Are You a Referee or a Manager?

Have you ever asked yourself what you spend your time on each day, week, month? As a senior manager, director or VP, you might be developing or implementing strategies, addressing client accounts, or managing the work of your employees. Or, like so many that I encounter, you may be spending an inordinate amount of time as a referee between your direct reports who just can’t seem to get along. 
Many senior managers find that they spend upwards of 3-5 hours per week dealing with the “he said – she said” of employees. Over the course of a year, a Director earning $100,000 could be spending up to $15,000 of his or her time on this referee role. In fact, given that most manager initiated mediations fail, this number can be even higher. The ability to get along with each other is the responsibility of employees themselves, and your time could be better spent in other areas. 
The manager as referee scenario often looks like this: One employee comes to you and says “this person is not cooperating with me. Can you do something about it?” Then you ask to see them both in your office, and attempt to solve the problem. 
Once there is a gathering to deal with the problem the manager usually attempts to find out who is more at fault so some action can be taken, and the one who gets blamed, sulks or freaks out. This outcome poisons morale and leaves the problem unsolved; these two employees are no better equipped to handle their next conflict than they were before. 
This problem brings me back to road trips with my family when I was a kid. It didn’t take long for my sister or me to protest “he/she’s bothering me!” After a few of these protests, my parents would point out that they we would need to find a way to work it out ourselves. This too is the solution for the referee manager.
Rather than let an ongoing conflict between employees become the major task of your day, try taking the issue off your plate. Ask the employees to work it out on their own. By taking it on yourself, you encourage them to look to others for solutions as opposed to taking initiative and responsibility. And this lesson can certainly make its way into other areas. Not good. 
What’s more, the referee can become stressed themselves because of the high levels of negative emotion, and the impact on the relationship with your staff. At least one of them will see that you are taking sides, which you are.   
If asking them to deal with it themselves does not work, you might want to try suggesting an approach that has worked for you in the past in similar situations. For example, you might suggest that they try focusing on the goal of ending the conflict, rather than the goal of proving that they are right, which often works.
Some who are faced with constant personality conflicts between employees find that they don’t have a suggestion. They may also find that their staff are ill equipped to manage their own conflicts. In these cases, look outside for professionals to assist you. Recognize your own competencies, focus on what you are skilled at and leave those things that you are not skilled at to others. 
Management skills, conflict management or interpersonal skills training can provide the skills your staff needs to solve their own problems. If the conflicts of one particular staff member are persistent, you may want to consider a coach for them.
Either way, the cost of these employee development initiatives will be far less than it costs for you to take your time to try, and fail at the role of referee.

Helping Yourself

Senior managers, including directors and VP's, have more on their plates these days than ever before. Input and decision-making responsibilities within strategic, financial, and human resource realms are increasingly falling on this management group whose expertise may not be in these areas. As well, they may not have the tools to manage the change in accountability these new responsibilities bring. 
The needs of employees are also changing. Employees are demanding more engagement and collaboration with senior level management. These increasing responsibilities from above and below present both challenges and opportunities.
The challenge for managers is to avoid reacting impulsively to increased accountability. In other words, don’t panic! Panic will result in taking away employees’ work, purely because of a fear that the job will not be done correctly.
This reaction causes problems on a number of levels: It sends a message to employees that they are not trusted to do the job well; it prevents employees from learning on the job; and most importantly, the manager's own duties fall away. Performance is sacrificed, and taking on the tasks of subordinates is rarely accepted as a justification of poor performance. 
The opportunity is for staff to get a chance to learn on the job. But for this to happen, managers need to delegate important tasks without snatching them away again. Think of coaching staff through a project as an investment in the future rather than a risk. Employees with the potential to do great things require the opportunity to learn by doing. Failing to trust employees is an easy way to lose them to a competitor.
But a growing pile of others’ work on a manager's desk isn't always the result of increased accountability. When management aims to be more collaborative with employees, a manager may take on responsibilities that belong to others in his zeal to be a friend, confidant and supporter. 
For many, the ability to balance being helpful and being selfish is a life-long challenge, not only in the workplace, but in intimate relationships, in parenthood and beyond. In a senior management role, the solution lies in tipping that balance to the selfish side. 
Take to heart the adage "we must learn to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others." Until your own obligations are taken care of, a manager must learn to say "no" and stick to it. 
Helping when you have the time may produce respect and goodwill, but managers who help others excessively are seen as having no backbone, and may lose their job because they are simply not doing it. If your goal is to make your staff like you, bending over backwards to help them won’t work. 
If employees need help, explain your time limitations and offer another solution. If they want to enhance their skills, let them make some mistakes. If the only alternative you offer is to do it yourself, you will not be helping yourself or your staff.      
Taking care of yourself first will free up the time and energy to help and give learning opportunities to staff. Delegate work without guilt or fear. It may just save your job.

Time and Productivity

Any kind of growth or development of an organization is dependent upon the productivity of its people. Some might say that the central role of any manager is to find ways to encourage employees to be more productive at work. But measuring productivity is a funny thing especially as it pertains to using time at the office or time on a task as the index. Employees who put in less time and produce great work, those who put in more time but produce less and those who create an illusion of productivity all present unique challenges.

Some organizational cultures are only capable of measuring productivity by looking at the clock, assuming that those who work longer hours are in fact more productive. But of course, this is a inaccurate measure of productivity – we have all spent a lot of time accomplishing nothing and have also been able to complete a difficult task in a short time. This “time=productivity” culture need not prevail. 

There are some things managers and employees can do to manage this madness. First, we need to ensure that time at work is not the only index of productivity. How? All employees, at every level, need to market themselves! Ensure that you meet with your supervisor on a regular basis (maybe weekly) to show her what you have accomplished – an informal, ongoing, status report of sorts. Without YOU providing this information, busy supervisors may be left to the only index they have access to – time. If you are one of those people who put in less time to produce great work, you certainly want to be judged based on your results, not how long you spent on a task. Without apology, let your supervisor know that time is not best way to judge your productivity. This way, you show transparency in communicating how you work, and confidence in how you work. Whatever you do, don’t let the 12-hour days of others put the pressure on you.

When we look on the management or supervisory side, we see a different set of challenges. The employee who puts in long hours but produces less can pose serious management and organizational problems. Without asking ourselves the question “What does productivity mean for us?” the organization might default to conceptualizing time on task as productivity. They might even end up rewarding effort or time on a task as opposed to results. While it is certainly commendable to recognize effort, rewarding or evaluating productivity based on time or effort may be misleading at best, and downright useless at worst. So what to do? Managers and supervisors need to ensure that the weekly, monthly or quarterly goals of employees are spelled out in terms of end results, as opposed to falling back on time or some other misleading, nebulous measure. This creates mutual accountability as well as clarity for both parties on what constitutes productivity. It also makes it easier for the employee to reach their goals, and for the manager to help them get there.

Lastly, there are unfortunately those who capitalize on organizations’ inarticulate or limited understanding of productivity by staying late (but not necessarily working late) and using other creative methods to feign busyness. Again, both you and your organizational culture need to tighten up their definitions of productivity. This can prevent the employee who uses staying late, the messy desk, and the old furrowed brow while carrying a bunch of files from faking productivity. Otherwise, efforts to enhance productivity might end up only encouraging people to stay later and later, and do less and less. Next thing you know, this extended time at work provides the impetus for employees complaining about work/life balance!