How to behave properly with your subordinates?

How to stop being afraid and start bossing around

Control and giving orders – the most important thing in the work of a manager, says Bruce Tulgan, author of the bestseller “It’s okay to be the boss. According to his observations, many people are afraid of authority and do not realize that controlling people is their direct responsibility. In his book (its second edition came out in Russia in January), Tulgan explains how to behave in order to become a real boss. “The Secret” publishes helpful excerpts.

Controlling and giving orders is the most important thing in a manager’s job, says Bruce Tulgan, author of the bestseller “It’s OK to be a boss.” According to his observations, many people are afraid of authority and do not realize that controlling people is a direct duty of a boss. In his book (its second edition came out in Russia in January), Tulgan explains how to behave in order to become a real boss. “The Secret” publishes helpful excerpts.

Changes in the work environment have led to a fundamental shift in norms and values related to the very essence of the employer-employee relationship. But here’s the problem: Most managers, as before, prefer to avoid conflict. They still lack leadership skills and even basic knowledge of effective job control. Much of the legacy of previous managers in organizations large and small is still based on non-interference: “Here’s our mission statement, deal with it. And wait for comments. We’ll let you know if anything goes wrong, and the system will reward you for your hard work, but no more than anyone else.”

Let me tell you plain and simple: true leaders don’t have any workarounds to give up on management.

Manage every day.

Most managers are so busy with “real work” that they often see their management responsibilities as an additional burden. They avoid daily management in the same way that many people shirk their daily exercise routine. They begin to manage when it becomes an absolute necessity. As a result, supervisors and their employees get out of shape, and unexpected problems appear regularly. I call this phenomenon–management when you can’t avoid it–special occasion management. The only alternative to special occasion management is to form the habit of daily management.

Start with one hour a day devoted solely to management. During that hour, do not engage in “firefighting.” Use it to manage with an eye toward the future, before something goes well, badly, or normally on its own. This hour a day will allow you to stay in shape, similar to a daily walk.

Avoid general meetings

Some managers prefer general meetings to daily one-on-one communication, but they cannot serve as a full substitute for face-to-face meetings. When you look an employee in the eye, talk about expectations, ask what they have accomplished, evaluate their performance, or give them feedback, no one has an opportunity to hide. During general meetings, hiding is much easier for managers and employees alike. Bosses often feel more comfortable sharing bad news or feedback with the whole team rather than talking to people face-to-face. The problem is that bad news or feedback is often directed at only one or two people out of the entire team. Therefore, the rest of the team feels confused and even insulted, yet the very people you are trying to “manage” in this way don’t always realize that you are addressing them!

Managers tell me all the time about general meetings where they planned to shed light on the behavior of one of their employees who is constantly late for work and takes long breaks. The supervisor says at such a meeting, “We need to stop the practice of being late to work. And we need to stop taking such long breaks. Remember, you have two ten-minute breaks, and ten minutes means exactly ten minutes.” Most employees listen to this in bewilderment, “What is he talking about? I get to work early enough every day that I don’t even get to take my break,” and the very same employee in question looks at his watch and thinks, “Enough already, call it a day. It’s time for me to go on break.”

Be a mentor

“I’ve never been a particularly good mentor,” managers sometimes tell me, “so I don’t know what it’s like. Well, I can describe it. The mentor speaks in a level and insistent voice. He behaves methodically and engagingly. He is enthusiastic and assertive. His demeanor is constantly directed toward stimulating concentration and responsibility.

Here’s exactly how a mentor should talk: – Tune in to the person for whom you are mentoring; – Focus on specific examples of their work; – Describe the employee’s work and results sincerely and viscerally; – Articulate the next specific steps.

Handle each employee one at a time

Every employee is unique, but most managers take about the same approach to managing them. Whatever methodology they use-weekly reports, monthly team meetings, or annual evaluations-they rarely take into account the characteristics of the employees being evaluated. The only way to deal with the incredible diversity of your employees is to find out what works for each of them and then adapt your management style accordingly.

