I had a young woman who was attending the University of California at Berkeley (or Cal for those of us in the know) ask me what I would equate management to. She said she was struggling with some of the concepts proposed in her classes by professors, and specifically how they would translate to the real world.
After thinking a little while, I told her that managing employees is the wrong way to look at it. Every successful organization needs employees to get the job done. My definition of a successful enterprise is one that can go on without you there. (If it won’t you’ve just created a job for yourself)
I like to see managing more like farming. Except, the farmer knows specifically which seeds he or she has in their hands. In the case of a manager, you don’t get that advantage. When you get the seed, they may look like a corn seed, but are really a beet or avocado, or some hybrid of many plants. Just as you can’t force an avocado tree to become a corn stalk, you shouldn’t think that you can force someone who dislikes dealing with customers to be a super sales person. You can’t.
Your job as a manager is to identify exactly where each individual will grow and flourish. If someone is struggling, what are you doing as a manager to help them understand and embrace who they really are. Are you giving them the training and encouragement they need to succeed? Or are you just throwing out some seeds on the ground and hoping they will magically get enough water and nourishment to grow strong. Too many times new (and experienced) employees are tossed into the wind with the hope they will succeed. Unfortunately, many get eaten by birds — and you know where that scenario ends.
When you consider an employees performance or their value to your organization, especially with under-performers, I believe that you should first confirm that they are in the right place for their skill set. Too many times I’ve seen a great employee thrown out with the trash as quickly as you can blink your eye. In fact you, as a manager, may have failed them by not identifying where they can best be of value to your organization. I’m not advocating that every employee is worth or should be saved. It’s expensive to bring a new employee on board and represents a great deal of time and money that will need to be invested in them. However, sometimes a weed is a weed and must be pulled before it can spread. You should pull weeds as quickly as possible.
I’ve often found that it’s never too late to start tending to your “garden” of employees, as long as you’re really willing to commit to their success. You will be amazed at how quickly a wilted flower perks up and blooms to greater levels than you ever could have imagined.
After I shared my analogy with her, I could see the light bulb in her eyes turn on. I knew she would become a great leader!