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Management: Harder than expected.
April 1, 2014 1:42 AM   Subscribe

So, I manage a business. I’ve had general management experience in the past, but it didn’t translate particularly well to this job. I feel like I’m in over my head and need advice.

I have to keep track of about 14 employees, most of whom are much older than I am and some of whom have an attitude problem. I’m freshly 26.

I’ve been working there for two months now, and I feel like I’ve been accepted by most people working under me. About half of the staff I have gotten to know a little more personally than the others, and it has paid off- I have noticed them sticking up for me, complimenting me, etc. The problem that now arises is that I feel like the other staff maybe think I’m picking favorites- hard not to do- and there’s drama between various employees. I really, really want to be fair and level-headed and not be the type of manager who plays favorites, but in a fight between one of the girls who’s nice to me and one who doesn’t know me that well yet, it’s hard not to do. (We’re all women, if that makes a difference.)

Another problem that arises is that I am generally of two styles of management: Rigid and by-the-book (well, maybe “rigid” is unfair, but let’s go with “business-like and “just get it done” and “work is work” and “don’t ask questions, just be efficient” instead) or “Good cop.” I generally err on the side of being nice and chill, hate drama, and don’t micromanage anyone- I let them do their job and I do mine. Problem here is that I feel like some of my girls NEED me to be the “bad cop” and the “team leader” more directly, and I’m having trouble with that role. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Now the girls have accepted that I’m staying and are coming to me with more and more problems and responsibilities, and most of them involve some “bad cop” type of solution.

Most of the problems I'm having stem from people saying things like, "I've been working here x years, and y isn't doing her fair share." Or "I need this day/time off last minute." or just generally dawdling and not getting things done on time. Or sometimes asking me to book them extra hours and so on. Or getting mad if I book them too many hours.

On top of all this, the owners of the business just threw a dinner party and announced that their goal is to be completely out of the business by like, halfway through this year. They also talked about expanding to a nearby city or a third location. So, yeah, the subtext was, “You deal with it!”

TL; DR: How do I win the respect of a diverse group of people but still manage to be tough when I need to? Especially when I’m young. How do I be fair?
posted by quincunx to Work & Money (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
So the owners are dropping their involvement with the business, while also expanding it? Who will be in charge if/when they're gone? Do you think that these announcements impact your abilities or capabilities as a manager?
posted by oceanjesse at 2:47 AM on April 1


I think that you're mistaking the need to be more directly involved in what's happening with being "bad cop". "Bad cop" is the person you have to be when Employee A is being a bum. But what you're saying is that Employee B feels like Employee A is being a bum--and that is not actually the same thing. The problem with the laissez-faire attitude is that you can really let people continue to be self-determining for most of their work without actually stepping away from it. But it sounds like your core problem is that you're not involved enough for the purposes of coordination. Do you actually have systems in place for any of this? I mean, sometimes people are just problems, but the complaint of "Jane's desk is a black hole" doesn't usually arise until much after it should have been noticed that Jane's got forty-six things listed as "in progress" in the system. Tracking is different from micromanaging. You don't necessarily need to tell Jane how to manage her workload as long as there's no problem, but if she's a bottleneck, that's when you step in and ask her where she's struggling.

In my experience, when you keep track of things like this and address them promptly, a lot of the interpersonal problems go away. Similarly, do you actually have a system to allow them all to communicate their scheduling needs to you before each period's schedule is posted? Or are you just reacting to people when it turns out they're unhappy with the result? If you have a system, maybe there are ways it could be tweaked to work better. Active involvement and coordination is not the same thing as being "bad cop", "bad cop" should be the last resort.
posted by Sequence at 3:20 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


"...and it has paid off - I have noticed them sticking up for me..."

This is bad management and the payoff is a workplace schism. This isn't a popularity contest, it's a productivity contest. You need to be aloof to both those that like you and those that dislike you and deal with the people you manage on the basis of productivity and quality of work. You can't be friends anymore, it will cloud your judgement.

It's tempting as a new manager to seek approval from those you manage and to isolate them into two groups, those that like you and those that don't, but that's not your job now. I learned this the hard way.

"How do I win the respect of a diverse group of people but still manage to be tough when I need to? Especially when I’m young. How do I be fair?."

You were promoted for a reason, there is nearly always resentment. I won respect by outworking everyone, which may or may not be possible in your new role. My PROTIP, any time there is an issue between a member of your staff and upper management i.e. vacation, family leave, discrepancies in pay etc. you confront it on their behalf immediately. Lot's of times people are afraid of upper management/HR and you are their liason. How you be fair is by judging work performance based on work performance as nearest you can.
posted by vapidave at 4:01 AM on April 1 [9 favorites]


I was in a similar situation some ahem, time ago.
My tips boil down o:
- take your staff's HR issues very seriously, and show them you take them seriously, as they will put up with lots of corporate nonsense, but not when it comes to their personal issues, they are morale destroying.
- try to keep a steady standard for 'businesslike' across everyone. If it is ok to be five minutes late if they call, make sure very one gets that benefit. Call your 'favourite' staff on things at least as often as the more troublesome.
- don't be afraid to call the more troublesome aside and privately remind them that this is the way things are now, and you value their contribution, but you need to make sure you a managing a high performing team, and if there is something that you can do to restore their past higher performance...?