The best way to engage in fine-tuning your approach to each person is to constantly ask yourself six key questions about each employee:

1. How can I characterize this employee?

Assess the major strengths and weaknesses of this person as an employee. Examine his tasks and area of responsibility. What is the work he does? Recall his performance record. Can he be considered a high performer, an average performer, or a low performer? Is he productive? Would you call him energetic? Think about his career background and possible future. How long has he been with your company? How long can he stay? Think about his social role at work. How high is his energy level? Can he be considered enthusiastic or skeptical? Do others like him? Is he talkative? How much respect does he have from his co-workers? Manage the personality that the employee “brings” to work.

2. Why do I need to manage this person?

The key to answering this question lies in a clear understanding of your goals in managing each employee and what you need from him. Do you want him to work harder? Better? Faster? Do you want him to change something in his behavior?

3. what do I need to talk to this person about?

Concentrate on the work the employee should be doing in the near future. Decide whether you need to talk to him about the big picture or the small details. Some employees can only understand the difference between a bad job and a good job when you break down their task into small elements and explain the essence of each in detail.

4. How should I talk to this person?

Some employees are better off answering your questions. Others prefer that you say everything yourself. Some employees respond best to a level-headed tone and listing of facts (auditor style). Others respond to a more emotional expression of your thoughts (big brother style). Some employees respond best when you challenge their leadership abilities (cross-examination style). Some respond best to unabashed enthusiasm (cheerleader style), and some respond best to anxiety, fear, and urgency (panicker style). Think about what motivates this person.

5. Where should I talk to this person?

Whatever you choose as a place to talk, your office or something else, it’s best to settle on the most appropriate room for it, and then turn meetings in it into a habit. This space will become the real stage on which your managerial relationships will unfold. If your employees work remotely, you should adhere to strict rules about calling and emailing. However, if you work in the same office, it’s best to meet on neutral ground.

6. When should I talk to this person?

If you communicate regularly with your subordinates, there is no point in making your meetings long and complicated. The main goal is to turn one-on-one dialogues into a routine – short, straightforward and simple. Once you achieve this kind of communication with each employee, you should have enough time to talk to them for fifteen minutes.

What if things aren’t going too well for someone? Try to meet with him daily for a while. Make no mistake: you shouldn’t spend many hours painfully clarifying details, accusations, or confessions. Make the meetings short and consistent. Chances are high that things are going wrong because your employee isn’t getting enough direction or support.

What about highly productive employees? Should you spend even fifteen minutes every day or once a week if things are going well? Perhaps you should have a meeting with such employees every two weeks.

Make a managerial landscape.

Try to create what I call a managerial landscape for yourself. Take a piece of paper and write the following questions at the top of it: “Who? Why? What? How? Where? When?” In the first column under “Who?” write the name of each person you manage and what you know, or think you know, about each of them. Then state your thoughts about each employee in the “Why?”, “What?”, “How?”, “Where?” and “When?” columns. Seeing all of this information on one page will give you an idea of the overall landscape of your managerial work and will probably immediately present possible problems. This page shows your managerial world, but remember that circumstances and people are constantly changing, which means you should address these questions often enough and adjust your managerial landscape regularly.

Be a tough manager.

A true manager always gives orders. They are just binding instructions. If you don’t like giving orders, then imagine ordering from a vendor. Imagine that your employee is an independent agent working for himself and you are his customer. Have you spelled out all the important terms and conditions? Have you described the product clearly enough, including its specifications and the delivery date you will receive in exchange for payment?

If you believe that you should be an incentive manager rather than a directive manager, remember that you need to become a very aggressive incentive manager. Managerial communication should be an interactive dialogue. That means you have to ask the really right questions.

– Ask basic questions: “Can you do it? Are you confident about it? What will you need from me?” – Ask leading questions: “How are you going to do it? Where do you plan to start? What are your next steps?” – Ask short, focused questions: “How long will this step take? What about the next one? What does the checklist look like?”

So, should you let the employee come to the right conclusions on their own? That depends on how much extra time you have. Ask the employee to speculate aloud about how he or she plans to handle the task, but then skillfully and as quickly as possible lead him or her to the correct conclusions. Ask the employee to spell out their thoughts until they get rid of the gaps.

