How to Manage People

Learning How to Manage People

Now that you’ve moved up the ladder into a position of management, you have to learn how to manage people quick. Many of the skills that made you a successful employee in the first place might not serve you well in managing others, while some of your skills might translate well.

While you’re probably going to receive some management training, you’re still likely to have moments of doubt or conflict, when you wonder what the proper management technique is. This is especially true if you’re taking over for a room full of people who used to be your peers.

How to Manage People Effectively

Many new managers come into a work situation assuming they need to show there’s a new sheriff in town. Others want to wait and watch, circumspect about everyone under their watchful gaze. Neither of these management styles is likely to engender confidence and respect, though either might fill the room with tension for a time. Here’s one of the first things you should know about how to manage people: you want people to know you’re in control, but you show control better by actually showing knowledge of the business and command of your emotions, not a penchant for tyranny or secrecy.

The most effective managers inspire confidence. Confidence is inspired by setting goals and reaching those goals. But that confidence isn’t achieved if no one under your supervision knows what the goals are, so you have to be a good communicators. And since people are going to get defensive when a new boss immediately starts pointing out their faults, they aren’t likely to gain confidence in you, if you don’t show you are confident in them. Instead, they reflexively begin to assume you’re posturing, trying to cover up some insecurity,  as a self-defense mechanism. So knowing how to manage people effectively is to convey a sense that you’re in charge, but not by motivation through intimidation.

We’ll talk about various techniques you can use to manage people in the workplace, which make you appear competent and in-control, without setting the office place on its ear with demands and accusations. Read on for our workplace management tips.

Read What to Do When You Become the Boss: How New Managers Become Successful Managers

Know Every Name and Face

How to Manage People and Motivate Employees

First, a boss doesn’t seem like he knows much, if he can’t remember the name of the people under his employ. Knowing a person’s name and face instantly makes it seem like you have command of the situation.

If this is your first job managing people, that means you probably don’t have too many employees reporting to you. If so, meet everyone under your personal supervision and talk to them. By the end of the first day, you should put a name with a face and have a first impression about everyone. Let that be only an impression, though: many workers hate to see the boss coming, even if they’re model employees.

But just as they are making an impression on you, you’re making an impression on them, showing that you see them as more than just a number. Your goal is to set a tone, then come away from this first meeting with some sense of their personality, job description, and motivation. Ask them about their family, goals, and motivation within the company. Knowing these basic facts gives you a wealth of information about where they’re coming from and what type of employee they’re going to be, and helps you in learning how to manage people at work.

Observe and Take Mental Notes

Once you have a snapshot of your employees, take time to get the wider picture. Walk the floor of your office or work station and see your people at work. See how they interact with each other. See how they interact with customers. Listen to the ones who take charge and observe the ones who don’t talk much. Take mental notes about the communication (or lack thereof) in the work room.

As you observe, you’ll probably find that some of your first impressions don’t really bear out under observation. Sometimes, people who are good at making first impressions or having a conversation are only good at doing those things. Sometimes, your best employees are the ones who keep their head down and do their job. That’s not always the case: you want people who are both good workers and good communicators, no matter what the industry. It helps create good teamwork.

Knowing how to manage people effectively has a lot to do with knowing how to observe people.

Don’t Use Soundbites and Catchphrases

When you had the boss that repeated the same catchphrase or motto over and over, you have to remember how you rolled your eyes (at least mentally) and made fun later. So if you do the same thing, you’ll get the same response, whether you know it or not.

If you repeat the same thing over and over, it’s sounds canned (actually, it is). People are going to tune you out after a while, simply humoring you with “yeahs” and “uh-huhs”. Instead, find specific, practical points to make about what’s happening that day in the office or workplace.

Catchy phrases sound glib, anyway. It sounds like you’ve been Googling the latest office-speak on your office computer. People are more impressed when you give them helpful tips and advice, or explain to them why this issue helps the company or helps them do their job in some way.

Using catchy soundbites and phrases is how NOT to manage people effectively.

Trust yet Verify

Figure out which people you can trust around the office. Ask questions you already knows the answers to, to see which employees know what they’re talking about and speak the truth, and which ones don’t. The people who don’t are either clueless and passing on bad information, or they’re outright making stuff up.

If you don’t know the answer to office questions, ask multiple people and arrive at a conclusion. This way, you figure out pretty quickly which people have the right information and can be trusted to provide helpful answers. Now you know the ones you can trust.

