Few business leaders like to be a bad boss. They set out with high hopes — to be a leader, coach and mentor. But then a valued employee leaves or the team’s performance drops precipitously. Panicking, they resort to carrots and sticks — enticements to keep employees in line and punishments when they stray off course.
But this only makes matters worse. Morale is low and employees feel a mixture of resentment, boredom and disappointment. What happened?
A new business owner or manager can find it tough to know where to draw the line between being everyone’s friend and serving as an authority figure. But instead of turning into the bad guy when things get out of hand, here are a few alternative strategies for managing employees:
1. Encourage autonomy.
Don’t be the type of boss who constantly gazes over employees’ shoulders to see where they’re at in carrying out a project. Micromanaging serves as a disadvantage to productivity. Employees need trust. They need to know that their managers believe they are fully capable of doing their work without a babysitter.
So don’t worry so much about how employees spend their time or where or when they like to work — as long as all this doesn’t negatively affect the organization. As long as the work is performed and done well, it shouldn't be a problem. Overmanaging could disrupt employees’ natural rhythm of creativity or thought process, which can damage engagement and productivity.
2. Let peers evaluate one another.
One way to get out of the bad-guy role is to put employees in charge of providing feedback to one another. Employees work closely with their colleagues anyway, so they often have a better grasp on who's pulling his (or her) weight and who's not.
Develop a system by which employees can thank one another for jobs well done or suggest ideas for improvement. Train employees to discuss improvement in a positive way — not to discourage someone.
When employees are the ones providing feedback, many challenges and opportunities will surface. Instead of being the bad guy who always initiates the challenges, the manager can facilitate resolutions.
3. Ask for feedback.
Sometimes managers need to ask employees for feedback on their experience of working in an organization. Without feedback, there's no way to see opportunities for improving and growing the company.
Listen and don’t try to deflect feedback with defensive statements. Let employees finish speaking. Thank employees for sharing.
And if no immediate solutions come to mind, express a willingness to resolve the problem. Involve employees in the process of offering solutions. But if this interferes with productivity, sometimes the best thing to do is step away and return to the issue later.
4. Take action.
Words that not followed with action add up to no change. When employees provide feedback, consider options to help meet unresolved needs. Take action to show your intention of making requested changes.
For example, if employees say they’ve been working long hours (say, coming in at 8 a.m. and not leaving until 7 p.m.), find solutions so that everyone can return to a normal schedule.
Since troubleshooting a complicated issue like this might take longer than a few days, reach for a short-term plan. If possible, take one task from each employee’s plate and work with group members to help them complete things faster.
Solicit ideas from employees to solve the problem. Be transparent about plans to improve conditions so employees will know that things will become better.
5. Follow through on commitments.
One of the worst mistakes for a manager can be not following through on commitments made, especially in recognizing employees. “I owe you big for this one,” an employee might hear from a manager — only to never receive a quantifiable reward and the good deed goes forgotten.
Follow through with promises and rewards “owed” to employees for helping out on projects big and small. If a bonus is promised, give it. Don’t retract or reword what was said. Strong employee-manager relationships are built upon trust.
6. Foster a sense of mastery and purpose.
Instead of aiming to consolidate power by rewarding high-performing employees through a promotion, managers should aim to foster a sense of mastery among everyone. Power in itself — whether it’s the authority to fire, set salaries or grant vacations – rarely results in happiness,
Forget that. What employees really want is a sense of mastering something — that they have a purpose and play a crucial role on the team. Instill the feeling in staffers that they have important and unique abilities. And knowing that will be of more value to them than any other traditional motivator.
Have you even caught yourself being the bad-guy boss? What did you do about it?