By Aaron McDaniel
Me: “I need you to keep on working.”
Jim: “But boss, it’s 10:30 at night and I have been working here since 7 am. We are not going to get things to work tonight. I’m tired and want to see my family.”
Me: “I’m sorry, but you have to keep working until the customer tells you to go home. We need to focus on getting as many customers in service as possible with this product launch, and every single one counts.”
My employee had called me, pleading to let him go home. The job wasn’t going to be resolved that night, and regardless how late he stayed he would have to come back the next day.
Even the boss has a boss
All he wanted was to go home and spend time with his new baby. He had earned it, having worked 15-hour days for seven days straight. It broke my heart to say no, but I had no choice.
Such was life managing a team of new technicians installing and repairing the AT&T U-verse TV service that had at the time just launched. I was managing 30 recently hired technicians in my first job “out in the field.”
Contrary to popular manager stereotypes, I didn’t enjoy forcing someone to work late. Personally I would have sent everyone home with enough time to rest and be fresh for the next day.
Yet I had no such luck. Even when you are the boss, you have a boss of your own to answer to. Unfortunately, being friends with your employees is not the way to exceed expectations.
In the case of these product installations, my boss said that no one was to leave a customer’s house unless they either finished the job or were kicked out by the customer. Today my company has drastically improved the installation process and the customer experience, but at the time we functioned like a start-up and had to fight our way through endless new challenges.
It was typical for a job to take 12 hours or more. To meet expectations, I had to push each team member beyond his limits, which I got no pleasure out of doing.
Actions that motivate
That night, when Jim finally came back to the garage at midnight, I went out to talk with him. As I walked to his truck I thought, How am I going to handle this situation? I had no idea. I had no previous experience to call on.
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The fact that Jim had only been working for me for a few weeks made my response even more pivotal. We were still building a working relationship that I didn’t want to damage.
Instead of giving him a suck it up speech or apologizing profusely, I opted for a more direct approach: I gave him the why behind having him continue working that night. I assured him that this wasn’t meant to be an excuse to abuse our employees, and explained how AT&T had committed to have a certain number of customers in service by the end of the quarter, and we were already behind.
I acknowledged his desire to go home and see his family. I told him that I appreciated his hard work, and I committed to giving him a day off in the coming week.
I didn’t share with him the fact that I had to continue working and prepare a report due that night. I focused on his contribution to the team and confirmed that he was valued, making sure he realized that I understood where he was coming from.
Although I initially had no idea what I was doing, I saw that my actions in the garage motivated Jim and he continued to produce quality work. Later, whenever I really got in a pinch and needed last-minute help with a job, he was there to do it.
It was from this experience that I realized the importance of putting people first, and how this pays dividends through the support and amount of hard work your team will give you.
5 things I wish I knew before becoming a manager
- You have to treat everyone fairly without treating everyone or every situation the same. There is no rulebook that will give you the right answer. Being an effective manager involves a balance of basing decisions on your past experiences, tested principles, and your gut feeling.
- Being a manager is more than telling people what to do. I used to think that being a manager was going to be easy and fun, but I learned that it can be difficult in many ways.
- As a manager, you are not only responsible for yourself, your actions, and your results, but also those of each team member. Many times you are in situations in which you have this responsibility without full control.
- Your employees may not be able to complete their work as well as you could if you did it on your own. But it is not your job to do their work. Instead, coach them to become better at their jobs while directing them toward attaining team goals.
- The best individual contributors do not always make the best managers. One of the biggest misconceptions about management is that someone who is good at doing a certain job will be good at managing a team doing that job. Just because you are the best engineer does not mean you will be the best at managing engineers.
As you forge ahead through an environment of constant change, taking ownership of your career and developing your management style is the best way to be successful.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher from The Young Professional’s Guide to Managing, by Aaron McDaniel. © 2013 Aaron McDaniel. Published by Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. All rights reserved.