It's tough when you are a young manager, and I failed my first go. Remember that you have been recognised for positive qualities, so you can justifiably have self confidence, but it is also a good idea to cultivate a mentor who is more experienced to bounce ideas off.
posted by bystander at 4:41 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the dealing with change thing is always up to you to find the opportunities. Are your current owners holding things back? Is there scope for something better coming?
Be realistic when dealing with staff that this is a time to show we can be committed and produce great results, not take our foot off the accelerator.
I find, and probably my own, natural reaction to change is that it is a negative, but quite often there are real, tangible benefits to change that are worth focusing on.
posted by bystander at 4:47 AM on April 1


1. You can't be friends with any of your reports. Not ever.
2. Your first 180 days or so is a shakedown cruise as you learn them and they learn you. Some will test the fences and try you out and, inevitably, there will be attrition, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
3. If your reports learn that bitching to you about each other works (and merely listening to it is a form of letting it work), they'll never stop. Don't let it work.
4. If all your reports like you all the time, you're not managing effectively.
5. If you're the kind of person who needs to be liked by the people who work for you, management is probably, alas, not for you.

Good luck!
posted by charris5005 at 5:34 AM on April 1 [6 favorites]


First of all, in a professional environment, your female colleagues are women, not "girls." Yes, even if you yourself are female, and even if you consider yourself a girl. (I say this as someone who definitely thinks of myself as a girl (woman sounds weirdly grown up!).)

The problem that now arises is that I feel like the other staff maybe think I’m picking favorites- hard not to do- and there’s drama between various employees.

On the contrary, it is easy to avoid picking favorites. These people are not your friends. Treat all of them, even those who haven't completely warmed up to you yet, with kindness and judge them based solely on their work performance. If you can't do that you should not be a manager yet.

Another problem that arises is that I am generally of two styles of management: Rigid and by-the-book (well, maybe “rigid” is unfair, but let’s go with “business-like and “just get it done” and “work is work” and “don’t ask questions, just be efficient” instead) or “Good cop.” (emphasis mine)

I think all managers struggle from time-to-time with the balancing act between being approachable and serious. I get that. But your "just get it done" and "don't ask questions" attitude is frankly terrible. It has no place in the workplace and will be detrimental to everyone's work. You need to encourage people to come to you with questions and concerns while also meting out managerial decisions fairly and equitably.

Most of the problems I'm having stem from people saying things like, "I've been working here x years, and y isn't doing her fair share." Or "I need this day/time off last minute." or just generally dawdling and not getting things done on time. Or sometimes asking me to book them extra hours and so on. Or getting mad if I book them too many hours.

You can resolve the scheduling issues by clarifying your policy on time off and overtime. Do this soon and in writing, and be sure to note that employees can always bring their questions and concerns to you. When gossipy problems like your first example here arise, ask the complainants to brainstorm solutions to the problem. Encourage everyone to think of solutions not just problems.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:39 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


Here are some ideas:

1. Don't call them "girls." They are employees.

2. You are the manager, not the house mother. YOU evaluate who is doing the correct amount of work, not the employees. So if someone comes to you saying, "Sophie doesn't do as much work as I do." You say, "that is for me to worry about, not you. Please get back to work."

3. It IS for you to worry if someone is under-performing, and you need to be professional about creating a plan for having that person do what is expected.

4. Be open to questions, you should know more and have a better view of what the ultimate goal is. Great managers convey the vision of the department, and make each contribution feel valued. If you're telling people, "just get me the numbers for the frammistannie report," without letting them know how important it is, and why it's important, you will always get slap-dash, sub-standard work.

5. A good manager removes impediments and allows employees to do their jobs unfettered. To be a GREAT manager, you will look at processes, eliminate those that are obstructive and pointless, and concentrate on the work that contributes to the bottom line. So if filling out a log is just another step, and no one looks at the log, and once the log is filled out it's filed away, get rid of the damn log.

6. It's okay to have fun, but this is work, not Romper Room. If there's a lull, then it's okay to have a bit of chit-chat over the water cooler, but if it's the end of the month and reports are due, or customers are calling, or whatever, then you need to be able to corral people back into their correct spots.

Being a new manager is always a daunting task, but you are NOT one of your employees, and you shouldn't strive to be popular with them. Let them resent you all they want, just so long as they respect your authority.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:15 AM on April 1 [4 favorites]


Re: owners leaving. Yes, that means me stepping up to take care of more things.

Re: girls, other stuff; it's a small business and we work in the fashion/beauty industry. This only adds more drama.

Basically I am Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, almost literally. If that helps.
posted by quincunx at 8:24 AM on April 1


I would suggest two books to you:
1. How to play like a man and win like a woman.
2. The Charisma Myth and especially the parts on expanding your power.

Like others have said, these are not girls, these are women. You are their boss, not their friend. You need to assert your authority in a friendly, even-handed but firm way or they are going to walk all over you.

I manage over 200 people distributed across the US, Europe, and South America, am female, and have been in management over 20 years. FWIW.
posted by elmay at 8:46 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]


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