Taking Care of Your People
How many times have you heard, “You take care of your people and your people will take care of you?” 100 times? 1,000 times? More? There is a reason for that… It’s because it’s true – and unfortunately for all involved, we don’t do it well sometimes. Back in 1981 (yes, people this old can still contribute) I had a conversation with my boss who was revered as one of the great people to work for. I asked him what he thought was “THE” most important thing to know about leadership. He thought for a minute and he said, “You take care of your people and your people will take care of you.” I bring this up because this platitude is not new. It’s just that sometimes we forget the good stuff.
After over 28 years of being in a supervisory or managerial role I have learned, with crystal clarity how true his statement was and is. In that time I’ve realized there are four main pillars of taking care of your people:
Of course, there are other traits good leaders have, but when it comes to taking care of your folks, these four are critical.
- Defend. You defend your people from all comers – The upper management, your peers, the public (if you deal with them), contactors, and sometimes even the other subordinates who work for you. Nobody “beats up” on your people. Nobody. Tell your folks that “Nobody yells at you, and you don’t yell at anybody…ever. If anyone starts raising their voice – ask them to come see me.”
On occasion the big bosses want to come down and see what’s going on in the trenches, which is a good thing. We need them to do that, but sometimes they want to correct or tell your folks how to do things. When they do that, the employee typically nods in agreement and goes about making the changes the big guy told them to make. Where are you in all of this? You’re not! So, now your employee is a little confused. For a year or so they have been listening to you telling them they need to do something a specific way (for good reason) and then along comes the big boss and changes it. Now the employee is thinking that maybe they weren’t doing it right all this time, or maybe you didn’t know what you were talking about.
When this happens, you need to put on your armor and have a conversation with your boss letting him/her know (respectfully) that you truly do appreciate having them come into your area because you value their time and expertise, but if they would like to convey something to the people who work for you that it would be better if they would go through you – since you and your people have a pretty close relationship. Hopefully your boss will say that they are sorry for interrupting and they recognize that’s micromanagement and they’ll stay out of your hair. But on those occasions when they turn into Captain Ahab and start berating you and reminding you that they are YOUR boss, then there is another avenue to follow. You can calmly say, “You know boss, you’re right. Your are running the show around here and you have every right to be talking with all our folks and I’d like to ask that when you come down to see us that you include me so I can be there to glean some of the experience you have to offer too.” What you’ve done is ask to be present so you can hear their words, but in reality you want to be there so when they tell your people to do something you can step in (politely) and let them know why your folks are doing what they are doing and how it is so much more effective that way etc. etc. etc.
In the end, your people don’t feel as if they are being forced into doing something they don’t understand, or being made to do something that isn’t their job.
Now, I know this is inconvenient to do sometimes, but every time you do it, your people know and appreciate you taking care of them. They see and feel your presence and support.
When one of your peers sees fit to correct or instruct your folks on how to do something you need to ensure your peer understands who works for whom. You don’t have to be belligerent about it, but they need to “cut their own grass” so to speak, and you’ll take care of yours. If they see something that might need your attention, ask them to let you know so you can look into it, but you’ll take care of it. And of course, you’ll do the same for them. This is just life in the big corporation and everyone should understand this, but some don’t. You are the supervisor for your folks – let them know it’s only you. There should be no confusion about this on anyone’s part.
If you are in a business that deals with the public – you are in a tough business. There are times when the public can be very challenging and sometimes disagreements arise. Your employees should be trained and prepared to deal with the typical issues. However, there are times when a shouting match arises and one of your people is on the wrong end. This is the time for you to step in (physically between the two), face the customer and say, “There seems to be a misunderstanding here. How may I help you?” As soon as you do that, your employee is out of the fray. You are shielding them and you will take care of this problem. Think about this: as a supervisor, what is it that you can’t take care of? You have experience in these types of situations, you know your job, you know how the system works, and you have the authority to make some great things happen. So, you leave your person out of the conversation for right now and you handle the situation. When it’s all over and done with, you can go back to your person and ask, “So, what was that all about?” If you have been taking care of your people like we are asking you to do here, they will tell you – and they will tell you the truth. And that is what we are looking for.
If you do what we have just described, one time, it will fly around your staff like wild fire and they will be glad to work with you.
Then there is working with “internal” customers, so to speak. Contactors who are working with you in order to accomplish a particular project are not on the company payroll. These are people who aren’t outside your company, but who are independently attached to your company. These are people you have to deal with on a regular basis. Sometimes there are disagreements with these folks and it’s a challenging situation because neither one of you can afford to do without the other. You need their expertise and they need your money. When there is a flare up here, it is almost like two of your subordinates arguing with each other. Regardless, your people are your people and they will be defended. This is a bit tricky because you need to solve the problem and maintain the relationship. In the end, your person comes first because they are going to be with you for a long time and the contractor may be temporary. The key here is to get to the bottom of this issue as quickly as possible and solve it. Then continue to monitor it as required.
When subordinates are “not playing well together” it has an effect on everyone in your immediate organization. There is one school of thought that says if it isn’t affecting their work there is no need to do anything about it. I’m from the other school that says, well it may not affect their work, but it’s affecting the morale of the team. The REAL responsibility to solve the difference between these two people is squarely on their shoulders. We hire people to act like professionals – not 4th graders and sometimes they need to be reminded of that. Guess who gets to remind them? That would be you. There’s a couple of different ways to do this, but the most direct is to have them both come into your office and sit down in front of you. Tell them that you have observed there is a difference of opinion between them and you would like to hear what it is. Tell one of them to tell you what they think it is and how they feel. At the same time ask the other not to say a word. Then reverse that procedure. This is probably the first time they have both heard the other person’s side of the story – which is good. When they are both done, tell them that you understand how there could be a difference of opinion and that it is unfortunate it happened. Then you tell them to leave your office and solve this difference amongst themselves and if you ever have to call them both in to your office again for the same issue that YOU will solve it for them and nobody will be happy. And if in fact you do have to call them in again for the same problem you will now have to do something – there is no other option, so talk to HR and find out what the ramifications could be.
In this case all the other people who work for you are looking for you to solve this issue and if you don’t then maybe you aren’t doing your job that well. You cannot seem to keep control of your people and you are indecisive on a required decision. This isn’t the best atmosphere to work under and your people will feel it.
This is just the first of the 4 main pillars of taking care of your people. We will address the others in the upcoming weeks.