When you want to recognize someone

Recognition has always been a tricky subject. As managers, we may be trained to provide positive feedback and recognize good work wherever we see it. This act can keep people engaged and motivated to strive for more. Umm…it depends on how you do it.

For me personally, recognition is important. I don’t need to be told thank you every day or have my name uttered in a leadership meeting on a frequent basis. Some people do. Some people don’t. Some people shrink from public recognition. As a manager, it is important to know your people and learn what they want and need to be successful.

I am a fan of personality tests. I have taken them all. I know what color I am, what letter or letters describe me, what style I gravitate toward and, therefore, how I like to be recognized.

Whatever instrument is available to you in your organization, take it. Have your team take it. This point is not to put people in boxes, although our society sometimes likes that, but to understand why someone reacts a certain way, how he handles stress, and how he likes to be appreciated.

I once had a team member who would rather not be recognized in public. It embarrassed her. She felt just hearing she did a nice job from me or the department head was enough. I have had other team members who would get so angry when their name didn’t appear in the all-hands meeting PowerPoint presentation.

I have found at least four styles of recognition. There could be more but these four have seemed to cover most people I have managed:

  1. Put my name in lights. By the way, this is okay. These people are usually extroverts and get their energy from others. So, it makes perfect sense that they want this level of celebrity. They need public recognition for a job well done. As this person’s manager, you should find or create these opportunities to keep them engaged.
  2. Let me lead. Some people don’t need all of the accolades, they simply want more responsibility and more leadership roles. Sometimes this means more higher-level projects but sometimes it means you trust me to lead the next effort and you trust me to give me some autonomy to do it.
  3. Show me respect. Somewhat aligned to the above, some people want to be known as the expert. They want everyone’s respect because they are dependable and can get the job done. They want to be the go-to person.
  4. Say thank you. Some who don’t want their name shouted from the rooftops, do want some appreciation in the form of a thank you. You were so helpful. You are so valued. We can’t do this without you. They need validation (most of us do!).

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive either. Someone may want their name in lights and more leadership responsibilities. Some may want to hear thank you and be given respect.

The key is to get to know your people. Honestly, the simplest way to do this is to ask them. Just watch out for the shy ones who may tell you they don’t need anything. If that is what you hear, I tend to go for style #4 as a start.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

When you’re deciding between micro-managing and being hands off

One of the most difficult aspects of managing people is providing enough direction so your team doesn’t feel lost and not standing over their shoulders every minute to make sure they get it right. Learning how to be toward the middle of this spectrum is the crux of being a good manager. I have experienced both in my career.

When I first started out in my career as an Associate Editor, I had a boss that insisted she read every fax cover sheet I drafted before it went out. Now, I had a Master’s in Communications and wrote and edited on the side. To have someone edit a fax cover sheet containing one sentence felt beyond insulting.

I was scolded once for sending out a fax cover sheet without her red pen handiwork because she was in all-day meetings and we had a deadline to meet. I was young and fiery so I took it way too personally. I left that job as soon as I could because of her mistrusting style.

As I matured, I realized this controlling action was way more about her than it was about me and my abilities. Just starting out, however, you don’t think that way. This is an experience I have kept in my brain for decades as I manage people newer to the workforce.

Later in my career, I was faced with a new challenge. I offered my consulting services to a small group while I was transitioning to another full-time position. I turned down the contract opportunity once because I wasn’t certain of the owner’s style (always trust your gut!) and then decided to give it a chance when he came back a second time with more money.

On my first day, the owner told me to never look to him for direction. He would never give me any. I was supposed to figure out the gig on my own. Now, I am smart and can figure out most things but to be given nothing, zero, not even goals, objectives, growth strategy or a vision? How was I to know if my tactics, focus and style were in alignment?

Needless to say, this relationship ended after a few weeks as I kept guessing if what I was doing was right, and I guess it wasn’t. I was unaware that I was not only to drive consulting projects but was supposed to develop business too. That expectation was never expressed to me. I had no sales goals or targets. I was never a part of any business development discussions. This owner mistook telling someone “how” to do their job with providing “direction”. There is a big difference.

