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Help, my 10 employees are ganging up on me. I have history with staff wanting to leave usually after about 15 months. I guess my management style rubs people the wrong way. I am not abrasive or abusive (and can be sweet and generous) but somehow I still upset people. They do not seem to like the attention to detail and correction of their work – but I am honestly not a perfectionist. I make mistakes myself and strive to minimise them – I just want staff to do the same so we can grow the business. Other than that I do not know what I am doing wrong – I do the gifts, occasional free lunches etc.

What I require advice on is this: How do I handle this gang-up? There are two that are gentle easy-going guys that I have invested in professionally and otherwise. I assumed they would be loyal, but they are also involved. I have thought about speaking to the two of them individually and asking them what the problem is generally, but I really fear I will get a “there is nothing wrong” response, when there clearly is. Do I try anyway?

Another approach is that I have been intending to do an overhaul because about 3 of the staff (including the highest paid one) are very unproductive but I have kept them on because of staff morale i.e. to reduce turnover. What I would be willing to do now is get rid of the highest paid guy so that the next 3 (who are the most reliable) can get good pay increases. Will this backfire and lead to even more of a gang-up or will the fact that they have good pay increases balance it all out?

They are all getting a bit disrespectful now and are doing things with their work that subtly undermines me but not overtly so. Please help!

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    "I have thought about speaking to the two of them individually and asking them what the problem is generally, but I really fear I will get a “there is nothing wrong” response" - you won't know till you try! – colmde Sep 23 '16 at 15:14
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    Are you sure they are ganging up on you, and you aren't just taking criticisms badly? I've seen that happen. – Terry Sep 23 '16 at 15:30
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    "I have history with staff wanting to leave usually after about 15 months" - Have you considered that maybe you are the one who needs to change? – David K Sep 23 '16 at 16:23
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    Yes, absolutely. The fault for the main part if probably with me.That is precisely why I am here. I first need to find out the problems i.e. what I do wrong but I need to know how to go about dealing with an entire office turning against me. If I get the "there is nothing wrong" response I will have no idea what do next. – Tennis Buff Sep 23 '16 at 17:36
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    Note that "bad pay" and "toxic old-timers" are strongly indicative of "bad manager". Part of the manager's job is to pay his people well, and do what it takes to make that happen. Part of his job is to deal with toxicity in any and all forms, from any and all sources. – John R. Strohm Sep 23 '16 at 21:39
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Obviously there is some kind of disconnect. Your perception is that you're not abrasive, abusive, nor a perfectionist. Your staff may disagree with your self-assessment.

You're going to have to talk to the folks on your team with an open mind. If you're lucky, they will open up to you at least a little. You need to shut up and take whatever feedback they give you, no matter how hard, harsh, or untrue (to your perspective). This is not a time to be emotional or defensive. If folks tell you the hard truth, you need to thank them for it. It takes a lot of guts to tell your boss hard truths.

One of the hardest things is to turn an objective eye upon ourselves.

One of the things I liked a lot about my previous, sometimes abrasive, abusive and perfectionist boss was that he owned it. He knew how he acted and how others reacted, and he worked to mitigate it. Sometimes that meant less hands-on with certain employees he knew would set off his perfectionism and/or couldn't handle his abrasiveness. It meant hiring/promoting people like me who were very even keel and approachable to be a buffer for him. It meant making a conscious effort to be warmish and fuzzyish.


It also may be something else. There may be some other set of factors that are causing people to "gang-up hate and disrespect" you. It could also be all in your head. You didn't actually describe what folks are doing to give you that impression, so we can't talk to that part of your concerns.


What I would be willing to do now is get rid of the highest paid guy so that the next 3 (who are the most reliable) can get good pay increases. Will this backfire and lead to even more of a gang-up or will the fact that they have good pay increases balance it all out?

I would do some investigation first. Maybe people are pissed because that employee makes a lot and does no work, and they'd be glad to have him go. Maybe that employee is the most well liked member of the team and letting him go will exacerbate the situation. Your first course of action should not be to fire someone, but should be to ask questions and try and understand what is happening and why. Only after you understand the problem can you begin to work on the solution.

