Managing Employees

Manage People as Adults Not as Children

Manage People as Adults Not as Children
Image credit: Alan Rampton | Flickr
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For the most part companies hire grownups and manage their employees as adults.

But sometimes I'm not so sure.  

Unfortunately far too often managers operate psychologically like parents and their employees function like children.  

The consequences of this is that many American businesses are not realizing the full potential of their labor force and creativity and productivity suffers.

Managers who operate psychologically as parents do several things that are counterproductive:   

Parent-type managers make too many decisions for those who work for them. Just count the number of emails they receive. This style of management means bosses can use their power status to intimidate others and demand conformity and obedience. 

And parentlike managers find themselves trying to fix employees who should be offered training by experts or terminated.

Employees who operate in the workplace from the child position do the following: 

They seek and ask for permission for almost any action, especially anything that could be deemed controversial or out of the norm. They rarely take creative risks and often operate from survivor mode, doing little to distinguish themselves or call attention to themselves. They spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the security of their situation, wondering, Does the boss still love me? Am I about to get fired? 

These behaviors add up to less than what most senior managers, especially entrepreneurial ones, seek from their employees. What managers want from their staffers is for them to find new more productive ways to get work done, discover the next big thing and use their creativity.   

And indeed most employees want their bosses to leverage their capabilities. But the parent-to-child manager-employee paradigm doesn't help workplaces arrive at that. 

Here's what should be done:

Related: Quit Trying to Make Everyone on Your Team an Entrepreneur

1. Bosses need to have an honest internal dialogue.

Managers need to determine whether they're operating psychologically as parents or adults with those who report to them. They should consider the following questions:

How many emails do you receive a day in which you're asked to make a decision for one of your employees?

Are you trying to change the behavior of any people working for you?

Do you wonder why you don't seem to get a straight answer from anyone?

2. Ask for some feedback.

Seek out a coach, your employees or colleagues. Better yet, ask for input from all of them. It's easy to delude yourself about how you come across.

3. Stop making decisions for employees.

Break the pattern of deciding everything for staffers. Instead say, "What have you thought to do about this?" This will likely be difficult for you and your employees at first. But you must wean them away from always being dependent on your decision making.

Related: Do Employees Even Notice You Care?

4. Find out what staffers need for support.

Managers and leaders who are focused on what they can do to enhance the productivity of their employees are less likely to be in the parental position. Try to figure out what your employees need to perform their jobs well.

5. Be willing to manage for outputs not inputs.

Outputs are the product you want employees to produce whereas inputs are the tasks often outlined in job descriptions. Managing for outputs means that you are leaving it up to employees to figure out how to achieve the products of the job.

Who knows? Someone may discover a better way to do the work than you ever imagined. 

6. Be willing to risk failure.

If you're a manger who is a control freak, you're probably managing like a parent. Adults are willing to risk the possibility of a failure. No kid ever became an effective functioning grownup without having the chance to fail by doing something on his or her own.   

The beauty of trying all these steps is that both the manager and the employees will find more satisfaction at work. Should you decide to move in this direction, don’t underestimate the difficulties during the transition period. Some people will find it very unsettling to make such a shift.

The promise that lies ahead is of greater satisfaction, productivity and creativity.   

Related: Develop These 5 Skills to Become a Tremendous Leader