Verification isn’t a matter of trying to trap people in lies: it’s a matter of verifying who is going to help you succeed. You’ll find that most people give truthful, informative answers. But some people are going to be a be more trouble than they’re worth. Once you figure out who you can work with and who you have to work around, you can start setting the useful ones to tasks, and trying to “train up” the others.

How to Motivate People

Knowing how to motivate people is a crucial management skill. When thinking about how to motivate your employees, consider what motivates you. Not everyone gets motivated in the same way, but knowing what works for you is a great first step in learning how to motivate people.

Setting goals is a first step in motivating people. Helping them to set their own career goals is even more effective. Self esteem isn’t built by a bunch of praise and “attaboys.” It’s built up by setting and achieving goals.

Money is almost always an excellent way to motivate people. Praise works as a motivator too. Sometimes even small rewards can be motivational; I knew a manager who motivated her call center agents by giving away twelve packs of soda pop. (I once gave away a cookie jar in the shape of Speedy Gonzalez.) Whatever works.

Set an Example

Set an example in your diligence and punctuality. Appear at work at the same time every day, setting an example of diligence. Do the same for meetings that you call.

Use others as examples, too. If one of your people has a quality you would like the others to emulate, point out that quality in front of the others. This lets them know you admire this trait and see it as positive, and this might inspire others to emulate it, if nothing else out of competitive spirit. They probably know this trait is a good one, but reinforce that impression by pointing it out in their midst.

Knowing how to manage people always includes knowing how to set an example.

Have a Soft Touch

Be firm and truthful when you communicate, but also take the edge off. Know that, as the boss, everything you say already has added weight and emphasis. In being honest, know that if you make it a habit to lie to your employees, they’ll eventually catch you in a lie, and you’ll lose face and trust among your people.

When a mistake is made – and this is inevitable – be willing to give a person a second chance. That isn’t to say you should be a softie or a chump, but when you step up for a person after a mistake, it motivates them to do better. You buy loyalty this way. If they continue to fail or, even worse, make the same mistake time and again, then they need retraining, reassignment or a job termination. Your fiat only goes so far, but you want to have a soft touch in these matters. As they used to say, don’t bring out the sword too soon.

Delegate Some Decisions

There is some authority or decision-making that is best delegated, though you don’t want to be completely out of the loop. When you make every decision, though, this tends to create apathy or paralysis when you’re not there to decide, because it’s stifling. Also, making every call takes way too much of your time, when you’re making decisions on the “trivial” matters around the office.

Instead, delegate some decisions to people who are qualified to make those decisions. You’ll get the credit from your supervisors when you hit your numbers, but you’ll also be training people step-by-step to take over your position, when it’s time for you to move up. Knowing how to manage people at work should improve your chances at a promotion, so you should have the confidence to trust the people with certain decisions. If you’re ambitious, you can’t spend all your time worrying about someone taking your job. You want a team that is primed to succeed.

Accept Blame – Pass on Credit

Too many bosses are egomaniacs who want to accept credit for every success, then pass on blame for the office’s failures and shortcomings. You don’t want to be one of those bosses, because it doesn’t encourage a lot of loyalty. It’s not a good way to manage people in the workplace.

I’ll grant you, lot of employees also want to take credit for the good things and point fingers when bad things happen. This is a hard habit to break, since everyone wants to justify their position, get a raise, and maybe even a promotion. The thing is, if you take the blame, you’re technically correct, because the supervisor is ultimately responsible. When you take a bullet for someone below you, this shows you have their back.

If there are issues to address, it’s better to talk to those responsible in private. When you “show them up” in front of the other employees, it’s going to encourage those employees to do the same, and that’s not good for anybody – especially your bottom line. When a supervisor from another department calls down one of your people, take responsibility. Once again, you’re turning heat away from your people. Talk to the supervisor in private and resolve the situation.

When the group reaches goals and has successes, be ready to give your people credit for these achievements. This creates good morale and helps set the tone in the workroom. When you talk to your supervisors, they’ll be giving you credit, and those are the people you need crediting you with success.

Mediate Disputes

One of the best ways to manage people in the workplace is to take steps so that small problems don’t become big problems.

Conflicts are going to happen on the job, no matter how good the office atmosphere or work situation is. People are going to have honest differences of opinion. Whether this is a quiet debate or a loud shouting match, mediate these issues when they arise.

