Managing Employees: Tools of the Trade

Managing employees means a general manager, business manager, administrator, director, or another individual who exercises operational or managerial control over, or who directly or indirectly conducts the day-to-day operation of a company or business. The manager is responsible for his employees’ health, well-being, and productivity. Often an individual takes on the job of managing people in one of two ways. The first is that of an entrepreneur, who realizes the business has grown and requires more people to accomplish the task at hand. The second is that of an employee who is selected because of technical competence or high productivity – he knows how to do the “stuff” of the business, whether it is building an “item” or selling it.

Only a few managers and supervisors enter the workforce with the ambition of leading people. People do not ordinarily become managers because they want the increased stress, have all the answers, or want more responsibility. Some take a management job for prestige, others for money, and some just for advancement. Regardless of the reason, the story many times reads the same. Managers and supervisors can get caught up in the fray of daily events at work and forget many of the simple steps that are inherent in managing people. Read on for an overview of ten steps or “tools of the trade” that when used consistently, can greatly enhance your ability to manage people at work.

Ten Useful Tools for Effective Employee Management

Be Consistent

Employees count on you to be fair. When you make rules, they expect you to apply them consistently. If you treat people differently or stray from the established rules/procedures, you should have a good reason and be ready, willing, and able to explain why.

Conduct Regular Staff Meetings

Staff meetings are excellent for exchanging information, getting to know one another, and reinforcing teamwork. They provide a forum for employees to share ideas. Staff meetings that are regularly scheduled and have agendas can be a major asset to managers who are focused on improving communication and teamwork. Special attention should be given to schedules, time limits for talking, and opportunities to raise new issues.

Follow the Golden Rule

Before making decisions that affect your employees, consider how you would want to be treated in a similar situation. Do not jump to conclusions. Ask for their side of the story . . . and really listen to it. Judge them with the same regard you expect from your best boss.

Think It Over

Give yourself a chance to respond to emotions without losing your cool. Sometimes it is smarter to adjourn or take a break, rather than try to maintain a calm, businesslike appearance when you are neither calm nor businesslike. Count to ten, walk around the block, or sleep on it – but do not respond too quickly. Except in extreme emergencies, it is always appropriate to say, “I’ll get back to you.” Give the employee a reasonable time frame for your response, and then follow through at the set time.

Let the Employees Solve the Problem

Define the parameters, provide the employees with ideas, but encourage them to make the decision. You will develop a more responsible, involved workforce if you let employees have a hand in solving their own problems. One thing to remember – an employee’s response will seldom, match your own. However, it may prove more valuable just by being the employee’s idea.

Say It Again

Do not assume the employee understands what you have said. Either ask the employee to summarize your words or do so yourself. Their frame of reference may be completely different from yours. Asking the employee to restate what you have said can help minimize confusion. Remember the saying, “I tell you, you tell me; I show you, you show me.”

Define the Problem

Begin by defining the problem at hand – in writing. Determine what parts of the problem are attributable to the person’s competence or behavior, and which result from miscommunication and/or site working conditions.

Only address an individual on matters that are within his or her control. Competence and behavior are within the employee’s ability to change. Miscommunication, equipment problems, or other physical worksite issues are generally management problems.

Say What You Mean

This may be the most important tool available to a manager. Employees need to know your mind, just as you need to know what really pleases and displeases your own boss or customer. You may think you have told an employee what you wanted, but chances are, you have not been definitive.

Be very specific in dealing with a problem. If you narrow it down to a specific problem, you are more likely to change the behavior than if you attack it globally. Phrases that begin like, “You always . . .,” “She never . . .,” and “Whenever he . . .,” are more reflections of your emotions and are likely to invite a defensive response.

Consider the Costs vs. the Benefits

Every manager faces budget constraints. Decisions concerning human resources (salaries, benefits, firing, etc.) should be weighed in the same manner as decisions regarding supplies and equipment. Many personnel decisions involve costs in terms of hours lost, lower morale, diminished confidence in management, etc. Benefits may include increased loyalty, improved communication, enhanced credibility, and more.

Because such factors are not easily translated into dollars and cents, managers may shy away from doing a cost/benefit analysis on human resource decisions. This omission can cost both time and money.

Get Another Opinion

As a general rule, those involved in a problem are less than objective when it comes to solving it. If you can define the problem, present it to a spouse, a friend, or another manager. Keep in mind that how you ask the questions might determine the answer.

If you try this, make a special effort not to evaluate or reject the suggestions you receive. Merely thank the other person (after all, they did what you asked), and then consider the difference between their perspective and your own.

Managing employees can increase trust and ensures everyone feels better, supported, and more engaged. Good communication is key to all of the tools you have at your disposal.