What does being a manager involve? A better question might be “What doesn’t it?” Managers play a crucial role in virtually all areas of the business environment — from day-to-day operations to employee performance to company growth. And, while attending to all these responsibilities, managers also must look out for their own present and future well-being.
Managers generally come to the job expecting to confront a range of issues, but many are surprised at the sheer number of challenges that come with the position. Here, we look at 10 common managerial challenges and how they might be handled.
From tardiness and dress code violations to poor performance and insubordination, managers find themselves addressing a variety of workplace problems small and large. Few leaders relish this aspect of the job, as confrontation can be uncomfortable.
Acknowledge that taking disciplinary measures often is unpleasant, but the task goes with your job description. Pointing out behaviors and actions that need improvement sets the stage for the individual in question to change. Your company reaps the benefits. Also, failure to discipline when necessary sends a bad message to the rest of your team. They may view you as ineffective or “wimpy,” or they may wonder why they should bother following rules themselves.
To make disciplining easier, follow company policy as outlined in the employee handbook. You’ll reduce charges of being too harsh or too lenient when you simply follow the procedures stated. Many organizations use a progressive system in which actions and consequences become more severe at each stage. Oftentimes, the first step is a verbal warning. This drawing of attention to the matter may be enough in some instances. If problems persist, continue to follow the disciplinary outline. You’ll reduce charges of favoritism or of picking on someone, and you keep your employer on solid ground should the eventual outcome be termination.
Making hiring decisions
Figuring out who would make a good addition to your team can prove a daunting process. You want to fill openings quickly in order to increase productivity, but new hires who don’t produce, cause problems, or soon quit do more harm than good.
Start by writing an accurate job description. You can still present the opportunity in the best light possible, but stating what you truly expect new hires to know and do increases the likelihood of both sides ending up satisfied.
Then, when you bring in interviewees, be an active listener. Watch out for red flags such as:
Inconsistencies between a person’s resume and what she says.
Vague responses that do little to offer examples of past performance.
Lack of understanding of technical terms common in your industry.
Lack of interest (rescheduling interview multiple times, being late, dressing inappropriately, looking at their phone, not asking any questions, etc.).
Bad-mouthing past employers or colleagues.
Putting too much emphasis on perks or promotions rather than the job at hand.
Creating an interview team rather than shouldering all decision-making during the hiring process can help. You can share observations plus bounce around thoughts on fit with company culture. Background check anyone before hiring.
Losing staff members, especially top talent, can significantly impact team performance. Good managers take steps early and often to encourage their direct reports to stick around.
For starters, work on building connections. Employees like to know that what they do matters. Show how their individual role makes a difference to the company and its mission.
Provide plenty of development opportunities. Learning new skills keeps the job fresh. Plus, workers like to see their managers taking an interest in their career goals.
Since burnout leads many employees to seek greener pastures, frequently examine workloads. Help with time management and prioritization. Express concern for well-being both inside and outside of the office. Discuss what work-life balance measures could ease burdens, such as remote working or a flexible schedule.
Consider conducting stay interviews to gain valuable input on what keeps your superstars remaining at your organization. These proactive, one-on-one meetings reveal specific things individuals enjoy about their job as well as what factors could lead them to consider employment elsewhere. Adding more of what a person likes promotes employee engagement, and learning about any negatives provides a chance to address them before they lead the worker to start sending resumes elsewhere.
While you may think it should, respect does not automatically come with holding a managerial title. New managers especially may encounter team members who challenge their authority in public, gossip about them, or act disrespectfully.
Get to the root of why offenders behave the way they do. Maybe your managerial style conflicts with their preferences. Or, there might be an underlying issue, such as bad blood over something you did in the past. Whatever the reason, knowing it sets the stage for discussing the matter and for making it clear you will not tolerate poor behavior, even if that means taking punitive measures.
Then, do what you can to develop respectful bonds. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Be polite. Don’t embarrass workers in front of colleagues. Build trust by keeping to your word, admitting mistakes, sharing credit, and never lying. Avoid favoritism, and enforce rules consistently.
One of the biggest challenges managers face is keeping employees on-task. Getting the best out of team members day after day is not easy, but doing so enables meeting deadlines, staying productive, and growing as an organization.
Spend some time learning what motivates each worker. Some people favor bonuses and other extrinsic rewards. Others tend toward intrinsic motivators, such as the opportunity to pursue a pet project after they complete regular duties.
All workers benefit when you can connect their individual role to the larger picture. They feel important to the company’s success, which promotes pride in their work and taking ownership of their behavior.
