Complexity in the workplace is brought about by just one element: us. If you’ve got people, you’ve got complexity. Employees, customers, peers, colleagues, leaders. Our unpredictable and occasionally thorny nature and dynamics between us can test our leadership in a different way from other operational challenges.
There’s no denying it’s a tightrope walk!
And if your own personal talents don’t extend naturally to managing the complexities of your people, well it can feel like a highwire act with a troupe of monkeys.
What’s worse, the dynamics we enjoy with family and friends differ enormously to those we have in the workplace, so you can’t fall back on natural intuition. It’s best to understand the distinction between interactions inside the workplace and out - and then develop meaningful strategies to deal with them. That way you encourage productivity, a healthy culture and a love for your brand.
People issues can nosedive really quickly, but these three simple strategies are guaranteed to help you stay aloft.
KNOW YOUR STAFF – BUT KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
Keep your interactions professional from the onset and set reasonable workplace boundaries. This helps eliminate distraction and keeps everyone focused on completing tasks. It’s true that some workplace relationships develop into personal ones over time. But as a rule of thumb, interaction between co-workers, supervisors, clients and customers should stop at the end of the working day.
Having different boundaries for different individuals or within the hierarchy creates ambiguity and misunderstandings too, so stay the line. Keep it clear for everyone at all times and don’t go swaying in the wind.
Knowing your staff means knowing how they stay on track and perform their best. Getting through the working day is a balancing act for them too. Notice the small things about their performance. Generally, people perform their best at specific times of the day; they get distracted by the same things; and they get back on task by consistent means every time. Know these things. What makes them teeter and what restores them?
In understanding these nuances, you’re able to plan and benchmark expectations. By being upfront and showing you understand how they best keep their heads up and their gaze frontwards, you’ll both be clear about the end-goal and relaxed about the journey.
GET TO GRIPS WITH NATURAL DIFFERENCE
Value the differences between individuals. We don’t all think the same way nor perform at the same level. (See a previous blog post on why this is a strength in your team!) Why is it you can email one employee with a list of tasks which they immediately jump to, but another needs more direction, dialogue and input from you? For one the journey is a swift trot along a tight zipline. For the other it’s a wobbly affair requiring a safety net.
In Debra Worthington and Margaret Fitch-Hauser’s book ‘Listening: Processes, Functions and Competency’ (page 78-79), they discuss Cognitive Complex. This is the means by which we perceive incoming messages, organize them and use them to interpret what is being said. One individual may require information that is detailed, specific and complex. Another may need only high-level facts for the same task. This cognitive complexity is not related to smarts, say the authors, but rather our mental agility in organizing elements and making sense of tasks.
By adapting your leadership style to suit individuals, you create enormous opportunity to minimize performance based issues and variances in productivity. Some just need a longer balancing pole than others.
Building agreement when points of view differ around the table can be tricky. Sure, sometimes an authoritative approach or executive decision may be required, but simply insisting it’s your way or the highway without bothering to get buy-in from your team can be really unsettling.
To get others to buy into the way you see things, you’ll need to ask the right questions. Asking your colleagues to think about things - by asking the right questions - allows them to arrive at the same conclusion themselves. This is the art of persuasion.
Management consultant Dan Pink says, 'The key here is that we tend to think that persuasion or motivation is something that one person does to another.' In fact, he says, the trick is to get the person to persuade themselves.
So pre-plan. Arm yourself with the right questions to build dialogue - and employee engagement. Keep the conversation on track but be flexible in your approach. You may be surprised at the outcome, and perhaps even find a new way to complete the journey which you hadn’t even considered.
Despite our complexities, there’s one thing we all share. We like to feel valued! Thank your staff often. It’s an easy and cost neutral habit that genuinely encourages engagement and builds your reputation as a leader.
These simple strategies help avoid complexities in the workplace. Take the trouble to measure your leadership style against them and tweak it accordingly. It takes time, skill and effort to manage the skywalk that is running a business. So balance your complexities, stay smart, fleet of foot, and don’t take a tumble!