Some jobs require employees to have the courage to take risks and make mistakes because their work is creative and innovative. If creativity is at the heart of your subordinate’s work, the most important thing you can do for him or her is to clearly explain what is outside the scope of his or her decisions. Set specific parameters within which he must act. If you don’t want to constrain the employee in any way (no stipulations or goals), then clearly define any parameters that can be set Are there time limits? Or will you pay the employee for his or her brainstorming attempts forever? How will you know when the employee has finished their work? What will count as a finished product or outcome? If you want the subordinate to be comfortable taking risks and making mistakes, you should express this in the form of a specific assignment: “I want you to take risks and make mistakes.” Perhaps you should tell the employee how many risks he can take and how many mistakes he is allowed to make.

Keep an eye on the little things.

The higher your reputation as a detail person, the more power you gain, even if you don’t have all the knowledge you need in a particular situation. Why? People will be much more willing to share information with you and answer questions fully and sincerely. They may well assume that you already have all the information or answers you need and are just in control. They will also be more attentive to the details of their work if they are confident that you will be checking them out.

A manager of one research company told me the following: “I am constantly monitoring the work of every subordinate. I try to pay attention to every little detail. About once every week or two with each employee I mention a little detail about their work, for example, I say, ‘Do you remember your email on such and such a topic sent at ten-thirteen last Friday? There was a mistake in the third sentence. I printed out a copy to show you.” And I’ll tell you this. After I started doing that, all the employees started paying a lot more attention to detail.”

Track performance with action-specific monitoring

There are five ways to monitor specific employee actions.

1. Monitor the performance of subordinates.

This is one of the most effective ways – watching an employee interact with a customer for just a few minutes will tell you much more about their performance than a huge number of customer surveys. If you’re having trouble helping an employee succeed at a particular task, you should shadow that person. Then you will understand exactly what he is doing and how he can get better results.

2. Ask for a report.

In any one-on-one conversation with each employee, ask him or her to report back on what has been done since your last meeting: “What specific actions did you take? Were you able to meet clearly stated expectations?” After that, start listening carefully, forming judgments and asking more leading questions.

3. Help employees use self-monitoring tools

You can ask subordinates to help you keep track of their actions with self-monitoring tools such as project plans, checklists, and time logs. Employees can monitor themselves to see if they are meeting the goals and deadlines set out in the project plan, make notes on checklists, and report back to their supervisor on a regular basis.

4. Regularly Grade Incomplete Work.

Thoroughly review employees’ work as it is being completed. If the employee is not responsible for the final product, then supervising their work is the same as controlling their activities. If the employee is responsible for the final product, however, you should do spot checks without warning.

5. Ask others.

Ask customers, suppliers, co-workers, and other managers about their interactions with specific employees. Always ask questions about the subordinate’s work, not what kind of person he or she is. Ask to share descriptions, not evaluations. Be interested in details, not impressions.

When problems persist.

Some problems resist solutions, even if you deal with them aggressively and consistently. At this stage, almost all problems can be linked to one or more of three categories: opportunity, skill, or desire.

If the problem is capability-related (your employees’ innate strengths aren’t always well suited for certain tasks in their current role), your best course of action is to eliminate unsuitable tasks and areas of responsibility from employees’ jobs by giving them other things to do. If you can’t do that, then you have to admit that the work is being done by people who aren’t suited for it.

If the problem is related to skills (the employee does not have enough knowledge, has not mastered the right techniques, or lacks the necessary tools and resources), then it is up to you to make sure that he gets everything he needs to succeed. Find the gaps in his skills and fill them by offering training or the right tools and resources. If you can’t give your subordinate everything they need, you need to work with them and figure out how to handle problems with what you have.

Of course, the toughest nut you have to crack is motivation – the desire to act. Everyone is different, so each employee is motivated by different things. However, in the case of persistent performance problems, the big question is, “What takes away a person’s motivation?”

Don’t treat everyone the same.

Most managers, living in a world of mismanagement, lean toward “sameness” because it’s easier to manage. Every time employees are paid according to a fixed system (hourly wage or salary), the boss doesn’t have to make and justify difficult decisions He doesn’t have to stay involved with each employee and make sure they know exactly what they have to do to earn what they want or need.

