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Quiet workplace... then - all of a sudden, a loud voice; complaints, criticism, aggressiveness. Everyone's attention is drawn to an argument - and sometimes the spotlight is on the person being publicly executed.

I'm not sure how often this happens to others, but when it happens to me, I feel very uncomfortable.

Some of the employees I manage put me in the spotlight whenever there's some minor unconsequential issue; sometimes it's an issue we already knew about and have taken action to solve it before... But for some reason these employees are so attentive and analytical that they need to bring it up and show the world that they spot the issue.

Then, other managers (my superiors) come and ask me about the problem, others in the company are alarmed, and think it's a major issue and needs to be dealt with immediately - even though they are not aware of our other processes/workload, existing solutions or the actual severity of the problem.

In such situations, how can I tell these employees that they are just overreacting - and ideally don't need to advertise our issues across the entire company?

Can I tell people something like... "If you have an issue, send an internal e-mail about it and we will address it internally" without causing even more problems, or another overreaction?

This is one of the most stressful things I have to deal with at work - my team's image. And mine of course.

As I am new to supervising people, I usually remain calm and silent, or just plain ignore complainers... But something tells me I should do better, without causing warfare.

EDIT - answers to Michael:

Well, first of all, I have priorities set by my own superiors and that usually means that the issues my team is complaining about are not as important as they think (to the company / to our bosses). Secondly, in most cases I have already taken action to solve the issue, but the complaints and frustration in my team attract more attention and alarm from outside the team, with people questioning us, etc. and often aggravating the whole process. If I had to be vocal I'd just tell my team to keep silent and be patient - but obviously that would not be very professional.

So, I am frustrated with my team. I would like to be a better manager, but how can I do that if I have instructions from above and all my team must do is implement instead of complain?

EDIT 2 - my clarification to other answers/comments

I do listen first, and have weekly 1-on-1s, but what I am describing here are team members who complain about things we had already discussed previously, often over and over again. Let me give an example: I spot a mistake X and take note of it, planning to implement a correction in accordance with my superiors' priorities (schedule may vary). A few days later, Robert from my team notices it as well and tells me that we have to correct it. I thank him, say it was already flagged and that it will be corrected. For some reason, my superiors don't consider mistake X to be as important as working on opportunity Y, so the correction process gets postponed. I tell Robert it got postponed, and a few days later he checks again, and since he still sees the mistake, he makes a huge drama about it for the whole office room to hear. Sometimes Robert would verbally complain about the system, me, our superiors. That's when I feel powerless as I don't think repeating the same thing in public would produce any different result. To answer the_reluctant_tester and many others: I do not ignore my team by default, but only when they repeatedly complain about things I have already addressed before. I consider myself very proactive with my superiors in reporting to them all these issues... but my superiors have the final say on what matters and what doesn't, and I don't want to bother them the same way my team bothers me.

I do think my team members are generally well-intentioned, and frustrated that the rest of the company doesn't work according to their own timeline. I do feel like they have trouble aligning with the overall new senior management's goals and priorities - especially the "Robert"s. They are skilled and have high technical knowledge, and previously had full autonomy on various areas of their work. However, the company has changed a bit recently (process standardization) and they are supposed to follow the strategy from above. On several occasions, it turned out that the strategy from above led to a worse result than the strategy suggested by my team members. I believe this made them feel like they know better than senior management on everything. The "Robert"s have often also openly criticized senior management (my superiors). So I guess discipline is the issue.