And don’t discount the value of breaking up monotony! Issue performance challenges. Hold fun contests. Do job swaps for a day so people can learn new skills and understand operations from a co-worker’s perspective. Host a social event such as a pizza party, or gather everyone together to volunteer time to a worthy community cause. Such interactions build connections and ultimately benefit teamwork.
Any good manager knows that a disagreement among team members is not simply just “their problem.” Rather, discord has the potential to disrupt the work environment. The at-odds parties may hinder operations by withholding information from one another. Those around fighting colleagues grow uncomfortable with the tension and may tire of pressure to pick a side.
Encourage your charges to sit down with each other when they have a grievance. Effective communication solves many problems, especially when those involved actively listen to one another. Opponents may discover they hold different interpretations of events. Or, miscommunication may be at fault. It is not unusual for people to discover that they do not exactly understand what they are fighting over. Clearing the air may lead to peace.
When sparring workers have trouble resolving things on their own, offer to mediate. Remember, though, that you are not serving as a judge. Rather, your purpose is to act as a neutral party that brings sides together to talk about how to move forward. Just your presence can encourage better behavior and greater willingness to work things out.
Creating a psychologically safe environment
Team performance improves and innovation increases when each of your direct charges feels free to be his or her true self at work. This comfort enables them to speak up when they have an idea, possess an alternate point of view, or notice a potential problem. Your company benefits from a greater range of perspectives. Plus, acceptance and respect boost the employee experience, leading to better retention rates.
Do not tolerate colleagues interrupting or belittling one another. Promote the notion of your team as a support system that encourages bringing new things to the table without fear of ridicule or deaf ears. Knowing teammates have your back is a wonderful feeling that contributes to well-being and reaching greater heights.
Model the behavior you want to see. Actively seek input from everyone, and hold the mindset that brilliant ideas can come from anyone. Avoid favoring “yes men,” and encourage shaking up the status quo in the name of progress.
Managers know that constructive feedback enables workers to improve their performance. Two common management challenges, though, are finding the time to offer it and delivering it in a way that gets the listener to interpret the advice as helpful rather than hurtful.
Solve this first management challenge by scheduling regular one-on-one meetings with employees. Both of you will come to view feedback as a vital part of this dedicated time slot. Holding the conversation in a private setting avoids any public embarrassment and allows for uninterrupted exchanges.
Understand that most workers truly do want to do a good job and appreciate clarity about what they are doing well and what needs improvement. Providing constructive criticism in a timely manner allows changes to be made. Nobody wants to first hear of a problem at an annual performance review where more is at stake.
To help workers accept feedback more positively, aim to create a company culture where giving and receiving it is the norm for everyone. Ask for thoughts on your managerial style or on how you can better support the team. Encourage teammates to respectfully and politely give suggestions to one another. And be sure to make praise a regular occurrence. Accepting negative feedback is easier when you know that management also freely remarks on positive things.
Attending to self-care
With so many things already on their plates, many managers think of themselves as too busy to worry about their own well-being. While this mindset may sound admirable at first, it ultimately can be a recipe for disaster.
Think of the advice always given to airplane passengers: Put on your own oxygen mask first before attempting to help others. Adapt this motto to your own work environment: You do nobody any favors when you are hungry, tired, sick, stressed, or suffering from burnout.
Stay home when physically sick or in need of a mental health break. Take vacation days to recharge. Build breaks into your daily schedule to eat properly, stretch, and “get away from things” for a few moments. Avoid the feeling of always being “on” by unplugging during non-work hours. Construct voice and email messages telling people that you are unavailable during that certain stretch of time, but you will get back to them during regular business hours. Encourage staff members to do the same – a good work-life balance is important for everyone!
The flurry of daily responsibilities makes some managers feel like they can barely keep their head above the surface let alone think about their future. But if all you do is tread water, good luck excelling at this position and setting yourself up for other roles.
Managers must think of themselves as life-long learners. Change is the norm in most industries. Staying up-to-date is not just “nice,” it is survival in a highly competitive world. Your staff needs your competency, and top leadership expects your progress.
Don’t limit acquisition of new skills to hard ones. Yes, keeping up with technology and other advances is important. So too, however, are the soft skills that make you able to manage more effectively and get the most out of people. Look for ways to develop your emotional intelligence. You’ll improve in areas such as empathy, conflict resolution, and reading social cues.
Not sure where to start? Look at job descriptions for roles to which you aspire (not to apply to them but to learn). Seeing their requirements and understanding what employers are looking for can guide you in the right direction. Figure out what you lack, and seek out ways to acquire what you need. Reading on your own, attending trainings and classes, and watching relevant online presentations are all good possibilities.
And if you do not already have one, find a mentor. Someone with whom you can bounce ideas around is valuable both for current challenges you face as a manager and for contemplating the future. Smart managers know challenges do not always need to be tackled alone!
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