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People management: ask yourself the right question

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We all know how people management issues can be a real headache. What do you do when you’ve got someone who’s a technical expert with tons of knowledge, but is just unable to manage people?

With people issues, it’s rarely black and white. The challenge is to be able to step back and see the wood for the trees. Here are a few typical things you’ll hear from a manager.

“We’ll struggle to find someone with their skill set locally”

Hmm. Do you honestly believe this? Have you actually tried looking? How many competitors do you have locally?

Guess what, your competitors will have similar people doing similar roles within their firm. With many firms making redundancies over the last 18 months, there is still plenty of good talent available willing to travel for the right job.

We then worry about the impact on the individual if we actually tell them about the impact of their performance or behaviour on others.

“But, what if they get annoyed with us and leave?”

Yes, that’s a risk… but, lets strip back the emotional fog. This is a member of staff who is not performing at the level you need them to. If they leave, it would solve a problem for you. I would hazard a guess that this conversation may never have been had, and so the member of staff may be totally unaware of the problems. Before anyone can address a performance issue, they need to be fully aware of the impact of their behaviour.

Now, that neatly takes me onto the next issue.

“We’ve spoken to this member of staff, many times before about the problem, and nothing ever changes!”

When I hear this, alarm bells start to ring. This suggests that we either have an individual who won’t change, or the right conversations are not happening with the individual (which is usually the case).

Firstly, have you actually sat down and spoken with the staff member about the impact of their performance on others? Have you talked about what is expected of them in this role – and the need to perform on all aspects of the job? Have you talked to them about the consequences of not changing? Are there objectives set for them, which will focus them on the standards and performance expected from them in their role?

We often make it harder for ourselves to manage these seemingly-tough people management problems as we’ve developed a cult of the individual. We spend so long convincing ourselves and our clients that we’re the best, that our knowledge is second to non, and that we’re irreplaceable. Sometimes you just need to step back.

What else do we tell ourselves that stops us from properly tackling these poor performance issues?

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.

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