I’m not saying you should settle these disputes with pronouncements. When you do that, you take sides. Someone is a winner and someone is a loser, and you appear to be playing favorites. Instead, play the role of the mediator. Help the two of them work through the issue, speak their piece and try to resolve the issue. Hopefully, a consensus can be reached.

Eventually, there might come a time when you need have the last word or mete out a punishment. If so, don’t hesitate to do that, but try to open lines of communication first. When you let people talk and present, this might eliminate lingering resentments and disputes that happen when you decide instantly. Sure, being the “answer” makes you look like boss, but everyone knows that anyway, and it makes you a micro-manager. In the end, you have the hammer, if you need it.

Knowing how to manage people effectively includes knowing how to manage conflict.

How to Manage Employees from Hell

No matter how much patience or inspired leadership you provide around the workplace, there are going to be some employees who just don’t get it. You’ll find that 90% of you time managing people at the workplace is filled dealing with the same 10% of your employees. So besides learning how to effectively manage the ninety percent, you need to know how to manage problem employees.

Maybe you have a worker who is angry and confrontation much of the time. Maybe you have a malcontent, who whines and complains every step of the way. Maybe you have an employee who’s got a great personality, but a terrible work ethic, and they try to turn the job into a party or singles bar at every step. Maybe you have a person whose addiction problems, domestic life, or long-standing emotional issues get in the way of the job. It’s possible you have someone who just isn’t bright, or just isn’t good at the job, however much training they receive.

Learning how to manage employees from hell is a special subject unto itself. Even if you have the rest of the room pointed in the right direction, there’s bound to be one person who won’t carry their weight. You might consider buying a manual for such cases, such as A Survival Guide to Managing Employees from Hell by Dr. Gini Graham Scott, or Bad Apples: How to Manage Difficult Employees, Encourage Good Ones to Stay, and Boost Productivity by Terrance and Brette Sembler (which I would recommend of the two). What you’ll learn as a manager is that every situation is different, based on the mood of your office, the amount of disruption, and your ability to cope with hellish employees.

But you have to learn to calm down the confrontational employee and the malcontent. You have to motivate the people who show up to work to socialize, instead of work. You have to teach the employee who can’t keep their personal issues out of the workplace that their job is not an appropriate place to confront these issues. You have to show liars and gossips your displeasure with lies and rumors, persuade the passive-aggressive type that it’s better for everybody (especially them) to open up and discuss their resentments, and to show the egomaniacs or the finger-pointers why being a part of the team is good for them.

In the end, mastering how to manage employees from hell takes many years of experience, and more patience than I can describe. At the end of the day, there are times when an employee goes too far and a good manager has to learn when the line has been crossed. It goes without saying that the best way to manage a problem employee sometimes is to show them the door – and perhaps call security.

How to Manage People Smarter than You

There are a lot of managers who get intimidated managing people “smarter” than themselves. This can lead to all kinds of aggressive behavior to let them know who’s boss or crush their spirit in attempts to stifle their ambition. These are bad management principles, though. A good workplace manager is going to want to be surrounded by people smarter than they are.

No one is good at everything. Everyone has “weaknesses”. One of the biggest weaknesses a manager can have is an inability to analyze their own weakness. If you want to be the smartest person in the room, you’re likely to surround yourself with incompetents, just to stroke your ego. If you believe your strengths are all that matter, you’re likely to surround yourself with clones and understudies. Neither is the way to run an efficient workplace.

Know your limitations. Assess the weak parts of your “game”. Then surround yourself with people who are brilliant in those areas. That’s the absolute essence of being on a team. You don’t see a basketball team that’s only full of scorers. You need people who are passers, rebounders, and defensive specialists. Each member of the team covers up the weaknesses of the other, and gets out of the way when it’s time for the other players’ specialties to take over.

So what if one of your employees is a brilliant salesman or technical specialists? That doesn’t mean he’s a brilliant manager. Get the best people at their jobs, then do what you do best – manage.

How to Manage People Older than You

Don’t assume anything about this worker, based on their age. Trying to posture and play boss as a self-defense because you’re a little intimidated managing someone who reminds you of your father is not going to impress this person. So treat the older worker like anything other employee and don’t assume they’re going to have issues with you in charge. Frankly, the older generation grew up in a time when people tended to respect authority and hierarchy more than they do now, so you might be surprised.

