Do Employees or Managers Have to Change the Most?

14 Oct

It is normal for bosses to try to think of ways to make the operations they are responsible for more efficient. Often they express frustration about the lack of interest or negative attitudes of employees. They may consider how they can get employees more engaged, but in many cases engagement is a few steps away and the first goal is simply to get employees to do what they are supposed to do in a reasonably proficient and concerned way.

Who is to blame? Has HR done a poor job hiring or finding new employees? The manager may make the final choice between candidates, but count on HR to do their part and provide the best advice – particularly when things go wrong! It is easy to blame HR. HR is never perfect, but the way employees behave – do their job – is more dependent on the direction and leadership given by their direct supervisor after they start work. How they performed in their previous job is only an accurate indicator if the environment was similar. Do you agree?

Most employees start a new job enthusiastic and determined to do well and recognize that they have to adapt to the way a particular organization operates. Employees react to their environment and generally are quite flexible because they want things to work out.   It is when employees became disillusioned and consider they are working in a hostile environment that things go wrong. If it reaches the stage that employees hate coming to work every day, it can go really wrong.

If employees have the appropriate skills and are reasonably flexible, they should do well. If things are not going well, do employees have to follow better or must their bosses be better leaders/managers? There may be odd cases when the employee is to blame, but in most cases, it is necessary for the manager to change to reasonably expect an improvement in employee commitment and performance in general.

It is more complicated, of course, because managers are also employees and equally reactive to their senior management bosses and the environment (culture) in general. If managers are to be more successful in motivating employees to work well and as a team, is it necessary, sometimes, for the manager to promote a local environment that may differ somewhat from the organization in general? This, I believe, is the way strong leaders can succeed, set an example and achieve recognition from their bosses. This can be particularly relevant for HR functions and HR management.

One of the greatest and most satisfying challenges for HR, is to try to turn around an organization that is failing (to some extent) due to poor management, poor employee relations practices and, probably, unfair treatment of employees.   HR can gradually succeed by adopting different approaches, but at the same time not alienating itself from the organization in general. HR would not operate as a breakaway unit, but in a way that is integral to the business and implementing improvements on behalf of and to the credit of the total organization. The same principles would apply to a smart manager who may need to lead employees in a better way than his bosses (and possibly peers) but would still be focusing on business success goals shared by all.

If things are not going well between a manager and employees supervised, the manager (with reasonable skills) can turn the situation around, but only if he/she is receptive to self-change and acknowledges that much of the blame for the current problem must rest on his/her shoulders. Here are some thoughts:

  • Most employees will work well if given appropriate direction
  • Thinking of strategies and motivators to encourage employee change is not enough if simply tacked on to what currently exists
  • The manager must be able to think through, believe in, and be committed to personal change. In many cases it can be very helpful for the manager to receive some coaching and possibly a professional assessment of his/her current style
  • Generic management training can be helpful, but only if the manager is able (and sufficiently honest) to reflect on differences between his/her current style and able to identify critical aspects that he/she needs to change
  • Feedback of various types can be helpful, but the manager should be cautious in seeking feedback from people (e.g. certain senior management) he/she does not respect – asking for advice and then not following it can be a problem

To achieve greater productivity and business success, I believe the greatest change must be by managers and supervisors and positive employee change will naturally evolve as a result. For our business to be what we want it to be, we must understand what we currently are and be brave enough to make the necessary changes, including our own behaviours and trust in others. What do you think?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



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