Don & Sheryl Grimme on Becoming a Manager During a Recession

Don & Sheryl GrimmeThe following is a guest post by Don & Sheryl Grimme, management trainers, speakers, and authors of The New Manager’s Tool Kit (AMACOM 2008). In this post, they offer advice to managers suddenly thrust into a management position during tough times.

If you are a first-time manager, you were probably very capable as an individual contributor, which is why you were chosen for your current role. However, you may not be feeling that same level of competence in your new job …yet. You’re facing a very different set of challenges. Chief among them is getting things done through others.

Perhaps you’ve taken on management responsibilities sooner than you expected because of lay-offs – thrust in to a position that until recently, someone with more experience fulfilled. You may be reeling, feeling a bit over your head. Don’t worry; there are lots of resources out there for new managers. There are books (like ours!), blogs, and podcasts all devoted to guiding you on your journey.

Even experienced managers are struggling to cope with the ramifications of the current economic crisis. All of you are charged with keeping your organization afloat in the wake of dramatic cutbacks. You are expected to accomplish more with less, creating the danger that you and your reports are becoming seriously overworked.

In 2005, an in-depth study conducted by the Families and Work Institute found that one third of all U.S. employees were chronically overworked – coping with job demands through long hours, bringing work home, nights away from home, overtime with no notice, shift work, and job pressures.

If that was the case four years ago, it’s even more so today. Employees are worried about their own job, the future of the organization for which they work, their industry, and their career. Employees and their managers now need to work smarter and harder.

Recent studies have found that such demands have a negative impact, not only on morale, but also on performance. This demand for high performance is having a negative impact on that performance. Workers, and those who lead them, are burned out.

So, what is a new manager to do? Well, you can start by limiting job demands:

• Discourage excessively long hours and taking work home, wherever possible.
• Minimize nights away from home (e.g., with virtual meetings).
• Reduce overtime (which is a good way to cut costs); and plan for it in advance.
• Accommodate personal preferences in shift assignments, whenever possible.
• Make sure that your performance expectations are reasonable
• Use motivation (rather than pressure) to encourage your employees to meet those expectations.

And there is some good news! Workplace support, such as benevolent supervision, teamwork, and recognition, protects employees from the negative effects of today’s increased job demands. So, beef up your workplace support to ameliorate the negative impact of job demands on performance.

This increase includes reciprocating for the greater demands you’re placing on employees. Notice that all those job demands curtail employees’ personal lives? Balance these professional demands by providing opportunities to deal with personal demands and desires.

Encourage employees to take some time to interact with family and friends during work hours. We realize that this is in direct opposition to typical practices, but those practices are based on an out-of-date, 9-to-5 paradigm. You need to show your understanding at this crucial time for your employees, both professionally and personally.

• Permit personal phone calls and allow family and friends to access the workplace within reason.
• Allow employees to access personal email and non-work websites, at least during rest breaks and lunch hours. Ban access to obscene, violent or harassing sites, but don’t get carried away.
• Be generous in providing time off to handle personal needs, e.g., doctors’ and dental appointments, dropping kids off at day care, etc.

One of a manager’s first duties is to care for and protect those reporting to him/her. If you provide them with the support they need, your employees will in turn support you and your organization. While you are new to the management position, a solid foundation with your team will be your first step to becoming a great manager.

Don and Sheryl Grimme train organizations in every sector of the economy and are frequent speakers at major conferences. They have been interviewed in numerous publications, including the Wall Street Journal. They are the authors of a new book for first-time managers, The New Manager’s Tool Kit (AMACOM 2008). The Grimmes live in South Florida and travel throughout the country to deliver their training and speaking services. Visit their website at GHR-Training.com.

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