People Management

“Scream so I can hear you” – the wrong approach to people management

Photo by jonas mohamadi from Pexels

The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is an American proverb which basically means that the noisiest or loudest problem gets the attention. We often grant attention to people proportional to the noise they make, instead of the results they achieve or the situations they deal with.

I’ve learned the importance of “noise” in a corporation the hard way, more than 12 years ago when I was working as a Team lead in software testing. My team was doing their job, meeting deadlines, everything was working well. No complaints from our side, nor from the project management. Until one day one of the main stakeholders asked on an aggressive tone: “And what is the QA team doing? I’ve never heard of them”. For this guy, you were visible only when you were stepping on his toes or escalating. We had, of course, weekly reports, metrics, dashboards – all the things that few people bother to look at. I realised then that not being vocal had worked to the detriment of my team. I also observed that people who were playing the drum for every insignificant thing they did, were getting the spotlight. In the end I left that company as we were in dissonance, but I’ve learned a good lesson.

Good people who mind their work and do their job well often don’t make noise. Sometimes, it’s a personality trait. In other cases, there’s simply no one to listen. People management is perceived too often as a side job and not a main job. In many (social and organisational) cultures, people are not used to speaking up, fearing anything they say might be used against them (which in toxic companies might be true).

People management has to be proactive, not reactive. Reactive management deals with fire fighting on a constant basis. Usually, reactive managers have one solution left to prevent resignations: counter-offers. That’s how organisations lose good people: by ignoring them. The People Manager can’t be everywhere, but it takes proactive interest to know what your people are doing. Proactive means knowing what bothers them or what stress they endure, to defuse the tension before it explodes or implodes. There are key events that impact availability, productivity or that push people to look for another employment:

–       getting married or having a kid -> push people to change jobs (due to paygrade, schedule, office location)

–       having someone sick in the familly, going through a disease or getting a divorce -> these affect productivity directly, but might also push people towards remote jobs.

All these can be dealt with, offering mutual understanding and help, as long as there is a will to solve it. Switch the project, grant some remote work, change the role. It’s in every company’s interest to keep its employees in a good state of mind so that they can perform.

HR can play this card well by asking managers what made the employee leave or get escalated, what was his or her emotional state, if there were any personal aspects leading to this. You can’t answer this if you are not involved.

In my experience, if you are willing to listen, people are willing to talk. If you ask for help, people are willing to lend you a hand. Even if they don’t, it’s for the better, because you will know you are in the wrong place and you need to move on.

When did you last ask your team how they are doing?