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We have all experienced a high pressure work situation. The looming critical deadline. The tender that needs to be submitted or the manufacturing production schedule that needs to be obtained to make a shipment. Or the sales budget that needs to be achieved to hit the targets. No matter what role you work in or in what industry, at some stage you have no doubt been faced with a time critical situation.
These are the times when we need our teams all working together. Completely engaged. On the bus. Delivering to our expectations. To meet the deadline or achieve the goal.
I often hear from people managers that this is when they seem to notice that the wheels are getting a little wobbly or are falling off. That one of their key team members who has been a solid performer, if not a high performer, is somehow different.
They are less engaged. Their attitude is negative. They can only see the problem where normally they help identify the solution to the problem. The quality of the work has dropped; there is less output and/or more errors. This was the exact problem a manager was experiencing recently during a leadership coaching session I was facilitating.
Now that he had recognised the change he realised that the change in this employee had been happening over the last few weeks but it wasn’t until the critical deadline was looming that he had really pin pointed the change.
What to do?
In working through the scenario during the coaching session, the manager’s natural first response was to address the issue and manage the problem. After all, achieving this critical deadline was the key focus for this department and everyone in the team was pushing hard to make it happen. In the Manager’s eyes, now was not the time for half-hearted efforts and errors in work from this team member. He was letting the rest of the team down.
I have been guilty of taking this same approach during my people management journey. I’ve been under pressure; a deadline to meet, everyone in the team working hard to achieve the outcome and a team member drops the ball. Something else is going on for them. Sometimes it’s a personal problem that is impacting their work but on many occasions it was due to a change in the workplace that they were responding negatively to. My first instinct use to be to manage the situation. Outline my expectations to that employee and let them know they had to step back up to get the job done. My motivations were about getting the job done. My natural drive and results focus was dictating my response to the situation.
I learnt this leadership lesson the hard way. I can’t recall a single time this approach worked successfully for me.
What I learnt was: Care first and manage second.
How do you care first as a manager?
- Know your team members well enough to be able to identify changes in their engagement, attitude and behaviour early on. It shouldn’t take a critical situation to realise someone is not their usual self.
- Show you care first. Let them know you have noticed a change and ask them if they are ok. Share with them the different behaviours and/or actions you have observed and that you feel this is not normally how they conduct themselves. How much they open up and share with you will depend on the quality of the relationship and the trust they have in you as a manager.
- Once you have some feedback, then you can respond or manage the situation. How you manage the situation will depend on the feedback. Showing that you care, demonstrating empathy, listening and supporting the team member is going to give you a much greater chance of improving the situation than if you jump straight into performance manage mode.
- Managing the situation involves engaging the employee in resolving the problem, getting their buy in and each party agreeing on actions to address and or improve the situation.
- Continue to show you care. Regular check ins, asking for feedback and providing feedback about improvements that you see in the team members performance and/or behaviour is key. Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking the issue has been addressed and then never mention it again.
The Manager from my leadership coaching session changed his approach to dealing with the situation he was facing. He showed he cared first instead of jumping in to performance management mode. Turns out his team member was frustrated by a change in process that had been poorly communicated to him. By the manager showing he cared, the team member opened up to him and told him exactly what his frustrations were which allowed the manager to address the issue and do something about the poor communication. The process didn’t change but the team member felt listened to and valued; that his opinions mattered. Almost instantly there was an improvement in behaviour and performance.
Caring first and managing second will lead to a much more engaged and productive team; ultimately giving you a much greater chance of having your team step up and achieve that critical deadline when you need them to.
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Angela Connor is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource and career coaching companies. She understands the significance of having the right team of people in a business and is passionate about helping business to attract, recruit and engage the right people so those people can inject their talents into the business; creating an environment where they can do great work and love what they do. Find more useful information and advice at www.inspirehq.com.au or by following Angela on LinkedIn.