In my previous post “Managing Others Isn’t For Wimps” I finished off with the recommendation to other managers on the importance of fostering open and honest communication with their subordinates. Now, if you know me, you have probably heard me harp on how important communication is to any relationship, whether it’s business or personal. Just as important as communication is to being able to build solid relationships in our personal lives, open and honest communication has the ability to do the same in our professional lives as well.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that you have to be best friends with your subordinates, peers, or superiors, but if you are working in a team environment, there has to be a focus on building those relationships to where you are able to function cohesively with others as one single unit. No matter how much you may dislike a co-worker / team-member, you will not be able to produce as efficiently as possible until you are able to develop those working relationships. Developing an open and honest relationship with your peers does not mean you need to share personal attributes or activities, however, you do have to share thoughts, ideas, insights, concerns, questions, regarding your particular work tasks. You should be able to engage your subordinates, peers, or superiors in a respectable manner to be able to work through issues to get on the “same page.”
My favorite example of open and honest communication came one day when I happened to be coaching a subordinate who was struggling to meet his sales goals. I sat down with this particular employee and tried to understand where he was struggling to meet his goals. My ultimate goal during the coaching session was to find out whether the issue was a matter of skill or will. After “delving in and peeling away the layers,” I was finally able to get my employee to open up and share what was really the issue at hand. To my surprise, he told he me he pretty much hated our client, their customers, and a couple of other things.
At first, my reaction was to point him to the nearest door if he was so unhappy, but I was able to refrain from my initial reaction and I took some time to collect my thoughts; I realized that I didn’t particularly want to lose this employee since although he seemed to hate his job, he was pretty good at it. Once I made the determination that “managing him out” was not an option I wanted to take, I was left with the dilemma of managing him up. Long story short, I decided to give this particular employee the added responsibility of mentoring my most recent new hire. At the time, I knew it was a risky move, either my new hire would learn the good attributes from the employee or they would end picking up the bad habits or worse, the employee’s contempt for the job. In the end, my decision paid off, not only did I have my new hire learning from one of my more tech saavy team members, but my employee seemed to be more engaged in the work he was doing and there was a consistent and steady upward improvement in his sales numbers.
Moral of the story: A) Open and honest communication played an essential role in this situation. Without encouraging my employee to really express their concerns (of course without the fear of retaliation) openly and honestly, I would not have been able to determine that my employee had in fact become disengaged. B) As a leader, you shouldn’t be afraid to take managed risks (allowing an under-performer to mentor a new hire) or to think outside of the box when it comes to developing your people or any other particular situation for that matter.