Taking a Proactive Approach to “People Issues”

Try this three-step approach to deal with the challenges of managing people

What’s the most challenging part of your job as a manager? What takes the majority of your time?

  • Data management and completing reports?
  • Achieving sales and productivity targets?
  • Rolling out new programs/products/services?
  • Dealing with people problems?

If you opted for the last one, you’re like many other managers. Of course, achieving targets, rollouts, and report-writing are all challenging in their own way. But often the biggest, most time-consuming and emotionally draining are the people problems.

When you lead a team you’re dealing with all the interpersonal dynamics – either people don’t get along – disagreements among co-workers, gossiping, lack of collaboration –  or sometimes they get along almost too well – with excessive socializing and not enough focus on achieving results. You’re also dealing with the various different personal communication styles, ambitions, talents, strengths and weaknesses of each individual on the team.

Perhaps your own manager is a great source of support, encouragement and helps you to resolve some of these problems, or you have a colleague who’ll give you a listening ear, brainstorm some solutions, share tips from their own experience. If so, that’s great! Having a supportive manager and colleagues is one key to success. Working with a coach can also have a big impact on your effectiveness as a people manager.

All too often, though, managers feel that they should be able to deal with these problems alone and may worry that if they ask for help, it will be seen as a sign of weakness. Sometimes more senior leaders, further up in the hierarchy, actually discourage middle managers from voicing their concerns about people issues – viewing these as minor matters that the middle managers should be able to handle. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need to work harder to develop effective strategies.

If you’re finding people issues are a challenge, you might like to try the organized approach that I’ve found effective in the various management roles I’ve had. While these issues can crop up at any time of the day or week, if you schedule regular time for people you’ll be better prepared for the challenges – because you’ll have a greater understanding of your team dynamics and a better level of rapport with your staff. There are three components to this approach.

1.  Book regular time in your schedule to meet with each team member. In some workplaces, the only time people have a one-on-one meeting with their manager is when there’s a problem. This isn’t the message that you want to send. Your staff will do their best work when they know that you are interested in what they do, that you care about their professional development, and about them as an individual. These meetings give you the chance to provide genuine feedback on what they are doing well, not just what is wrong. You can coach them to achieve better performance, and they can share any concerns that they may have. Learn more about coaching your team here.

2.  In addition to regular scheduled meetings, or if you have a large team and just don’t have the time for frequent one-on-ones, you may want to try a technique called Management by Walking Around. Sometimes shortened to MBWA, this is an approach that was first popularized back in the ’80’s but it is still relevant and effective today. What it means is that you take time on a regular basis to walk around the workplace and drop in on your staff for informal chats. Ideally, you’ll visit everyone and spend roughly the same amount of time with each person – but this doesn’t have to be on a set schedule. These informal chats give your staff the chance to express their ideas, and enable you to get to know each person better. To align this with the organized approach, you’d do well to block off time daily or weekly for this practice. Also, keep track of who you’ve spoken with, to ensure that you include all your team members equally.

3.  Running engaging and productive team meetings is another key component to  managing people issues. Of course, a poorly managed meeting – and there are many of these – hinders morale rather than helping it. So, use the organized approach, and keep these tips in mind:

  • Respect people’s time by planning and running the meeting with a strong structure – a clear goal and agenda, and keep to the scheduled start and end times.
  • Encourage everyone on the team to contribute to the meeting, not just the most vocal team members.
  • A meeting is a social occasion – people work together better when they have a chance to socialize, so include time to get to know each other – and including snacks is always appreciated!
  • Set the tone and build trust with honesty and civility. Where negative feedback needs to be shared, make sure this is done in a respectful manner.
  • Make sure that action items are documented, with due dates included, and that each person knows what they are expected to take action on after the meeting.

When you’re leading a team, there are many moving pieces so there are always going to be challenges. If you’ve been struggling to keep on top of the people issues, you’ll find that using this organized, three-part approach will help you become a better people manager.

If you’d like some one-on-one help, contact me to find out how leadership coaching can both enhance your skills and give you new tools to deal with challenging situations.