Manage People

There are many great resources on management, including literature, trainings, and courses.

Manage yourself first, always. If you are bringing too much tension to work, or other challenging traits, address the root cause or at least be open with your staff that you are aware of the issue. If you become too wrapped up emotionally in work drama, strive to detach your ego and depersonalize the issues. Take a step back to think about how it would or could go if you were not even there.

Two core focus areas any manager should prioritize.

1. Knowledge management and retention. People move around, on, up, and out. Put continuity systems in place. Systems might hold critical information, or contain processes to transfer the information among employees. If your group has been weak in this area in the past, hold individual and group sessions to find out why and what kinds of tools they are most likely to use. Start building them as a team.

2. Communication. Each team has different communication challenges. These could be lack of expected standards for written deliverables, or trouble interacting with peers, higher-ups, or others. The challenges may shift over time. Pay attention to them, coach, and provide resources.

Managing soon-to-be retirees

If you are fortunate enough to get lengthy notice that a staff member will be retiring, try to do two things for a smooth transition. First, hire the replacement at least six months before the retirement. This may take a battle with budget and human resources. Make the case that, in the long run, the efficiencies in direct overlap between the two people will pay back the extra months of salary in dividends. Second, stop incoming work for the retiree several months before the date. Focus on knowledge transfer. Map out assignments, file structures, and contacts. Use the person as an advisor while others take the helm. As projects are transferred, you will have the chance to iron out wrinkles with the retiring person still available to troubleshoot and answer questions. Last, recognize the person for his or her accomplishments and camaraderie in the final weeks. Ask how she wants to be recognized. It may be just a small lunch with storytelling rather than the often-dreaded “cake party.” Another team member may want to prepare a crafted gift. You might print a team photo and have others sign it. Pausing to celebrate this shift is meaningful to the person and the whole team.

Managing difficult personalities

Everyone has blind spots. If you have an employee who does not recognize blind spots or respond to coaching, you have choices. Actively manage the problem, look the other way, do the work yourself, try to reassign the employee. Managers are expected to figure out how to get the work statement done in a quality way with the team’s resources. If a member of the team is not performing to expectations, provide fair feedback and improvement plans. However, this is easier said than done.

“Don’t wrestle with the pig.” When managing a disruptive team member, don’t get dragged into the mud with a difficult employee, and it is simply not worth the fight in the long run. If you have an employee who is difficult, seeking to hold this employee accountable may result in the employee negatively attacking you via a quiet campaign, outright human resources complaints, or visits to your boss. Size up the situation quickly. Particularly if the person is popular or has senior-level allies, figure out how to either move her to a different team or disconnect yourself emotionally from trying to “fix” the performance situation. This runs contrary to what most actual policies and trainings say-we are taught to use the performance management process to hold employees accountable. But in the end, you do not want to have your own reputation harmed or have your character questioned. You may be entirely right about the performance or behavioral issues, but workplace systems revolve around several different dynamics. Sometimes the least of these are merit, hierarchy, and on-job competence. If you find yourself digging in and trying to deal with such an employee, force yourself to regroup and aim for a solution rather than a fight. The energy and time spent will be wasted and possibly harmful.

This is why the “dance of the lemons” is so common-this saying is used in the human resources field to describe the pattern of poor performers (“lemons”) being moved around, even promoted, because smart managers know better than to go down trying to hold them accountable. Even if you see clear waste of company resources and poor work that must be redone, in the long run it will be better to take steps to get a better fit on the team.


Managing contractors and vendors

Follow organizational policies on procurement carefully. Set forth clear work statements and deliverables. Ensure that staff delegated to oversee the contracts are diligent about reviewing work products against billing. When in doubt, bid projects out rather than use sole-source providers. At least annually, do an overall review of the team’s vendors to assess current and future needs. Right-size contracts as necessary-some may be expanded, some may go away entirely. Do not be afraid to ask for more from vendors, such as extending benefits to subsidiaries at no cost. Monitor competition to understand whether the terms are fair market value. Contractors can be extremely useful to complete discrete statements of work without staffing up, do functions that the employer does not have core expertise in, or get the benefit of a third-party neutral on findings. Contractors are often widely available and aggressively seek business in many industries, so stay savvy about costs as well as how much to use them.