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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 19, 2009

New managers must connect with workers in these tough times

By Anita Bruzzese

Being a first-time manager is always a bit stressful, but those entering the management ranks these days may believe they could not have garnered their new position at a worse time as they face a recession, layoffs, cutbacks and a stressed and disillusioned workforce.

"It is definitely a tough time to be a new manager," says Drew McLellan, CEO of McLellan Marketing Group in Des Moines, Iowa. "You're going into the job already struggling with how you're going to rally your team to do the job, but now must connect with them emotionally because of what we're all going through."

Glenn Phillips, CEO of Forte Inc. in Pelham, Ala., echoes those sentiments, but adds that new managers should also realize they're being "handed a golden opportunity" because those who manage well in these tough times can really boost their career.

Both Phillips and McLellan agree that new managers before setting any agenda for their staff should first listen to employees and spend time asking questions about what each person does, the challenges they face and what each employee needs to get the job done.

Next and perhaps the most challenging given the current business climate is to establish trust with workers.

"You don't have to be candid, but you do have to be truthful," Phillips says. "Don't make up crap. You can be reserved in what you say because there are some things you can't talk about, but be honest in what you do say."

McLellan adds that honesty from a manager is especially important when much of the future remains uncertain for many companies. "If employees think you're not being truthful with them, they may think you're sharing only some of the bad news, and there is more to come. That will scare them into trying to find another job and you may lose top performers."

Tom Egelhoff, a small-business consultant with www.SmallTownMarketing.com in Bozeman, Mont., says that new managers must also look for ways to motivate workers during these tough times.

"You have parties when people leave or retire why not have one when they join your company?" he says.

"New managers have to realize that employees aren't there to make the new manager successful. The employee has his or her own reasons for being there, and you've got to find a way to connect with them and keep them there. Good, trained employees are hard to replace," he says.

Some other suggestions from these experienced managers include:

  • Admit mistakes. "When you mess up, pull the staff together and admit it. Then say: 'This is how we're going to fix it.' Make sure you tell your boss about the mistake, and say how you and your team learned from it and are moving forward," McLellan says. "Show everyone how you're taking a disadvantage and turning it into an advantage for the team."

  • Connect with your team. New managers may believe they should distance themselves from their workers to remain professional. To some extent that is true, but more seasoned managers say that really taking the time to listen to employees what they like, don't like, their worries, their aspirations can make employees happier, and pay off with better job performances.

    Anita Bruzzese writes this column for Gannett News Service.