Experiencing both extremes in my career as an employee has helped me find my place in the middle between too much and not enough direction. Here are a couple of tips that have helped me:

  • Provide the big picture, how the work connects with the strategy and overall goals, then let your senior people come back with a proposal of what they think.
  • Decide ahead of time what your team members can just run with on their own. Giving as much autonomy as possible with your senior people helps keep them engaged.
  • Be open to them coming back for clarification. This is not a weakness but a smart move to get the result right.
  • Junior people may need more than just goals and objectives. Talk through tactics and possible approaches with them. Then, ask them to try it out and re-group to receive feedback and brainstorm next steps.
  • If someone is really unsure, do some things with them or ask them to do it while observing and provide feedback.

Even as a learning and development professional, I still believe learning by doing is the most powerful learning there is.

Regardless of the level or seniority, I still never micro-manage. That is the quickest way to lose an employee.

When a team member shuts down

Another Sunday morning, coming downstairs to make coffee. We have really put our coffeemaker through the ringer lately as we have been making pot after pot of coffee. Like so many things lately, it is a change for Mr. Coffee. He is normally used to just a few pots as I normally take one cup with me and have other cups at the office. Of course, that is not the case now.

We made one pot last Sunday and then he refused to make any more. He either went on strike or just gave up. Either way, no more coffee for us. Thank goodness, even though we are shelter in place, we can run out and buy a new Mr. Coffee fairly easily.

This got me thinking about what do we do when a team member “gives up”? I am certainly not advocating that we simply go get another team member. But, there are things we can do to help those who shut down.

During the financial crisis of 2008, there was an abundance of stress and lay-offs. I was faced with a team member who didn’t want to contribute. He was skating by, refused to share updates at team meetings and just said he was “busy”. He had completely shut down, which was a huge change for him.

I didn’t know what to do. I had been managing for several years but had never encountered someone who wasn’t achieving and, who appeared to me, to be borderline insubordinate. I tried a few failed tactics and then went to HR to deal with the “problem”. Looking back, I would have handled it differently especially given the stressful times we were living in.

  1. Discover the reason for the change. As personal as it may be, try and find out the reason behind the change in behavior. More than likely, it has nothing to do with work. In my past situation, I learned that he was going through a personal loss and chose to take out his grief and anger at work. Anger over loss comes out somehow. Some people internalize; some people explode; others may re-direct it onto a person close to them. We see this in our personal lives and work relationships are not exempt.
  2. Find someone else to talk to. If you are not comfortable asking delicate questions, which many managers are not, ensure your team members have someone else to talk to – a mentor, coach, counselor or peer. As a manager, find someone to confide in and ask for help. This can be another manager you trust and admire. I sought zero advice from anyone. I thought I could handle it. Remember: Just because a team member isn’t comfortable going to you about something personal, doesn’t make you a bad manager!
  3. Resist the urge to get “micro”. I was tempted to micro-manage his projects to ensure he was working. In fact, I took this road for a while. That made it worse. What I should have done was be specific in projects and assignments and ask for weekly updates but not jump in and manage for him.
  4. Develop and practice emotional intelligence. It may sound too academic, however, I am a firm believer in taking an EI class and living the concepts. Some of us cannot compartmentalize or create boundaries when we should. Having training on recognizing and dealing with emotions is critical to being successful in the workplace. In hindsight, I should have asked the team to engage in this learning opportunity as the entire team was affected by his behavior (as I learned later). This is the top skill I nurture in teams now as I believe it can save lots of angst and help with conflict.
  5. Pursue formal action only as a last resort. It is easy to fall into the trap of dealing with this person as a discipline situation, and, sometimes, that is the direction you need to go. For me, that should always be a last resort after trying to ask questions, steer them to someone else, lead them to other resources outside of the company and engage others in the situation.

I went down the disciplinary path first and it got very adversarial. As a more experienced manager, I exhaust all of my options first and it has made a huge difference.

When you want to be more creative

In these times, I feel like some people are ridiculously busy and others are scrambling trying to find ways to fill their time. I am an avid jigsaw puzzler (and writer) and now I can’t find any to do! I have friends who are taking up knitting, reading more books, creating pottery, dancing with DVDs or filling in adult coloring books. I think it is wonderful we are fulfilling our creative spirits. (more…)