“High-productive and low-performing employees get the same basic compensation? That’s not fair,” one manager at a large manufacturing company told me, “You should reward people for what they deserve and are entitled to. Yes, you want every employee to work harder and better. Most of them, for their part, are doing everything they can to succeed and are desperate to earn what they want and need. If you are willing to give more to someone who deserves it, you are by definition forced to give less to those who have worked worse. When people deserve more, do more for them. When they deserve less, do less for them. This is the only fair course of action.

How to behave properly with your subordinates?

We plan all sorts of things: construction, advertising campaigns, payments… but very rarely do we think about the fact that we also need to plan the work behavior of our subordinates.

And to plan, realizing that no change is instantaneous.

This means that we need to create with each subordinate a plan for monitoring his or her work and a plan for professional development.

And set up regular meetings to assess how the employee is doing and how he or she is following through on the plans.

We will talk about this a little later, but for now let’s look at the causes of low-quality work so that we can understand what exactly needs to be addressed and what methods to use.

Causes of poor performance

There are no perfect employees. We all make mistakes, make inaccuracies or break some rules on a regular basis. That’s how we’re built.

But some people make mistakes more often than others. Some fail at fairly simple tasks. And some break discipline every day.

And of course, you try to get the employee to change their approach to work. You reassure, you talk, you supervise.

But your efforts do not always yield the desired result. After all, we often work not with the causes, but with the consequences of the employee’s actions. And there can be four main reasons.

  1. Lack of knowledge about the organization.
  2. Lack of professional knowledge.
  3. Lack of necessary habits or formed negative habits.
  4. Lack of necessary abilities.

Lack of knowledge about the organization.

I once observed a very revealing situation. A new Quality Department employee had taken a very active job.

During the first month he professionally and accurately performed all tasks of the manager to develop methodological materials required for his position – put in order all the reporting forms, wrote instructions…

But in the second month his efficiency began to decline – there were delays in reporting.

And on the third month the manager was surprised to find out that his subordinate had failed in half of his tasks. They began to sort things out.

And it turned out that the reason for the decline in efficiency was precisely the lack of knowledge of how the organization is organized.

In the nature of his work this specialist should receive information from almost all departments of the company.

But the heads of these departments, so as not to create additional workload, simply stated: “You need information – so collect it. And began to refuse to help.

And this employee was a man of responsibility, but very humble. Instead of turning to his supervisor for help, he tried to get out of the situation on his own, taking on more and more responsibilities.

And the manager was surprised to discover that his subordinate simply does not know the standard ways of solving organizational issues. That he was working the way he was used to doing in the previous company.

Of course, the situation was corrected very quickly. Together with this employee’s immediate supervisor, we explained to him both how to formally ask for information from other supervisors and his level of authority.

And instructed him to include the appropriate items in his job description.

And we remembered the metacognitive distortion called the “curse of knowledge,” which is phrased like this: “I don’t know what you don’t know.

After all, it never even occurred to us before this case that we did not properly prescribe in the instructions the work algorithm of a quality specialist and his or her authority.

So if you find that your subordinate is overloaded and makes mistakes, the first thing you should try to do is to find out whether he understands the internal processes of the organization and knows his credentials. Simply put, does he know with whom and how to solve work issues and what his rights are.

By the way, this happens not only with new employees. Even veterans sometimes find it difficult to determine with whom and what issues need to be addressed.

Lack of professional knowledge

Of course, we are trying to hire professionals.

But first, this is not always possible, and second, even good experts cannot know everything.

Thus, one day an executive who was directly reporting to me came to me with a question about what to do with his employee who dealt with market analysis.

– On the one hand, he was a very smart guy. He understands the market well and sees trends. But on the other, he does half as much as he should. And he often sends urgent reports at night,” he complained.

The reason was very simple. The man could not professionally work with spreadsheets, so he performed the calculations by hand. Which, of course, took up a lot of his time.

– I’ll send him to a course and let him learn,” suggested my subordinate, after we had clarified everything.

– Take your time. If it’s your initiative, it will be less valuable to your employee than if he formulates the training proposal himself.

– How about letting him develop the curriculum himself and setting a target for mastering it?

– That’s a suggestion I like.

The problem was solved fairly quickly. And the courses were not even needed. It turned out that the employee simply did not think about the fact that he needs to learn to work better with tables.

And when the manager talked to him about it, he asked for two weeks to master the new knowledge, stocked up on literature and the next month he significantly improved his results.