This person has probably been a manager at some point, somewhere along the way. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, so see which is likely to be the case. When you do your meet and greet, spend more time with this worker, because they frankly have more information to impart. Try to get an idea from your conversation how your work relationship is going to go. Also, focus on information that’s going to help you figure out how to motivate them. (More about this later.) On a basic level, this worker is going to want many of the same things the other people want. The big difference may be expectations.

Older employees tend to have the same concerns and wishes as young employees: they want a manager who is fair, sets boundaries, motivates employees and lets them know why a task helps the company, and otherwise has good management skills. An older employee might have basic questions about having a youthful manager (in their perspective), but as long as he or she keeps this to himself or herself, you’ll be able to prove them right or wrong at your leisure.

When an older employee appears to be challenging your authority based on disrespect of your age, approach this disrespect with firmness. Call this person into a private meeting and explain to them, respectfully yet firmly, that you are the manager and they need to keep their opinions private. It’s not their decision who is their manager or to criticize the company for their management decisions, at least on the company’s time. In other words, do with an older employee what you would do with a younger employee who challenges your authority.

Otherwise, understand that people of all ages bring something to the table. Older workers have seen it all, have a wealth of technical knowledge and life experiences, and have perspective that younger people (including yourself) don’t have. This means the older employee is a valuable resource. Understand this and use them as that resource. When appropriate, use them as a mentor to the younger and newer employees.

Finally, understand that the most important difference in managing and motivating an older employee is likely to be what motivates them. Their motivations might be security related, like getting better benefits or other retirement concerns, or their motivations might be the common respect of getting recognition for a job well done. Because of different life phases, their motivations are likely to be quite different than your younger employees’ motivations. So from your first meeting with this person, try to learn which buttons to push, so you can better manage this worker who’s older than you.

How to Manage People You Don’t Like

Sometimes, people have personality clashes. Just as likely as not, you may end up managing someone you hate. Your personality and this person’s personality might clash in a fundamental way. Maybe you have nothing in common. Maybe you’re too much alike. Maybe you just think they’re a bad, bad human being.

Whatever the case, be objective about their job performance. You can hate someone who is really competent at their job, just like you can really like an employee who is a total waste. (Less likely, especially over the long haul, once their job performance starts to affect your job performance.) But if you person you don’t like is good at their job, they’re helping you be good at your job.

Once you look at them objectively, manage them objectively. Here are ways to do this.

Be firm and have boundaries, just like you do with your other employees. Don’t be any harsher than you would with anyone else. If you single them out, you’re just showing the rest of the work floor you approve of this. You’re setting up an unfriendly work environment and when employees begin to have issues with this person, it’s a problem of your own making.

In fact, if you err, err on the side of kindness. Make an effort to understand why this person annoys you, and why they act the way they do. Talk to them. Listen to them. Try to see things from their point of view.

Then see whether other people have the same reaction you do. Observe their interactions with others. See whether they annoy other employees, and see how these employees handle their interpersonal interaction – for better or worse. You’re likely to find something instructive that might help you manage a person you don’t like. Once you start to observe, you might find you hate them less. You might gain respect, even.

Try to improve them. If their job performance is what makes you dislike them, then try to improve their job performance. If their people skills are what you hate, give them negative reinforcement when they use bad people skills, and positive reinforcement when they use good people skills. If the person is a cheat or a gossip, discourage them from these activities. Call them into your office and let them you, firmly yet kindly, this activity has to stop.

A manager is supposed to manage people, making them better, more efficient, and more of an asset to the company. So however you think they need improvement, try.

If objectivity, kindness and good managing doesn’t improve your work relationship, you have two options: ignore their behavior or move them out.

Only ignore this person’s faults if they are an asset to your team. Keep them around, but limit your interactions. As long as this person is a good employee, you’re doing your job keeping them around. You can’t change others. You can only change yourself. Understand that and move on the best you can.

If, after objective consideration, you believe this person isn’t suited for the job, you have to move them out. If you objectively think the employee you hate has skills that would apply in another department, grease the wheels and see them moved on to another department. If you think this person isn’t a good employee in any way, or can’t be, do what you’ve wanted to do all along and fire them. This may take a while, but do like a good manager does in these instances and start building your case against this employee you dislike.