Thanks for the suggestions and advice everyone. I must say I am very stressed by all of this and need to relax as well...

closed as primarily opinion-based by Adel, jcmeloni, jmort253 Jan 12 '14 at 23:33

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    Hey NewBoss83, an be welcome to the workplace. I think your question is good, but i have edited it to make it even better. If you're against it, feel free to edit it back later! Drop by the chat later if you need anything. chat.stackexchange.com – Hugo Rocha Jan 8 '14 at 11:46
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    That first paragraph seems a bit melodramatic and uses creative expressions for the sake of being entertaining to read. Can you please edit it to tell us what actually happened? – user10911 Jan 8 '14 at 21:02
  • Three questions to understand your question further ...1.Are you uncomfortable that they bring (to you) a lot of not so high priority or irrelevant issues ? 2. Issues are valid but their method of communicating/highlighting those issues is vigorous and over the top , then, are you uncomfortable that you are put under unnecessary and avoidable scrutiny due to their communication methods ? 3. Combination of both ? – the_reluctant_tester Jan 8 '14 at 21:28
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    From a person who has been both a leader and a team member, I will say that when bright technical people are near revolt and overly cynical, then 99% of the time it is because poor senior leadership doesn't see a train coming and the team feels threatened and powerless by this. Most of the time they really have the best intentions and they almost always indeed have pointed out a critical shortsightedness in executive decisions. The fact that they have been absolutely been correct in the past with cynical predictions should be an enormous warning sign to you and senior management. – maple_shaft Jan 9 '14 at 14:20
  • Hello, this is looking more like something that belongs on a discussion forum. To take this off-hold and allow more answers, we'd need to edit this to avoid addressing specific users. Posts on Workplace SE should be in Q&A format with a question on the top and answers posted below. NewBoss, once you merge your accounts, you should be able to participate in the process much easier, make the edits, and then we can reopen. Good luck! – jmort253 Jan 12 '14 at 23:35
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Remaining silent is the problem. This is abdicating your reponsibilites as a manager. They are getting loud because they feel they are not being heard.

You are a manager, it is up to you to set expectations concerning behavior of your staff. You need to have regular meetings with them to discuss issues.

In the first meeting, you need to discuss their behavior and why it is counter-productive. You need to set a policy for how issues will be brought up and how they will be handled in terms of priority. Your job is to set policy, you need to do so. Do not fall into the current fad of thinking that teams self-manage. Your team has shown they cannot self-manage, so you need to be stricter about policy than you have been. You need to make sure everyone on the team is aware of the priority of issues. You should be using some sort of software to track issues (in the software world these would be bug trackers), if you are not, then you should get some and require its use. If people can see what is being worked on and what the priorities are and that some progress is being made, they will be less likely to become overly dramatic.

Next you need to rebuild your relationship with your team. Teams that respect their manager don't behave the way yours does. Individuals might, but we will get to that in a minute.

You need to talk to each person one on one at least weekly. You need to ask them what problems they have and what you can do to help. But most importantly you need to listen, seriously listen to them. And then, where appropriate, take action. And yes sometimes you need to take action on things that are important to them, but not to you. Until they learn to trust you, it is critical that they see you paying attention to their concerns.

Now even after all this, you may have some prima donnas who think they should be able to do what they want when they want and that nothing is more important than what they want. After you have told them why you want issues reported a certain way and after you have listened to their concerns and taken action on some of them, if some still persist in publically embarassing the team and not following procedures, then you need to talk to the individuals in private, tell that their specific behavior is unacceptable and that if they do not change it, they are at risk for being let go. And if they do not change their behavior even then you get with HR on the process to use to fire them. One thing to do is to immediately stop them if they bring up something the wrong way by reminding them of the procedure they are to follow. If they persist, then call them immediately to a private place and tell them their behavior is unacceptable. Stay calm, but be firm about the policies for communicating issues.

Remember to model the behavior you want. If you want them to bring up issues privately, then you have to make sure you never criticize publicly or blame them to management.

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    +1 for "sometimes you need to take action on things that are important to them, but not to you. Until they learn to trust you, it is critical that they see you paying attention to their concerns." – jmac Jan 8 '14 at 23:57
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What are these issues?

I'll be honest, it sounds like you're just disregarding the issues and have already decided they're not important and I imagine, from your teams perspective, that that is very frustrating.

If you've taken action to solve the issues before, it sounds like it hasn't been solved - taking action to solve an issue is an important first step in dealing with an issue but taking action in itself does not solve an issue.

It sounds like some members of your team are very frustrated and trying to marginalise them might help but ultimately, just because others on the team aren't as vocal - doesn't mean the same problems don't apply to them as well.

