What to do when your staff criticise your management style
by Jacquie Wise
A week ago I had a gruelling performance appraisal with a subordinate of mine, who went on full attack of me as a manager. He has good skills, but has an inflated opinion of how good he really is. He took exception when I tried to point out he is not as good as he thinks he is. He has made mistakes and got people’s backs up. Also, he is taking credit for things that he hasn’t done. He’s very difficult to deal with, he refuses to acknowledge that he is deficient in any way.
He’s very proud of his military background and wants autonomy, but he makes too many mistakes. No matter how constructively I try to direct him, he becomes defensive and goes on the attack. He tends to blame everyone else when things go wrong—he blames me as a manager for not having established procedures.
That sounds like a real handful for even the most experienced manager! Aspects of his reactions point very clearly to low self-esteem. This man has a fragile ego and if his pride is threatened in any way, he will feel the need to defend and attack. A secure person doesn’t do that, because the need isn’t there. A secure person can take criticism on the chin and move onto solutions.
If he has an army background, he seems to be finding it difficult to adjust to civilian ways, which are far less structured. He’s floundering, even if he insists he wants more autonomy.
Option 1: Would be to set up a system whereby you make yourself more available to consult (not supervise) and to discuss results (not direct).
Option 2: Recognise that he needs stronger foundations and, it seems, stronger direction, yet without being told. I’m thinking that, in the military, there are very strong procedures to follow rigidly. Perhaps the loose structure of his job is what is creating difficulty for him.
Perhaps all this has raised an important issue: does your company have proper policy and procedure documents?
A policy addresses why, when, where, something needs to be done and by whom. A procedure addresses how the task is done.
Part of the responsibility of a manager is to ensure that there are efficient hand-over systems that ensure you don’t lose valuable knowledge when someone leaves, and to enable new staff to efficiently drop into a task with minimal on-the-job training, which is costly. Policies need to state clearly why things need to be done a certain way, what happens if they are not done that way, and who is entitled to make decisions, under what circumstances.
Option 3: Try using his skills to draft up written procedures, which he will discuss with you, of course. Ask him to identify where procedures are most needed in his section. This will reveal to you where he needs most help. Could he lead this as a project? There’s no reason other staff can’t contribute to writing procedures for each of their functions.
Option 4: Now we get to the tough questions. Is he trainable? Is there another function that would better suit his skills? How many chances and support has he had to improve his performance?
And, finally, there comes a time… Do you need to outplace him? If you do decide to let him go, I hope you give him professional outplacement support, which includes counselling.
Remember that, to avoid potential litigation, you need to be able to prove that you have sent him on training courses, provided adequate in-house support, warned him appropriately. Make sure you comply with the Fair Work Act legislation.
You can only do what you can do and you can’t always carry an employee. I have, on occasion, for specific reasons, but they have to be good ones, because it’s a heavy weight. And your company might not give you room to do that anyway.
If you have never written policy and procedure documents, find out how to do it right and contact me directly to arrange a convenient appointment time.
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