Chocolate Pillow | The importance of understanding your staff
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The importance of understanding your staff

20 Aug The importance of understanding your staff

There is no shortage of articles about management, and definitely no shortage of advice on how to be the ‘perfect’ manager; I do not proclaim to be the perfect manager, nor am I the strongest manager out there. I have my flaws, shy away from some confrontation and sometimes even avoid doing tasks (shock horror!), but I am also not afraid to admit it and face up to any consequences from it! I am human!

The reason I write this article is because for years of my career I have seen, been managed by, and even had to manage and train, people who manage via delegation. Now I am not saying this is entirely wrong, after all, I delegate tasks to people too! The wrong thing about a lot of these people, is that they manage by delegating, but not understanding. And there is a very distinct link between the two – no person wants to be managed by someone who tells them to do a task, but has no idea what that task involves. Even worse is when this type of manager begins to get agitated or irate that a task has not been done quickly enough!

I have seen managers tell people to ‘just f##king watch and comprehend it’ and ‘it’s not that difficult, just click this then that, type in the access codes, select all the stuff that I need, then find the thingummy report and export it then save it to the shared drive with all the other reports’. Needless to say, the staff had no idea what to do and were left demotivated and with no understanding whatsoever. What was worse, is that the staff we too afraid to ask for help!

I am a fairly patient, but sometimes hot-headed person. I complain, I get annoyed, but I also try to understand. Whenever I ask someone to do something, I ensure they are aware on how to do it and if I am unsure if they know, I will ask them if they are confident in doing it. It’s not insulting to do this, it shows you appreciate their point of view.

Most importantly, with any staff member (or even guest) – no question is stupid! I have known people scared to ask about things, but if you have never been told or never been shown, how are you supposed to know? It is commonly assumed in hospitality that any new team member will automatically know everything; I have been a manager in my current hotel for a year now, and still do not know a lot of things (I only discovered the emergency kitchen gas shut-off the other day). But what I don’t know, I ask. I have never been accused of being incompetent, and have never not been entrusted with a task if I am instructed correctly or have done it before. This may be a sign of my competence, or it may be that I am willing to ask for guidance, and even supervision at times, if it is something I am not familiar with. Whilst I am willing and confident enough to speak up when I don’t know something, many people are not.

Just the other day, I was showing someone how to use a coffee machine. You would think it fairly obvious, just push a button and put a cup under the nozzle. But they had never used it before! Imagine being put in to the cockpit of a plane and being expected to fly it without any previous experience or knowledge about flying! Now imagine that you were berated, ostracised, disciplined or even ridiculed because you didn’t fly the plane, despite never having done it before! How would you feel?

Just because someone comes across something new, and does not know how to do it, does not make them useless, or an idiot, or a waste of space! I have had to show people how to mop a floor, how to use a Hoover and how to pull a pint before, but never once have I ridiculed them or thought anything less of them. They just had never done it before!

As a manager of several teams when I am on Duty Management shifts, I have to ensure that I am co-ordinating all teas within the hotel appropriately.  I have seen managers who go around barking orders at people with no clarity at all, and a panicked tone that just stresses people out.  Personally, I do get stressed and I am not good at hiding it – people know when I am getting stressed out or annoyed with a situation, and oddly, many of my staff at this point will actually offer their assistance or engage me in a conversation about something funny – generally try what they can to lighten the mood and lessen the stress level slightly.  They do this because this is what I do for them – if they are stressed, overloaded or under pressure I will either tell them to relinquish a task to someone else, take some of their tasks on myself (many a day I have been sat in the management office inputting reservations or doing reservation checks), or even just sit with them and have a coffee and a chat and ‘power coach’ them in to resolving any issues they have.

Not everyone has this ability, or desire, but it is important that you adhere to it – people naturally have more respect and empathy for those who demonstrate an understanding of what they are doing, and do something to help them.  As a manager it is important hat you spend time doing the role of your employees, and actually demonstrating tha you can do it.  You must demonstrate that not only can you do the role competently, but that you can do it within the time-scales required and exceeding the standards expected.  You need to prove you are the best at the job.  When I became Front Of House Manager at my current employer, I spent my first 6 weeks working reception shifts.  the team knew I was the manager, but I concentrated on seeing how the job is done, and learning the ways of the system and hotel.  I did not implement change immediately and I have drip-fed alterations to people – I have spent hours standing beside staff correcting them gradually as they go, continually questioning their actions and methods, and helping find processes and procedures that work for them.  I was lambasted a bit for doing this – it was not instant results and it was not the immediate flurry of change everyone expected, but now looking back over the past year, I have been commended for the progress made on reception – the welcome to the hotel has improved drastically, errors have minimised, and staff morale has increased (okay I will admit there are days where the morale drops for one reason or another – usually overbookings and last minute promotion launches – issues that cause unsettlement).

I am on a personal basis with my team, they know me and I know them.  None of them shy away from coming to me with an issue – sometimes they challenge me, but a full explanation of my reasoning and an explanation of the decision usually suffices.

I can be quite methodical, and this really shows on days when we are due weddings in – that is when the list comes out!  The list is basically a list of all the tasks and final bits that need doing – it even goes down to lemon in the water jugs and sprinkles on the table and tealights lit.  This is necessary because I hold a briefing with staff on duty and the items on the list are delegated out to people.  People are given roles that keep them in the same areas – for example one person may have roles such as hoovering and mopping the restaurant.  this may seem unfair to others, but someone in the other room would get the task of hoovering the ceremony suite and wedding breakfast room; the key here is ensuring that people have fair roles and tasks and they understand how everything will come together in the end.  The most valuable way of delegating is ensuring that people have tasks they are capable of completing.  I have had people tell me they do not know how to mop a floor – so I spent half an hour showing them and explaining all the safety etc aspects with them.  That half an hour saved hours of training or management chats from other managers.

As a manager, everyone understands you are busy and may be rushed off your feet one day, but you need to take time to understand your staff.  If you have conflict over rota’s or other issues, you need to sit and share your decision etc with your staff – not only must you understand them, but they must understand you!

For me, the key to effective management is simple: Listen, Understand, Explain, Demonstrate

[box style=”light-blue note shadow” ]I am aware of other management models out there and fully welcome any alternatives people may offer.  this works for me and may not work for others – I have had it called a ‘soft’ approach to management and that is the commenter’s opinion, but this is what I find achieves the results I need – I have never had to give a disciplinary whilst using this method, so it must work somewhere along the line (or I just have very well behaved staff!?)[/box] [php function=1]
Matt Shiells-Jones

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'

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