  • Thanks a lot. Yes, they are ganging-up. I don't think they are aware of the guy's salary. I will try and investigate and hope to God that the two guys I reference will actually talk to me. The situation is about to get completely out of hand. – Tennis Buff Sep 23 '16 at 16:12
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    If you fire one guy, and there isn't a clear reason for doing it, then you are getting the reputation as a manager who fires people for no reason. This will almost certainly make your employees more likely to leave. – DJClayworth Sep 23 '16 at 16:28
  • In my (possibly misguided) thinking, getting rid of the one guy because he is not productive (I would communicate that to the rest of them) and that resulting in pay increases for the rest may make them more accepting. – Tennis Buff Sep 23 '16 at 17:41
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    @TennisBuff Or they could think, "I hope I'm not fired next so the others get more of a raise. Those 2 in particular seem to be awfully chummy with him. I wouldn't trust them to...". You get the point. People's thoughts can take them to weird ideas. – David Starkey Sep 23 '16 at 20:21
  • Good point Dave. Let me also say this: I kept the 3 unproductives on because of morale but also bcos the market here where I am is narrow. In other words, there aren't a lot of talented people that I can just bring in to replace the ones I sack. I am likely to get the same quality but they would be new and initially not disrespectful...I hope (I have to change!). The pay thing is definitely an issue. I pay above market but to be honest, the pay structure is poor where we are. I am looking to increase...but my "number two" guy with the best salary and limited end product should really go. – Tennis Buff Sep 23 '16 at 23:31
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Well, if you're the manager, then you're the one who's got to get control of the situation.

I see two possibilities:

  1. You don't hire well. If you have employees who balk at the attention to detail and expectations of near-perfect work, then you didn't hire the people your organization needs. You need to determine how to find people that understand and meet those expectations.
  2. You don't manage well. In my opinion, managing is about setting expectations, and then being consistent. I have observed that 10% of people will do a good job no matter what, 10% will do a bad job no matter what, and the remaining 80% will MEET EXPECTATIONS. You either haven't communicated the expectations, or your evaluation is subjective and inconsistent. You need to work on applying objective, and if possible, automated measurements of your employees' work output to eliminate any perception that this is "personal" somehow.

Looking at this from afar, I don't see any objective points of reference to use. You need some objectivity, here. You should also look to find a mentor to help you evaluate yourself. Find someone who manages a similar-sized group successfully that you respect. Document some of these episodes as objectively as possible, and ask that mentor to review your choices along the way. Now, if your mentor is good, this will be an iterative process where they send you back to "re-do" your evaluation and re-examine it until you eliminate the subjectivity (as much as possible) and come to the core issues.

Without personally observing your management, I can't drill down to any more detail than that.

  • Thank you. I don't manage well - That is certain. As for hiring well, the talent pool is narrow as I have written elsewhere. I must confess that one of my fears is increasing pay and the staff seeing this as something they can try again in a years time. – Tennis Buff Sep 23 '16 at 23:32
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If I worked with a company of 10 people and 3 were unproductive, but you did nothing about it, I would have low morale and disrespect for you. The worse part is, one of them is the highest paid person. That's insulting.

Although firing people can be bad for morale and cam make others fearful of losing their jobs, you can't let people think they don't have to do their job to a certain level and stay employed.

Start setting standards. Get the teams involved in having some input to the creation of these standards. You may find some people would like your high standards, but it is frustrating if they think they have to pick up the slack of the unproductive people you do nothing about. Establish some type of peer-review on work, so you're not seen as the bad guy all the time. 10 people can be a lot for one person to manage, make one of them a manager.

Reward people who contribute to producing the things that make money. Either you have an environment where good work is rewarded or you don't. If you don't, it is up to you to change it.

Stop worrying about being liked. This doesn't mean you have to be rude either. In your case, this is part of the problem. If people don't like your corrections, ask them how they would like you to handle it, but under no circumstances with poor quality work be allowed. Maybe they want you to criticize in private?

Some people may end up leaving anyway. If they're not contributing, you should fire them. Morale may not improve, but you may start getting more work done.

5

As far as firing is concerned (if you are definitely going to do it), I suggest either firing them and then waiting a couple weeks to try my suggestion below OR trying the suggestion below, waiting a probationary period of 3-4 months to see if they improve, then firing them. You definitely don't want the firings to be perceived as intimidation or retaliation.

Meet with the most mature employees

I agree with @ChrisG that you should probably sit down with your most reasonable employees - the ones who can put their emotion aside and who also feel confident enough to talk to you. Explain the situation calmly with neutral language that doesn't blame your employees or yourself. Something like, "I wanted to meet with you today to get your feedback. It's my impression that the team is somewhat dissatisfied with the work environment here. Can you give me some specific feedback on why that might be?" Then sit back, let them talk and don't get defensive. They could say things that seem ridiculous and inflammatory. That's ok, just write them down.

