Help my husband improve employee morale and learn to be a great manager.
November 8, 2012 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Help my husband improve employee morale and learn to be a great manager.

In a few months, my husband (who we'll call Mr. Pica) is starting a new job managing a great place in the food service industry. He has already talked to many current and former employees who talked about very low morale at the place. Mr. Pica has some management experience, but wants to learn more about what makes a great manager and how to be that guy.

There are obviously some institutional issues in place that are creating the morale problem, but he only has a small idea of what they are, and it seems he'll have to figure out what the problems are and how to fix them on his own. Some relevant details: most of the staff has been working there for 5-10 years, they are paid well for the industry, but unhappy. He has asked what the issues are, and the complaints are wide-ranging and mostly minor.

So my question is: how did you learn to be a great manager? Are there great books out there? How do you find and fix issues in a workplace? What's the best way to go into a potentially toxic, low-morale workplace as the new manager brought in from the outside, and make that work for most people?

posted by picapica to Human Relations (10 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
He should run, not walk, to the bookstore or library to pick up a copy of the book "First, Break All the Rules."
posted by gauche at 11:56 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few things that I've learned over the years:

1. Come in as a listener, not someone who is going to change things immediately. There may be some things that need changing, but it is more respected as an insider who has been listening. Don't reinvent things that work, especially if people like how they work. Work on improving those things, however, if it's to the benefit of those who have been using the system.

2. I've learned to view my job as primarily one of "clearing space" for others to effectively do their jobs. Roadblocks for my people? I work on getting that out of the way. Something inhibiting work productivity and effectiveness? I work on resolving this.

3. Trust people to do their work without having to micromanage them. Extend grace for errors, but insist on high standards where necessary.

4. Get rid of those who cannot do #3, without apology. One bad apple can destroy morale for an entire place.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:06 PM on November 8, 2012 [11 favorites]

In B-school we learned that there's really only one problem, everything else stems from it.

In environments where it's very people oriented, like a restaurant, it's going to be one person.

Your husband shouldn't be afraid to fire that person.

Typical problems in workplaces are:

1. Technological: The computers, or machines are not up to date and cause issues with getting the product created, shipped, etc.

2. Personalities: For whatever reason the people do not get along, lots of blaming, screaming and drama. Per above, it's usually one person. Find that person and get rid of him/her.

3. Unrealistic Expectations: When I was a data engineer at AT&T in 2000, our expectations were based on the high growth from the Dot Com Boom. In 2000 things were slowing, heading for a crash. You can't always expect a continuous growth in revenue when the market won't sustain it.

4. The Market: It is what it is. In a recession people don't have disposable income. If your business relies on people dropping money without thought, if the economy is in downturn or recovery, your business will suffer.

I suggest your husband go in with an open mind. Watch how things work, ask questions. Don't make a bunch of sweeping changes all at once. That pisses people off no end.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:11 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with the above and would like to add something from my observations from toxic work places that I have been in. The first person that befriends your husband and convinces him that he/she is the most important person in running the business is usually the one who is making everyone else's lives a living hell.

Ask him to search out the quiet employees, the ones that come in, do their job well and then leave. Those are the honest people. The slimy ones know they are slimy and they work very hard to cover it up. He must be wary. Encourage him to follow his instincts even when they don't match up with what the owners are telling him.
posted by myselfasme at 12:34 PM on November 8, 2012 [10 favorites]

Listen to Manager Tools podcasts. One of the hosts, Mike Auzenne, has managed restaurants in the past.
posted by bfranklin at 12:57 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I got a job which involved managing a team of people for the first time, my Dad, who was chief executive of a relatively large organisation, gave me one piece of advice, which was this: Treat people with integrity. Everything else follows from that.

Other bits and pieces I've picked up over time:

- You can be friendly with people you manage, but you can't be friends with them. You're not there to be one of the guys, and you don't know when you're going to have to have a difficult conversation with someone.

- Lead by example. How you behave sets the tone for team/department/whatever. If your timekeeping is bad, the message that gets transmitted is that that's okay. Don't underestimate just how much influence your mood and general demeanour can have on the people who report to you. I used to manage a team which was 'high drama' with a lot of interpersonal conflict. Over time, I realised that one of the most positive ways I could affect the mood of the team was simply to not be like that -- to be as steady and calm as possible.

