Set the right tone

10 things every business leader must know about human resources and effective management.

Being a business manager means making difficult decisions for the good of the team. Make sure you’re ready for the responsibility.

Recently, I was asked by a client to address a group of their first-time managers and to focus my training on the top 10 things every manager must know about human resources. What a request. The challenge was limiting the list to only 10 items! This was no easy task, knowing that each day, managers face countless “people” challenges, ranging from legal liabilities to personality conflicts. After hours of reflection, I proudly composed my initial list: only 28 items. Days later, after reflecting further on thousands of consulting engagements in hundreds of industries over more than 25 jam-packed years, I narrowed the list to 10 things every manager must know about human resources.

As I sat back and reviewed the list, it was clear that a large part of management is about getting the work done through others. This means if you’re not naturally assertive or if you’re more task- vs. people-oriented, management may not be for you. People with these traits often find themselves working against their normal, natural strengths which, ultimately, creates stress and job dissatisfaction.

If you’re considering management, you’ll want to review this list carefully. If you have an aversion to any of these points, think twice about taking on a leadership role.

1. The key to your success is to hire talent, and proper hiring takes time. If you’re not willing to invest the time, you will increase the risks associated with hiring. You can hire hard and manage easy, or you can hire easy and manage hard. If you hire easy, the costs, risks, and time investment eventually are significantly higher.

2. It’s no longer about you. Managing others requires you to view success in terms of departmental or team success, not your success as an individual contributor. You must learn to delegate, and you must pay attention to and monitor what is getting done and how it’s getting done. Managers quickly realize that their time is no longer their own.

3. You must hold people accountable. If you avoid conflict or sweep people problems under the rug, you will never get results. On top of this, you and your team will never grow. Always confront problems immediately when you encounter them. Be honest and forthright with employees about their performance and provide specific examples of how they are falling short or not meeting expectations. When coaching employees, gain agreements and a commitment to change from them.

4. Avoid misdirected compassion. Don’t keep a poor performer around because he or she is a nice person. Your actions send a strong and less-than-positive message to others (customers and co-workers alike) that you tolerate substandard performance. Your credibility is at stake.

Your employees are individuals, and can’t all be managed the same way. Tailor your training and communication accordingly.

5. There are employment laws and regulations governing most of your decisions. Most managers are not experts in employment laws and regulations — nor should they be. Wise managers know what they don’t know and get advice from a professional before acting on employment decisions (such as coaching, disciplining and terminating employees).

6. You set the tone for the rest of the workers. As a manager, you are the company in the eyes of your employees. Your behavior and the choices you make can instill loyalty and dedication or anger and resentment in the hearts of your employees; so, think before you speak, conduct yourself with professionalism and follow the rules of the company.

7. Sexual harassment = professional ruin. Don’t engage it, don’t allow it, don’t promote it (via text messages, social media, emails, etc.) and don’t ignore it if it’s reported to you. Avoid physical contact with employees and don’t condone offensive behavior, degrading words or sexual jokes. The personal and professional liabilities are huge.

8. Employees will learn without training. That’s the danger. There are four ways to provide training: hit-or-miss, sink-or-swim, trial-and-error, or structured and systematic. You pick. Either way, developing people is your No. 1 responsibility.

9. You can’t manage everyone the same way. Get to know your employees. Focus on their strengths and learn about their unique personalities. Tailor your communication to each employee to promote buy-in, positive feelings and understanding.

10. None of us was born a good leader. Becoming a good leader takes effort, knowledge, wisdom, commitment, a desire to continually learn and, oftentimes, a trusted adviser. Develop a sense of self-awareness and focus on your strengths; then, find a mentor, read books, attend seminars and ask for help when you need it.

Although these “HR truths” may sound simple, they can make the difference between success or failure as a manager and leader. If you’re a business owner, perhaps you’ll want to review this list with a potential management employee to help determine if the individual is willing and able to assume responsibility for these challenges.

Jean is president of Seawright & Associates, a management consulting firm located in Winter Park, Florida. Since 1987, she has provided human resource management and compliance advice* to employers across the country. She also consults with employer-members of trade associations, including, among others, The Garden Center Group. She can be contacted at 407-645-2433 or (*The information in this article is not legal advice. For legal advice, readers should consult with an attorney.)

June 2018
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