How to Manage People Remotely

In the age of the Internet, there are more people working jobs from home. There are more job managers who are managing from home.  These people are often online entrepreneurs or small business owners, but even corporate managers can find themselves managing employees working on the other coast. Online management takes a special set of skills.
Learning how to manage people remotely follows many of the same concepts as workplace management, but it requires that you pay attention to details that might not be as important in office work. Two traits you need are to be reliable and available, to build a sense a trust and teamwork from a thousand miles away. You also need to be patience within the constraints of the job, and to instill a sense of mission in your remote employees.

Communication is essential when trying to manage people from home. You need to be available and responsive when an issue comes up, no matter what time of the day it is. There is no work schedule or “open door” in your workplace, so when an issue happens, your employee considers himself or herself on the clock. Work stops down if an issue comes up so important that you must be consulted, but you aren’t available.

Reliability is also important. A manager and employee develop a certain bond, just seeing one another in the hallway every day in an office. The employee knows you’re showing up and working hard, if nothing else. There’s no connection between remote managers and employees. You have to bridge that disconnect by being reliable. Do what you say you’re going to do, and do it promptly.

People respond to familiarity, and familiarity builds trust. So if you said you’re going to help with a problem or provide new equipment, do it sooner rather than later. If there’s a day people get paid, pay them on time always. Remember, this is all these people know about you, so if you don’t handle these issues like a professional, their only impression of you is as the guy who doesn’t do what he says he’s going to do.

Maintaining your patience when working around the constraints is something else you’ll have to learn about managing people remotely. It may seem like an incredible waste of time, trying to set up a conference call or phone call that works for both schedules. But think about the time you’re saving in commuting to and from work, gossiping around the water cooler, or even accessorizing for an office job. Remind yourself that, despite these delays, these little delays still make for a much more efficient work schedule.

Motivation is a huge key when learning how to manage people from home.

First, even more than office work, you need to hire people who are self-starters. Working from the house requires a special type of individual, someone who is able to build a routine and stick to a routine in a formless work environment. But a remote manager also has to motivate his or her remote employees in special ways, because even the most conscientious remote employees need a little kick in the rear occasionally.

This doesn’t mean you have to be confrontational – just “visible” and energetic. Check in with people. Let them know their work is important, and why it’s important. Consider various motivation techniques, such as the ones we discussed about in our workplace tips section. In other words, keep the lines of communication open, and keep things current, professional, and dynamic.

That’s a big key for how you manage people from home.

Ways to Manage People

Even when you begin to master how to manage people, there are going to be moments when you lose your cool and slip up. Everyone makes mistakes in their daily life. You have to show the willingness to move on and learn from your mistakes, even when you don’t feel the need to admit those mistakes to your employees. Just like the people you are supervising, your role as a manager will be judged more by actions and results than by words and catchphrases.

How to Manage People Seminar

Consider taking one of the many “how to manage people” seminars available out there. These seminars teach practical, hands-on ways of managing people that you can use immediately to improve your management skills.

An alternative to taking a how to manage people seminar is to read this book: What to Do When You Become the Boss: How New Managers Become Successful Managers.

4 thoughts on “How to Manage People

  1. Ask Deb

    Susan- Thanks for your feedback, but maybe you could be more specific? Where are the grammar errors and what words are missing? (I edited this one myself, so I’m curious what I might have missed.)

  2. Milan Moravec

    Changing times. Changing values and employee loyalty.Public and private organizations are into a phase of creative disassembly where constant reinvention and adjustments are constant. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being shed by Chevron, NUMI, Wells Fargo Bank, HP, Starbucks etc. and the state, counties and cities. Even solid world class institutions like the University of California Berkeley under the leadership of Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer are firing staff, faculty and part-time lecturers. Estimates are that the State of California may jettison 47,000 positions.
    Yet many employees, professionals and faculty cling to old assumptions about one of the most critical relationship of all: the implied, unwritten contract between employer and employee.
    Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised job security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees’s fitting in, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employeer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today. Organizations can no longer guarantee employment and lifetime careers, even if they want to.
    Organizations that paralyzed themselves with an attachment to “success brings success’ rather than “success brings failure’ are now forced to break the implied contract with employees – a contract nurtured by management that the future can be controlled.
    Jettisoned employees are finding that the hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place.
    What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other? The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need – skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability.
    The partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor. Loyalty to employers is dead. Long live the new loyalty!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>