We need to be aware as a manager, having adopted and implemented a 21st Century approach of truly engaging our employees with authenticity and care, that there might be one or two employees who pull the ring out of things and attempt to get as much out of the manager as possible. These specific employees, probably motivated as a result of neglect and feelings of little or no value in the past, try to get alongside the manager unnaturally for their own benefit and try to “manipulate” warm emotions and good feelings to suit their own ends. This often plays out as requests for time off, extra perks or longer lunches, etc. It is also evident in the “apology language” used when a report is late or something important has not been completed. The employee may minimise the lack of action or the importance of the report anyway to gain a notch of control over the manager.
Managers who do not address forms of manipulation or poor performance send all the wrong messages to the rest of the members of the team, viz. like “it’s okay if we use any leeway to our advantage”, or “we should be able to get away with a less than perfect report, as long as our excuses are really good”. Employees who work effectively and efficiently perceive these forms of manipulation easily – if they then see that the manager deals with scheming and doesn’t allow any form of exploitation, they will feel that they can trust the manager; if they, however, notice that the manager turns a blind eye to wheeler-dealing and let’s employees get away with manoeuvring, they will feel cheated and levels of trust will diminish.
The manager, to maintain integrity and professionalism in all relationships, needs to focus therefore on the following precepts:
- Employee expectations need to be aligned to the mission and values of the organisation – any arbitrary request can be entertained with some level of compassion as long as the employee has already shown dedication to and application of the company mission, vision, values and goals. Manipulation cannot be tolerated.
- Demonstration of fairness – unfair advantage to a specific employee breaks trust and destroys the spirit of the team. All team members need to have certainty that the manager will always be fair.
- A focus on performance – poor performance should never be tolerated. Any celebration of mediocrity dilutes the very culture of excellence that one is attempting to grow. Performance management is a daily activity.
- Behaviour modelling – setting the example and demonstrating the company values in all that the manager says and does goes a long way to stimulate reciprocal behaviour. Managers are watched all the time – managers, therefore, should themselves be fully engaged and focused on achieving company objectives.
- Relate every request back to the team/company objectives and values – when the manager perceives that a request or expectation is out of line, the manager can simply ask the employee: “How does your request relate to our objectives?” or “If I had to allow you to do that, how would that be perceived in terms of fairness?” or “How does your request relate to the “big picture” of the company?” Asking and getting the employee to think is far better than telling.
Managing employee expectations requires wisdom, communication skill and professionalism. Rather than adopting the “because I said so” attitude, managers should respond in relation to performance expectations, values and company goals. There needs to be a marriage between composure and firmness and compassion.