. His loss.
2. ‘Look at how this method works’
If you have a know-it-all in your team or someone who is stuck in a rut, you will never convince them they have gaps in their knowledge or are behind the times. Both are committed to their world view, and they will cleave to what they believe they know.
By showing how a different way of working will help them be more successful, you aren’t directly challenging this world view. Alternatively, if the rest of the team take on the new ideas and your know-it-all or stuck-in-the-mud are left behind, then they will be motivated to change.
These types of people take pride in their position at work and their assessment of their skills, even where it’s out of sync with your evaluation as their manager.
It’s common to question why you should pander to these people. If they can’t perform, then they shape up or ship out.
Well, have you ever worked in an organization where someone was highly thought of for their little niche but was no longer making a meaningful contribution to the team? I have, and they always had strong ties to management which protected them.
If you’re a new manager, its better to demonstrate your skills at management — i.e., getting the best out of people — than becoming known for causing disruption by fighting your team.
3. ‘That’s fantastic, great job’
If your team member knows how to do the job but isn’t motivated to do it, finding out why is your best option.
You need to spend time finding a way to persuade them to give it a go. What motivates them? How do they see themselves at work — fast, reliable, caring?
Use what you know to encourage motivation to do their job, and take pride in doing it well. Affirmative praise is your friend — when they show commitment praise them.
If your efforts fail, try ‘these are tasks I need you to do’ method (point 1, above). Be sure they aren’t affected by a personal issue before you shift gears, you don’t want to appear aggressive. Take time to find out if there’s anything bothering them — encouraging them to talk about it can help foster trust between you.
4. ‘I know you’re more than capable of doing this’
The holy grail — team members that can be trusted to do the job. They’re good at what they do, and they’re motivated to do their best.
You don’t want to mess with their mojo — recognize their value at intervals and let them know you notice the quality of their work, but otherwise let them get on with it.
My toxic experience wasn’t my fault
I realize now my instincts were correct — I was managing my assistant by giving her clear tasks and deadlines — but I wasn’t backed up by my manager, who should have terminated her employment for poor performance.
Instead, I was left to struggle on, dragging around a dead weight and killing myself trying to simultaneously cover for her shortcomings and deal with her bad attitude.
My manager’s indecision knocked my confidence, but learning about the different approaches highlighted above has helped me understand why I found myself in such a toxic environment.
I also felt vindicated in the decision I finally made, which was to walk away from the job. I did the right thing, and I’m glad I did it.