We often pay attention only to the obvious knowledge necessary for professional activity. An engineer is tested on his ability to calculate designs, a programmer – to write code, an accountant – on his knowledge of entries.

But first, the knowledge system does not stand still; innovations regularly appear in every profession.

And secondly, there are many related areas that employees should know. So the problem of lack of professional knowledge is not uncommon. But it is solvable if noticed in time.

And the most effective way to solve such problems is to provoke the employee himself to take the initiative.

Lack of necessary habits or formed negative habits

Here are two cases from my own work experience to illustrate this point.

One of the managers I supervised had a habit of being late. Always.

Even if the meeting he was supposed to attend was held in his office, he still managed to be 10-15 minutes late.

And I must say that punctuality is extremely important when it comes to managers. It is also important for executives, but they can sometimes be relaxed.

A supervisor, who is both an example to his subordinates and a partner in related functions, by being late disrupts the entire work rhythm of the enterprise.

And of course, this kind of labor behavior of my employee did not suit me at all.

We had several conversations about the tardiness, but the situation was not corrected. More accurately, it was fixed for a while, but then everything was back to normal.

For a week or a week and a half after another conversation, my employee would show up to meetings on time, but then he would be late again.

He simply did not have a set of habits to maintain punctuality.

A word of caution here: it’s almost impossible to change a person’s habits without going into their personal space. Besides, habits cannot be taught. A person can only instill them in himself.

And for this you need a very strong motive. So I had to use a trump card, which I very rarely pull out of the deck.

I told the subordinate directly that any further breaches of discipline would lead to his dismissal, despite the fact that he was a valuable specialist in his field.

We had about this conversation afterwards.

– I try not to be late, but I constantly lose track of time if I get caught up in work or an important discussion. I just don’t get to finish on time.

– I know what you mean. Let’s start working on your habits in stages.

Now, let’s pick the events that you have to be on time for, even if all hell breaks loose.

First, the CEO briefing (yes, he was late even for that, which I regularly got a scolding for), second, my weekly meeting, and third, your meeting on the results of the week.

– And what happens if I don’t make it?

– I already told you what will happen. The big question now is, how are you going to do it?

– I’ll try to set my alarm clocks. But I’m afraid people will laugh at me.

– I don’t think they’ll laugh if you fix it. And if you don’t fix it, people’s laughter will be the least of your problems.

– I got it. I’ll work in that direction.

Of course, I did not hold out the hope that the situation would be rectified instantly. But at the next meeting at the general’s office, he showed up five minutes before it started.

Then I had some hope that I would be able to keep the employee. And some relief that I would not have to find and bring in a new person.

To be on the safe side, I asked the secretary, whose job it was to take minutes of meetings, to prepare a report of all my employee’s arrivals on time and tardiness for the next two months. This, too, helped.

Even if not immediately, he was able to instill new habits. Which, by the way, made work much easier when we had to move to a remote office.

After all, discipline is especially important in this mode. All in all, the process of changing the employee’s work behavior took about six months. But in this case the result was worth the effort.

In the second case, however, things did not work out so well.

I had an employee who was completely unaccustomed to checking documents before sending them to his supervisor. That is, to me.

As a rule, I had no complaints about the semantic part of the documents.

However, given that these were methodologies, regulations and instructions, they should not only correctly reflect the essence of certain procedures, but also be written without errors.

And mistakes, it must be said, were not only grammatical. Not infrequently, paragraphs in documents were rearranged. Or sentences were in the wrong order. Or there were references to paragraphs that had already been deleted.

And naturally, the proofing process turned into hell for me. In essence, I had to write a list of comments each time and send each document in for revision. Which didn’t suit me at all.

When I called an employee into my office and asked him to check his own work in front of me, he was very quick to find all the discrepancies.

So it was not a question of ability, but the lack of the necessary habit.

On several occasions I gave him feedback on all the managerial rules and he would commit to changing the habit. But two or three weeks would go by, and history would repeat itself.

The old habit wouldn’t give up, and the new habit wouldn’t work out. As a result, after six months we had to part with this employee, because I couldn’t afford to keep a tight control over every page of the documents he prepared.

