As managers, especially if we’re responsible for a large team, we often see more of the role than the person.
Talking with someone who is having a troubling time at work (or even just chatting to them at the annual Christmas lunch!) often reveals that they’re playing a part – and it’s not necessarily the best one for them.
Our roles in an organisation come with certain expectations of the person we’re going to be. That’s all well and good – particular jobs require skills, experience and temperament to enable a certain function to be fulfilled.
But are we missing something? It’s easy for people to get wrapped up, labelled and stuck with the expectations of the job they’re doing now. And that can be limiting, and a waste of talent.
Let’s take a couple of examples:
Eager to please, she allows herself to be interrupted, and prioritises others’ needs. The go-to-girl for the hot-drinks round, the printer-jams and cold-call fielding, she’s mostly chuckling whilst working. Amy may adopt a light-hearted charm offensive to get a job done ‘as a favour’ and seemingly bounces back from frequent patronising remarks.
Finance Manager George
Black and white – and to the point. He doesn’t appreciate quips interrupting financial reporting in management meetings – any more than he likes talking much beyond the immediate work remit at all! Up rise his eyebrows if (in the middle of talking through the balance sheet) the conversation veers off to cover the particularly creative pitch that won that new big ticket account last month.
If we stand back and look at the team we manage, to what extent have people morphed into what they think their job titles represent?
Perhaps we have:
An IT nerd who can’t translate into layman’s terms and (to someone intimidated by technology) only speaks ‘Robot’;
A customer service manager who ends a conversation with a colleague with “anything else?” through a glued-on smile;
A marketing executive who isn’t really interested in the bottom line but thinks only of the bells and whistles.
Back to Amy and George – let’s take a closer look at them:
Eager-to-please-Amy happily organises the team day or office party and lends an ear for everyone’s problems – but have we also recognised how she oozes authority when office protocol is being abused, when calendars aren’t up-to-date or when pool-car keys go missing.
Data-driven George – with his work vocabulary focused on ‘analysis’, ‘reporting cycle’ ‘reconciliation’ and ‘compliance.’ But also the easy-going, amusing George who rallies the troops just by bounding enthusiastically into the department, securing a ‘yes’ from even the most reluctant.
How can we step outside the stereotypes and fully engage an Amy or a George – to do the unexpected or extra mile, and meanwhile score a balance in relationship and team-building?
Looking out for the signs that someone’s got more to offer than their role suggests. What do they talk about, dedicate spare time to or volunteer for?
Asking people we trust how they describe that person (listening as much for what they don’t say, as what they do!)
Considering how someone’s role might adapt to allow them to use their talents more widely. Is there a project they could take on?
We’re two things at work, the task-doer and the person. . Expecting people to rely on only one or the other probably won’t make for a successful working relationship. A mix, adapted at appropriate times, makes for the smooth-running of a role, easier relationships, greater cooperation, and more respect and trust as we build rapport.
Effective managers don’t expect people to be something they’re not, or to bury who they are. We all need to strike the comfortable and effective balance between who we are, and who we ‘should’ be.
Taking the time to build a whole profile of whom we manage – not only the Administrator or the Finance Manager, but of Amy Allen and George Green – will help us to connect better, relax the boundaries and draw more on strengths.
So what can you do more of to bring out the best in your team members today?