The fine art of managing people at work

Last Updated 19 October 2010, 13:37 IST

One of the most unpredictable species is the Homo Sapien. At one moment, a person can be most reasonable and docile and the next moment, he could be roaring like a tiger on some trivial issue. Thus, managing the human asset is perhaps the most challenging job of a manager who is expected to deliver the goods. Unlike a few cult figures, he cannot turn employees into zombies to work at his behest. At best, he can threaten, coax, cajole or appeal to their better senses to work for the good of the organisation.

One-to-one contact between an employee and his superior on a regular basis, formal or informal, goes a long way in resolving misunderstandings and building a bridge of understanding. Often, a small issue is blown into a big controversy, which can be avoided if there is a personal touch between the two.

 It is possible to sort out problems during the interactions rather than sending notes to the concerned or hauling up the subordinate for some real or imaginary breach of discipline. The subordinates will have to realise that they and the boss are working for the same organisation and so they should work together.

Barring minor irritants, it should be smooth sailing if the superior has an open mind while dealing with his people. When a subordinate is faced with a ticklish situation, he wonders why the boss had not briefed him on the matter which would have cleared the air.

Thus, openness in relationships can go a long way in easing workplace related tensions and problems. The manager has to be employee-friendly to get the work done by the employees and to create a bond between them.

How does one make an employee feel part of the organisation? First of all, the manager has to be sincere, in his attempt to involve the employee in not only day-to-day work but, as far as possible, but in planning and decision-making at least in that person’s sphere of work.

That means the manager leaves the employee space to work out for himself. He is there to guide and coach him.

The lesser the supervision, the better as the employee may get irritated by too many instructions and too much of follow-up to the point that the employee is fed up with such an approach by the boss.

Delegation: The quantum of delegation normally depends upon the capacity of that person who is willing and is able to take up responsibility.

Not all employees can be burdened with work or responsibility they are not capable of handling. Some of them have to be trained to take up such a responsibility and should be assured that delegation is not only good for the organisation but for the employee’s career graph too.

Communication: Information flows up and down to an employee and tends to be scarce. There is no two-way communication with the boss who generally keeps the information to himself. Sharing information may make an employee feel part of the organisation. He would rather get the needed information from his boss directly rather than through the grapevine or from a notice. He would then feel important as his superior would have confided in him.

Compensation: An employee would like to know why a compensation has been fixed the way it is. He is none too happy to hear, “But that’s a matter of policy.” Being open about even management policies, as far as possible, will certainly strengthen the employee’s feeling that he is being treated as a human being. He may not agree with the package offered but at least he is aware of the background.

Openness: Gone are the days, hopefully, of a bureaucratic approach to human relations. It would be taken for granted, in the earlier days, the subordinate will follow whatever the boss tells him to do without question.

With a better class of employees, who are educated and experienced, the boss is no longer an autocratic ruler whose word is law. More employees are asking the boss why a certain matter has to be dealt the way the he deems appropriate.

Moreover, it can happen that the employees are more knowledgeable about a few latest developments than the superior is. Therefore, it helps smooth working if the manager is patient, open and willing to listen and act upon the suggestions by the employees forming the team.

They will appreciate a manager who shows willingness to change rather than stick to his decision as a matter of personal prestige.

Tapping talent: Turning employees into entrepreneurs should be on the top of any manager’s priorities if he wants to make his team dynamic and  them accept challenges enthusiastically. The organisation should be able to tap the potential of the employee and give opportunities for him to rise above his own self-set limits. Each person has a body of knowledge, skills and capabilities waiting to be tapped.

Career development: Managements have not realised the need for careful planning of an employee’s career. It is either ad hoc or just a routine exercise. An employee hopes a management to take care of his growth needs.

Moreover, the employee expects that he will be given the needed training / re-training to carry on his job or any other job more efficiently. With the growth in information and technology, an employee needs tailor-made programmes to enhance his skills. Multitasking is the buzzword of late. Such a development augurs well for the employee as well as the organisation by enhancing that persons ‘marketability’ within or outside.

Promotion is one of the most under-utilised tools and a management could do well in putting in place a sincere and transparent promotion policy which is seen by the majority of employees as being fair and so something to be aspired to. Promotion delayed is promotion denied and the management cannot keep a person on the tenderhooks by denying his promotion indefinitely.

Dealing with high-flyers: An organisation cannot have all genius type individuals, as the supply is limited and erratic. These mavericks, “wild-ducks”, are highly imaginative and very impatient. They do not believe in ‘normal’ work or ‘routine’. They tend to make rules rather than follow them. Such people could be assets, treated the right way, or can be thorn in the flesh of a management.

These high-flyers are dynamic individuals who are often obsessed with their own self-importance. However, they have ideas, which look so much out of the way that it could sound very novel and ingenious. Even one or two ideas and suggestions from such individuals, if implemented, could transform an organisation into a dynamic one.
Managing people at the best of times is difficult given the individuality of the people, their likes, dislikes, ego hassles, emotions and aspirations. Dealing with the variability of human beings requires not only skills but also human understanding. “Stick” or fear of punishment is a powerful de-motivator. In sharp contrast, praise and sympathy for an individual could be the bonding necessary to get the best out of an individual.

With better-qualified and experienced employees, the boss has to hone his interpersonal skills to cope with a variety of situations while dealing with human beings. Thus, managing people is more of an art rather than a science and those who empathise with their people have a head start.

(The writer is a Consultant, Quality & Management.)

(Published 19 October 2010, 13:34 IST)

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