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How not to treat subordinates

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Jobs are people dependent and the way we treat them determines what we get out of them. Even when it is the employer’s world, people don’t forever submit to inhuman treatments, they do things to compensate themselves for such treatments.

Many times employers act like they do get away with some of the demotivating practices they put up because they assume there are not so many jobs out there due to harsh business situations, hence, the employees cannot leave. Unfortunately, leaving a job is the last resort for most employees when it comes to reacting to improper treatment. There are several non-productive behaviours of employees that may go unnoticed but are hurting the employers. Of most studies (Gallup, Tower Watson, Dale Carnegie) conducted on employee engagement, the result shows that about 70% of employee are not engaged, that is, not giving their best to support the organisation.

It is simply a loss for an organisation to keep an employee whose contribution to the goals of the business has waned. Having a workforce with many of the employees contingently committed to the organisation is worse than not having them around at all.

One important thing we need to bear in mind is that company policies, harsh or friendly, are implemented by individuals. Many of these individuals manage people and how they go about it have impacts on the employees.

Jim Clifton, the CEO of Gallup once said that “the single biggest decision you make in your job, bigger than all the rest, is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits, nothing.” This shows the importance of the role of a manager in every organisation and the power they have to drive productivity by sheer demonstration of people management qualities.

And as the saying goes “people leave managers not companies”, the attention of this write up is directed on people managers.

Here are some ways a manager should not treat a subordinate.

Don’t see people as they are, see them as what they can be. This ability is rare among managers, perhaps due to the focus on generating results, then neglecting the goose that lays the golden egg. Seeing people as they can be naturally impose on us the responsibility to help them become what they can even though they might not see it them-self. Where this is the practice, organisational activities like performance review makes more sense to the employee than the way it is usually perceived as judgement day because the manager will approach it differently.

Imagine a manager genuinely tells a subordinate that “your performance level is rated at 5 out of 10, but I know you have the potential to make 8 out of 10, what can we do to raise it up to 8 before the next review? The subordinate sees a helper and he/she will be willing to discuss the challenges and what he/she thinks can be done to raise the performance level. Not only that, the subordinate somehow becomes indebted to the helpful manager because there is an agreement to boost productivity. This also helps bring more drive into the work of the subordinate because someone whose opinion is respected has helped him/her realised that he/she can do better.

It is a different thing when people are tagged ‘incompetent’ ‘laggards’ ‘non-performer’ and everything they do is seen from that view. Where there is no genuine cause to make them see themselves being able to do better than they are doing, they are already lost in that organisation and their ROI is zero.

This suggestion does not in any way diminish the power of candour from the relationship between managers and subordinates, it only suggest an alternative way of going about it than the usual ‘name it and crucify it’ approach.

Not adding value to people. The value you add to your subordinates will come back to help you on the job, the same way you devalue them will come back to haunt you. We should move away from the mindset that employees are tools, and they are only needed as long as they are still useful. Genuinely showing interest in the well being of your subordinates leaves them with an impression that you care and the more they see you as caring, the more they want to help you achieve your goals as a Manager.

Not adding value to yourself. Not only is this required for you to continue to be relevant in your organisation, it is equally essential so you don’t feel threatened by an upcoming subordinate. Rather than waste energy trying to pull down such subordinate, use the energy to make yourself more competent in what you do so that you can still add value to the subordinates. They will be grateful to you for doing that.

Subordinates also like to work with a manager they can learn from, if you don’t give them that opportunity, you have opened the window for them to look out. They compare you with other managers who their colleagues talk about and they wish they were with him/her. If you make your subordinates lose confidence in you because they don’t see any new thing they can learn from you, you have lost them and the motivations that come with them.

Not separating the big objective from the trivial. The big objective is to develop the full potentials of the employees to be able to deliver on the organisation’s goal. Dwell more on this than blowing up their minor errors. Some managers are on a mission to prove that their subordinate is not doing well and all efforts are geared toward finding fault. This does not benefit anyone in the team. The individual suffers from low morale and the other team members become livid at the injustice (real or not) mete out to their colleague. They see the supervisor as bad, they gossip about him or her and they also try to protect themselves from this unfair treatment. Protecting themselves could come in several damaging ways but not likely a productive one because people don’t do what you nag them to do, at least not willingly.

Trying to take over their jobs. Help them to solve their problems, don’t try to take it away from them and do it by yourself. It doesn’t help anyone. The subordinate feels incapable, loses morale and has not gained the experience of solving the problem. You may feel good as the manager; at least, you have one more evidence to nail the subordinate “laggard”, you expect to be appreciated for your capacity to handle every problem, and you relish the thought that “they can’t do without me”. You are slowly digging your career grave if this is how you operate.  Your role as a manager is not to do the job for your subordinates but to equip, support and help them to do the job more effectively than they would have done it by themselves. This means investment of your time to coach and teach them on how to use their initiatives to solve the type of problems/challenges they encounter on the job.

Not helping your subordinates to grow. Your subordinates want to grow, help them. Don’t say because there are no promotion opportunities in the organisation then you are handicapped in helping them. Growth opportunities are everywhere, both within and outside the organisation, give them information about the opportunities, tell them how to access them, guide them and handhold them through the process.

Don’t be ‘a-rule-book-operator. A rule book operator treats company policies like a device manual where you may find an instruction like “no user serviceable part”. To him, there is no flexibility in the interpretation and application of policies. He fails to recognise that a company policy is a guide for the usual cases and can never be complete because there will be unusual cases that will come up. Be flexible with employee issues where you should.

Don’t be a dictator. You don’t find genuine loyalty around a dictator and the effect is that the organisation fails to run smoothly. Sycophancy prevails in a dictatorial environment. Since a dictator makes all decisions by himself, participation by the employees is zero and where this is the case, the best employees don’t apply initiatives on the job and they eventually find their ways out of the organisation.

As Peter Drucker said, “the productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker but of the manager” the conclusion of the matter is that managers are a major determinant in the engagement of employees in the organisation and every organisation must ensure that they have managers who are competent to build employee engagement.


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About Author

is a Professional Human Resource Leader , Career Counsellor & Capability Trainer, who helps individuals and organisations work from their position of strength. He is the Principal Partner at Career Edge Limited, based in Lagos, Nigeria.

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