Trying to be friends with staff Managers need to provide a balanced view of performance, both the halos and the warts, and if the manager is trying to be friends with staff, it’s much harder to give tough feedback
This is the second part in a three part series on mistakes newly-promoted managers all make. Part one can be found here.
Friendly newly-promoted manager
Chris was very excited when he was given the news that he was being promoted to team leader but he was a little nervous as well. He had worked very hard to prepare for his interview but he knew that one of his team mates, Marty, had also very much wanted this role. He knew that Marty had expected to win because he had told everyone on the team that he thought he was the best one for the role.
Chris was determined to treat everyone equally and be a really good team leader but he knew it would be hard. Perhaps he could take the team out to the pub at the end of the first day and treat everyone for a drink.
Everything went fairly well for the first month except that Marty was taking advantage of Chris’ good nature. When Chris had asked the team to follow a particular approach, Marty openly disagreed and when Chris insisted, Marty shrugged and said, “Okay,” but Chris could see that Marty was only giving lip service to the new approach.
Over the next month, Chris tried everything he could think of. He tried taking Marty out for a drink to try to persuade him to put more effort in. He tried pointing out to Marty why the approach was a good one. He tried pointing out to Marty that he was shooting himself in the foot because he was losing some goodwill from his fellow team mates. Nothing seemed to get through to Marty who stubbornly continued to tell his fellow team members that Chris was not on the right track.
Chris’ boss George, called up Chris and arranged a meeting. “Chris, I understand that things are not going very well with Marty,” he said. Chris nodded. He explained how frustrated and disappointed he was.
George asked him what he had tried. When Chris laid out his strategies, George listened and then asked him a key question. “And how is that working for you?”
Chris had to admit that he was at a standstill with Marty.
Your team, not your friends
George then pointed out that Marty was making a classic mistake. Chris had been trying to deal with Marty as if he were primarily a friend. “You are no longer just Marty’s friend, Chris. You are his boss. That’s what we are paying you to be. You weren’t wrong in trying the friendly approach but Marty is a tough nut. The friendly approach is not sufficient with him.” George also pointed out, “If you want to get your team working well for you, you will have to be intentional about how you play out your role. Effective teams have effective leaders who are intentional about how they lead. That’s what I’m looking for from you.”
They talked about how Chris could get tough. “You have to really lay it out with Marty. He’ll take advantage of your friendship if you don’t. You have to be really intentional about this. The team’s success depends on it.” They made a strategy together. Chris and George agreed that if Marty didn’t respond to this approach, they would create another strategy where there were consequences for Marty.
A business discussion
Before the end of the day, Chris had booked a meeting with Marty for the next day. It went very well, and by the end of the meeting, Chris was confident that Marty understood what he had to do. What did George suggest? Here was the strategy:
- Book a meeting room for the conversation – context matters – by booking a meeting room, it signalled that this was a business meeting and was serious. (Not in a pub which was more social and suggested that they were of equal rank.)
- Chris was to ask Marty to listen without commenting until Chris had laid out his point of view.
- Chris as then to share a very specific description of Marty’s behaviour and its impact on Chris and on the other team members.
- He was then to ask Marty, specifically, for different behaviour (commit to following the approach and support the him and the team). He was to ask for Marty’s reaction by saying, “Do you understand why this is important to me?”
- Finally, the plan was that If Marty then acknowledged Chris’ points, then Chris was to ask that he step up and fully support the new approach. If Marty waffled or argued, Chris would repeat the question until Marty acknowledged his point of view. (Broken record technique)
- Finally, Chris kept the meeting brief and thanked Marty for his time. At no time, did he ask for Marty’s friendship or imply that this was anything but a business discussion.
Chris was fortunate that he had a boss who understood his dilemma and had a very good strategy to suggest. By focusing on the team and how Chris needed to get the team working together, Chris was able to retrieve the situation. Ultimately, Marty fell into line and Chris was able to show his intention in terms of leading the team.
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