- One of the hardest things to figure out is when to get involved in a problem someone on the team is dealing with, and when to let them deal with it themselves. If you always intervene, you'll never get your own work done, and your team will get into the habit of always wanting you to solve problems for them (and they'll resent you for micromanaging them). At the other extreme, one of the key roles of a manager is to sort out issues which the people they manage aren't able to, maybe because they lack the technical knowledge or authority.

- You have to be approachable in the sense that your team has to know that they can bring problems to you. To solve a problem, you have to know about it, which means your team needs to trust you enough to tell you.

- If you say you're going to do something, follow through on it. If you can't, explain why. You say that your husband is going into an environment where morale is low and people have variety of specific complaints. It will probably be tempting for him to make a lot of changes straight away -- he's coming to the job fresh, he's got ideas, he can see things to fix, and he wants to prove himself. Bear in mind, though, that when you first start in a job, the people you're managing don't know what kind of manager you're going to be -- are you going to be the kind of person who promises things and doesn't deliver? The kind of person who's endlessly changing things for the sake of it? It'd be easy to end up in a situation where, for example, you arrive and decide to make a change in week one, announce it, and only then discover that there's actually a good reason why that won't work. As a new manager, your aim is to build up capital with the people you're managing, by demonstrating that they can trust you only to make changes which are for everyone's benefit, and to follow through on those changes. Therefore, resist the temptation to make wholesale changes too quickly. Take a bit of time to observe and learn how things work -- THEN decide what changes to make. (Case in point: a colleague once told me about how he started a new job and straight away tried to implement a timesheet system which had worked successfully in his previous company, only to discover it absolutely did not work in the new place.)
posted by meronym at 1:08 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

PMI training on management includes some discussion of the competing lines of thought about motivation. Some assert that it is impossible to motivate folks beyond their intrinsic level, it is only possible to impede them or their drive.

I'm not 100% on board with this, but I do believe in one absolute truth: there are some people who are impossible to make happy/productive and many times they're toxic to the mood/motivation of their coworkers. One of the best things you can do for the organization is to get rid of this person, either through firing or by addressing directly with them whether they're happy and want to stay. Sometimes they simply need to be confronted and they realize they should move on.

In part I know this because I have BEEN this person, after staying past when I should have left a place. I've stayed too long at a place where the problem was all on me and I've done it when I could fairly put all the blame on external forces. But the cause doesn't matter - sometimes there is so much water under the bridge for someone that no improvement or change can allow them to get back to a point of being happy to be somewhere.

My belief is that a good manager confronts the problems, acknowledges them, rectifies them, and demands everyone else come along for the fresh start or hit the bricks.
posted by phearlez at 1:20 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

My first full-time job was working in a restaurant 30 years ago after high school. My manager had absolutely no higher education in the industry and was not much older than I was (I think he barely made it through high school). Since then I have had many managers in various industries with varying experience and degrees. I still have not had one who was as good of a manager as he was. Things that made him a great manager:

1. He never asked you to do a job that he was not willing to do. This included cleaning bathrooms full of vomit and overflowing toilets, slicing 20 pounds of onions, doing sinks of dishes. Nothing was beneath him and it made you feel good about doing the crummy things yourself.

2. He always had his employees' backs. He trusted us and our judgement and backed us up repeatedly, even with difficult customers.

3. He always listened to our opinions, suggestions, and our sides of what happened.

4. He never lost his temper but had control of the employees.

5. He made it fun to come to work everyday.

My current advanced degreed, intelligent, very experienced boss could learn a lot from him!
posted by maxg94 at 1:30 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Say "Thank you" and "Good job" to your reports and mean it.

I've worked on lots of teams that had morale problems (uh oh, maybe I'm the personality problem person!) and the manager who improved morale the best with the least resources available to him (the low morale was due to our team being understaffed) was the one who genuinely said "Thank you" and "You're doing a great job" to the members of our team. It's such a small thing, but in a lot of toxic work environments it's something the employees haven't heard in a long time. It can go a long way.
posted by telegraph at 1:30 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might have him pick up a copy of The First 90 Days - it's about how to start in a new leadership role. It recommends a focused time of listening and learning, and gives specific advice on diagnose and deal with different kinds of situations.
posted by jeoc at 4:23 PM on November 8, 2012

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