Fix the problems - in my opinion, you should be happy to have a team that will approach you with problems.

7

Executive Summary

  1. Acknowledge your employees' problems
  2. Communicate the gap between their expectations and business realities
  3. Treat the cause, not the symptom

Acknowledge the Problems

Do not confuse your evaluation of the situation with your employees' evaluation of the situation. It sounds like you are being dismissive of the needs of your employees, and they are making complaints because you are not validating their opinions. In your question you say the following (emphasis mine):

Some of the employees I manage put me in the spotlight whenever there's some minor unconsequential issue; sometimes it's an issue we already knew about and have taken action to solve it before... But for some reason these employees are so attentive and analytical that they need to bring it up and show the world that they spot the issue.

From the employee's perspective, this obviously isn't a minor inconsequential issue, otherwise it wouldn't be brought up. If this were a single employee with a bone to pick that would be one thing, but if several employees are bringing these things up, they aren't minor or inconsequential to the employees you are managing, and you need to acknowledge their needs regardless of whether they are aligned with your priorities.

From the employee's perspective, these issues haven't been solved, otherwise they wouldn't continue to bring them up. If I call up tech support with a problem, they give me an attempted solution and it doesn't work, the effort is not good enough from my perspective because the problem still exists. If your employees aren't satisfied with the action to solve it, you need to acknowledge that.

And since the problem still exists, they are bringing up the problem, not to show the world that they spot the issue, but to point out that the problem still exists and hasn't been solved satisfactorily. While you shouldn't encourage their frustration, refusing to acknowledge that this is a legitimate concern is not going to help matters either.

Communicate the Gap

Not all these problems can necessarily be solved. There are always going to be business realities from budgets, to company priorities, to policies that can't easily be changed, and the complexities of working with other people that mean you can't give the employees everything they need. After you acknowledge their concerns, you need to make a concerted effort to show those same employees:

  1. What you have done to solve it
  2. What the limits of that solution will be
  3. How you would like to handle this issue moving forward

Let's say your team members are having an issue because a separate team is consistently late on providing deliverables you need to meet your deadlines. You bring it up with that team and your manager, and they tell you that the problem is with scheduling further upstream, and the team you are waiting on isn't to blame.

You need to communicate to your team that you have discussed it with management and that this problem cannot be solved immediately, but that the problem is recognized, being worked on, and will not reflect negatively on their individual work in your evaluation or the evaluation of the managers above you of the team.

Then you can explain that you know this will continue to be a problem, but that you hope the team will do their best to work around it, and if there is a specific key deliverable that is required for a critical deadline, you would like to be informed so you can bring it up to management on a case-by-case basis.

This is an example, but the point is that you have acknowledged their problem, taken steps to solve it, that the issue cannot be completely solved as-is, and how you would like your team members to handle this issue moving forward.

They may still be frustrated that it isn't solved, but they will at least understand the situation and how they need to work around it.

In your specific case you say:

other managers (my superiors) come and ask me about the problem, others in the company are alarmed, and think it's a major issue and needs to be dealt with immediately - even though they are not aware of our other processes/workload, existing solutions or the actual severity of the problem.

You may want to be sure that in addition to communicating with your team members, you also communicate with your bosses about the status of these issues. If your bosses think that they are serious issues, they can help push through solutions that are above your pay grade if they are necessary, and prevent them from being surprised by problems that they didn't know existed until they impact your work results.

Treat the Cause, not the Symptom

By acknowledging the issues your team is facing and communicating what you are doing to solve them will go a long way, you should be able to eliminate a lot of these problems with people speaking out inappropriately.

If the behavior continues, you need to speak specifically to that behavior, privately. HLGEM put it best:

you may have some prima donnas who think they should be able to do what they want when they want and that nothing is more important than what they want. After you have told them why you want issues reported a certain way and after you have listened to their concerns and taken action on some of them, if some still persist in publically embarassing the team and not following procedures, then you need to talk to the individuals in private, tell that their specific behavior is unacceptable and that if they do not change it, they are at risk for being let go. And if they do not change their behavior even then you get with HR on the process to use to fire them. One thing to do is to immediately stop them if they bring up something the wrong way by reminding them of the procedure they are to follow. If they persist, then call them immediately to a private place and tell them thier behavior is unacceptable. Stay calm, but be firm about the policies for communicating issues.