Get specific feedback on behaviors or actions they perceive as negative

Very often, people will talk in emotions when they are upset, but what you will want to do is drill down to specifics. For example, if they say "we feel like you are really intimidating to talk to", ask them (again, without being defensive) "can you give me specific examples of things I do that make you feel that way?". What you want is a list of the behaviors they feel threatened by. When you have pretty complete list compiled, thank them for their feedback and end the meeting cordially.

Do some soul searching

Now comes the hardest part to my mind: think long and carefully about the list of behaviors they see negatively - how would you feel if you switched to a field where you were not the expert you are and someone exhibited those behaviors towards you?

Make any necessary corrective actions

Hopefully this process will allow you to identify behaviors you want to change and you can set those goals either privately or with the assistance of your staff.

There is of course a small possibility that all ten of your employees just happen to be terrible people, but especially given the phrase "I have a history with staff wanting to leave usually after about 15 months" suggests the odds are pretty low.


A suggestion based on my experience

I'm going to go out on a limb and give you some advice, based on my ill-informed impression of the situation. I probably don't have as much experience as you at managing and you should certainly take my advice and example with a grain of salt. But I hope it helps anyway.

When I first became a manager, I tried to micromanage the way my employees they did their work. This was terrible for morale obviously, and led to (a) me complaining that I always ended up having to do their work for them and (b) them feeling like I was belittling them and criticizing their work (which admittedly I was). It is 100% true that I had many years more experience than they did and the methods they chose weren't nearly as efficient or effective as the methods that I micromanaged upon them. But you know what I realized? It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, what matters is that deliverables are completed on time and the results are correct.

I decided instead to start managing the deliverables of their work. That is, I would specify what deliverable we needed in what timeframe and let them decide how to accomplish it on their own. I put the emphasis on correctness and timeliness, and as long as I defined the deliverables well, the employees would generally deliver. Oftentimes (especially at first) the methods they chose weren't the best, but as long as they delivered what I asked for, that was ok. Occasionally there would be times when they would miss on correctness or timeliness, but I would emphasize that they should come to me early and often if they felt they weren't going to deliver. This allowed me to facilitate by offloading some of the work (if it turned out to be more than expected) or offering suggestions on a better method (if the problem was the way they were going about it) or manage client expectations (if there was really nothing that could be done about it).

With the employees spending more time thinking about how to solve the problem instead of simply enduring my critical micromanagement, they started coming up with better and better ways of getting things done, which ended up solving the problem I originally had with them when I was micromanaging!

3

What a work environment needs to be successful is respect, discipline, and consistency. It sounds like you are lacking in all three.

It sounds to me that you are being too nice, and trying to hard to be their chum instead of their boss. This leads to a lack of respect. They need to understand that they are the employees and you are the boss. Disrespect should not be tolerated in either direction.

It could be that in your efforts to make sure you're not too hard, you may be too soft, until you get fed up and then get rid of people, as you are looking into doing now. That would be both a lack of consistency and a lack of discipline.

If, for example, you say nothing if people come in five minutes late, then they'll start coming in ten minutes late, and so on until they come and go as they please. As soon as someone begins to get out of line, you need to correct them. Do so in private. If it persists, then there should be consequences.

Have policies in place and hold your people to them. Have performance standards, and hold your people to them. Be consistent in your expectations and your enforcement of policies. Performance bonuses, incentives and other rewards for those who are doing well, and consequences for those who do not will get the ship on even keel.

Have a constant feedback loop between you and your people. Have employee meetings. Solicit their input, get to the bottom of why they don't respect you. Get input from everyone, not just the ones you think may be loyal.

The best ones to tell you what you are doing wrong are the people you work with. Ask them.

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If many staff want to leave after 15 months, clearly there is something wrong with your management style. There is nothing to be argued about that.

You might not be abusive or abrasive - but your staff sees you as this.

Self-perception is often deceiving.

Ask some employees and sincerely ask them to fill out an anonymous "survey" regarding what you have done that they perceive as abusive and how you can approve. Listen to what they have to say.

Low morale from one person is the employee's problem. Low morale from everybody of all kinds means it is your problem. A good boss does not trigger people of all sorts to have low morale.

EDIT: Regarding anonymity...

  • Don't fire anybody over it. Even if a response is really rude.
  • If very few people are honest, put the honest responses up with encouragement.
  • And if it's a tech company, put it on a Google Form and tell people fill it outside of home or work, if they want to be safe.
  • Apologize before asking for a survey
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    Also note that it's highly unlikely employees will bother to be honest on the survey - especially at first. You might get one or two, but most of them will probably feel that it's some ploy by their crazy manager to figure out who to fire/single out/whatever. – Wayne Werner Sep 23 '16 at 22:15

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