Habits, i.e. semi-automatic or automatic elements of behavior, often turn out to be one of the most difficult things to correct.

Some employees get into conflicts out of habit in every meeting, even in cases where there is no basis for conflict.

Habits cause them to resist new software interfaces, new flow charts, new organizational charts, etc.

And since most of the organizational changes are associated with changes in employee habits, they do not happen at the pace that the initiators would like.

And this means that the more stable habits are changed, the harder and longer it will take to implement the new orders.

Lack of necessary abilities

My wife and I once had an argument about what color her jacket was. I was absolutely convinced that it was black, and she laughed at me and claimed the color was navy blue.

I didn’t give up and decided to do an experiment – I started walking up to passersby (yes, it must have looked weird) and asking what color jacket my wife was wearing.

The only thing the experiment showed was that all the men interviewed said it was black, and all the women said it was blue. These results made me feel a little better.

After all, no matter how closely I looked, I couldn’t find a single shade of blue. Neither could all the men I interviewed. We simply lacked the necessary ability.

Some abilities people can develop. Some cannot.

I, for example, cannot change my color perception. Someone can’t learn a foreign language. Some can’t recognize other people’s emotions. Some can barely do math or writing. And someone can’t relate cause and effect.

And abilities can hardly be the object of managerial regulation. All the more rapid. But not all managers understand this.

Or, more precisely, they either do not think about it, or do not want to believe it.

After all, when a person himself has a certain ability, he can hardly imagine its absence in others.

And those who don’t have the ability often think they’re good at it. So sometimes at karaoke we may hear people who don’t hit the rhythm or the notes, but they think they’re a great singer.

One of the human resources managers I knew had several recruiters on his staff. And when he started keeping interview statistics, it turned out that one of his subordinates was performing several times less well than the others.

He decided to find out why, and went to several interviews in person.

He discovered that his employee, despite having completed training and passed a test on interview techniques, was using language that was very far from that permitted by both business ethics and company ethics.

He carefully wrote down her phrases, prepared for feedback, and offered to correct her speech. And he was shocked that the girl basically didn’t understand what she was wrong about, or how to create alternatives.

But he didn’t give up. After all, he could not believe that she simply lacked the necessary thinking ability.

And for another two months he tried to correct the situation until he came to terms with the futility of his attempts.

And frankly, it made me very sad to watch this intelligent and empathic person waste a tremendous amount of effort on something that could not be fixed.

Of course, before concluding that an employee lacks the right aptitude for the job, it’s worth testing him or her repeatedly. But if such a mismatch does come to light, it’s worth giving up and helping the employee choose a different career.

By the way, it is precisely because not all people have an innate or acquired ability to think systemically that many attempts to implement value-based management systems fail.

After all, such systems require that everyone be able to turn a generalized rule (principle) into a specific action.

Other reasons

Sometimes the decline in employee performance in core activities is not due to the reasons listed above, but to the team environment.

For example, you may find that your subordinates have a conflict that caused them to stop sharing information and helping each other. In this case, you need to work with the work behavior of each of them.


In addition to the reasons mentioned for low employee performance, there is another one that is not related to knowledge, habits or abilities.

This is common fatigue. And if you notice that your subordinate’s performance has deteriorated, it’s quite possible that he or she needs a vacation, not guidance.

Scheduling Work with Employees

Well now that we’ve dealt with the reasons why employees may not produce enough quality results, let’s talk about how to plan the work on the correction of their labor behavior.

You’ll need this chart for planning.

Current behavior or problem Desired behavior Managerial action How to check the result

In the first column you should describe the aspect of the employee’s way of working that you want to correct. Describe it in terms of an action.

In the second column, indicate what kind of work behavior you expect from the employee.

In the column “Managerial actions” the first item will always be the application of the “managerial feedback” tool. But further there can be other actions.

Since often the quality of the employee’s work depends not only on him, but also on your other subordinates and sometimes adjoining employees, it is in this column plan the work with them if necessary.

And, of course, you need to determine in advance how you will check for changes in the quality of the employee’s work. Write down the verification tool in the last column.

  • critical to the workflow;
  • needs to be fixed, but tolerated;
  • not bad to improve, but not critical.

This will allow you to prioritize and focus your efforts on the really important aspects of his work behavior first.

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