What you should avoid is blaming employees for being frustrated over things that are beyond their scope of control and you are responsible to address but haven't. People get frustrated when they don't have control over their situation, and while it isn't ideal, it is very human, and attacking the behavior without addressing the cause will only serve to make it worse.

Make sure that you listen to your employees to know the difference between employees who just like to act out, and those who have a legitimate concern that you should be addressing and will ease that frustration.

5

Re : So, I am frustrated with my team. I would like to be a better manager, but how can I do that if I have instructions from above and all my team must do is implement instead of complain?

I doubt that you would be regarded as a better manager if you expect the team to silently execute priorities that your superiors have set. Actually that starts with you first...are you silently accepting the priorities that your superiors are setting or are you questioning them ? are you putting yourselves in your team's shoes and trying to empathize the challenges that they will or are facing ? You need to start engaging with your superiors and team to understand their perspectives. Are suggested by previous answers 1:1 meetings are a good way to start to understand why their first reaction is the way it currently is.

Thinking further : The behaviors that you have described, they could be either be or combination of two underlying causes

  1. Your team are contributors,are a well meaning but rowdy bunch i.e. need "fine tuning" on how they put the point across and communicate issues to you. Again , as mentioned by one of the answers before , you need to set that example and identify such people and steer them into a direction where they get better & professional at communicating.

  2. They are toxic weeds, don't contribute and just like to stir shit up . Observe & detect them...work with them sternly & privately to try and put a stop to such behavior. Gather evidence and take your boss's help (don't worry about your team's reputation, your team will be better off without them if they don't improve)and put them under gradual & traceable performance management.

5

If these are folks that work for you, it's viable to bring it up privately in a 1 on 1. Distracting folks from the high priority work at hand, in favor of the low priority work that is easy to dramatize is a form of not doing your job, and should be addressed by the manager as such. Going further - be a role model - don't call someone out publicly, when you have to be direct and negative, bring it up privately.

In public, be the calm one and ask "why do you think this is the highest priority?" It's fair if someone is critiquing your lack of action in public to ask them why they are focusing team energy on something. Maybe it is more important than you thought, in which case, you'll get an understaning of why. But if it isn't, you put the in the position of having to justify their own outburst.

  • Agreed. Sometimes the emperor doesn't know that Rome is burning. Priorities from above don't necessarily override priorities from below. "We can make more money on product Y" doesn't hold a candle to "We'll be sued to oblivion if we don't fix product X". – Philip Jan 17 '14 at 19:34
1

First of all, when someone does come up with a question, concern or complaint, what kind of initial reaction do they get from you? They may be overly dramatic so that they get your attention and you get how important they view this issue to be. Consider the employee that has just one project that from the management perspective is a tiny project and thus isn't at all important, yet for that employee it is all they have in that company is that one project! Perspective of each person and acknowledgement is worth noting.

Secondly, how well are you giving feedback to your team of how well they are doing? Do they know how good or bad they are doing at their job? I've had more than a few times where I'd be overly dramatic so I could get some of my manager's time. The pointing out that they see things for me would be a yellow flag about how well your company handles recognition and this isn't about financial rewards but rather other kinds that can be much more meaningful.

I'd advise having 1 on 1 discussions with each person on the team about how you'd like issues to be brought to you along with how fast they can expect a response from you. Some issues if you sit on them for a few days will cause more problems as there is something to be said for addressing issues promptly and ensuring that you acknowledge that you hear the employee with the issue. While it may be already be solved, isn't it better for the employee to think, "Ok, they heard me and things will get better..." than "Dang, they don't listen to me! Why do I even bother working hard here?" as if you end up with disengaged employees you could have bigger problems to handle in the future.

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