Here’s a classic, common situation for line and new supervisors: for whatever reason, an employee has begun having trouble managing his or her feelings, it’s tending to spill out, and may be affecting customer service. From the outside it looks relatively minor. It’s not blatant or outrageous – not a firing offense – but it’s also definitely not what you want and need from your team. You’re going to have to deal with it.
Some of what makes it hard is that most supervisors don’t want to make a big deal out of small human things because it could mark that supervisor as being too fussy, too controlling – the dreaded micromanager. (I can imagine someone saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”) Plus, there’s the worry that, in some workplaces, having to assert authority over something so small will be seen as a kind of evidence that doesn’t say great things about their managerial skills.
Forget that. A basic workplace axiom is: if you think there’s a problem, you’re right. Good managers head toward problems, they don’t look away.
So what now? It’s not that complicated.
It boils down to managing your own emotions when you’re dealing with someone else’s, maintaining your concentration, and sticking with it – persisting. Contrary to what you may have heard, problems rarely just work themselves out in today’s workplaces.
The employees are watching. Workplaces are mini-cultures. The employees assume a supervisor knows everything going on – unless he or she doesn’t want to know.
So everyone’s looking to see how you handle the situation – and yourself. Mostly they’re rooting for an outcome without turmoil and hard feelings, but they also know that’s not always realistic. Even on small things, there are always knots in co-workers’ stomachs.
It’s time for you to provide constructive feedback.
Assume you’ll be nervous, but don’t worry about it. You don’t have to be perfect. Take some time to prepare the gist of what you need to say. Be composed. Never go into a meeting angry. Remember, it’s not about you, and you haven’t been let down personally. You’re having the conversation because a problem has been identified, and you’re responsible for the “work product” coming from your area. It’s about work performance.
So, it’s your meeting. The door is closed – obviously. You’re not rude, the tone is friendly and civil, but there’s no need for chit-chat. Get right to the reason why you’re both there. The most important thing is to state clearly what the problem is – work performance.
Use simple, clear language, give concrete examples, and explain what makes it a problem. Give the employee a chance to respond, but not to argue or filibuster. You want to be crystal clear about what improved performance will look like, and then give a reasonable timeframe for that improved performance to occur. It’s very important to convey that you want the employee to succeed, but you do that best by being clear about what you need. Wrap up the meeting, assuring the employee that there will be both help and follow-up.
That follow-up is crucial. If employees see that you’re around, aware of what’s happening, that you reliably head toward problems, but they also know that your first instinct is to support and be helpful, that makes addressing workplace problems much, much easier.
You don’t have to have an authoritarian personality. Nice people can also be great supervisors. That’s a true statement.