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Manager's Hierarchy of Concern

As a manager you have a lot of things to worry about. It’s possible to broadly categorize into three buckets:

  • Money & resources
  • Getting things done (short & long-term)
  • Taking care of your people

To me, the bulk of your job is in the third bucket. You have to be able to foster empathy, make people excel and intervene when things begin to go wrong.

This post is about that intervention point.

To the surprise of no-one but the clueless, the more “wrong” things have gotten, the faster and more forceful you should be intercede on behalf of your people.

Let’s go through them:

1. People who feel unsafe

You need to take care of these people immediately. This is Big Red Button territory. Especially in the very rare extreme cases of physical or sexual violence. In the case of psychological safety, intervention should still be as rapidly as possible. Diminishing psychological safety is one of the inevitable ways to reduce team performance.

Find out what or who is causing feelings and resolve it to the best of your ability.

2. People who are actively threatening to quit

No one wants to lose employees. Obviously, we aren’t talking about people who are moving for family reasons or people who got a job with a different company (though you should understand why every employee leaves).

This is about people who are burnt out or angry or fed up or otherwise pull a surprise resignation. You may not get them to stay and even if you do, they probably won’t stay long. But it is important to understand their situation and figure out a) what you can do and b) what you could have done to have prevented this outcome.

3. People who are underperforming

Finally, we are out of “Big Red Button” situations and into Red Flags territory.

Underperformance doesn’t usually happen all at once. Your immediate concerns are mitigation & communication. Does the underperformer know that they aren’t meeting expectations? Oddly, the answer is that they are usually clueless. Let them know, give them a chance to succeed. Sometimes this means training, sometimes a transfer. Occassionaly you do have to let them go.

The worst possible outcome is for the employee to be unaware for an extended period of time. Long term, not dealing with underperformers tends to drive away your best people.

4. People who don’t get along with their boss

In various HR surveys, “Not getting along with your manager” is often at the top of reasons why people leave their jobs.

It doesn’t have to be their boss either. It could be someone who controls their work in some way, like a project manager or a peer reviewer.

If their boss is you, dear reader, it’s time for some open minded self-assessment. See if you can figure out why. What behavior changes. Potentially see if an internal transfer makes sense.

5. People who are bored

Bored people quit. Not always, but often enough that it should be a yellow flag for you. How can you challenge them? What work can be shuffled or reassigned? Can you split the boring work among multiple people?

6. People who aren’t learning or aren’t being challenged

Similar to the above, this one is a just a yellow flag. This one is often tricky to diagnose, because someone could be good at their job, but stagnating. In most circumstances you want your people to grow. Does their career seem static by choice? or due to lack of opportunity? or maybe they are jut quiet introvert who don’t know or aren’t comfortable asking for new opportunities? Figure out why. Help them get new opportunities or help them learn how to ask for new opportunities.

What do they all have in common?

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many reasons to be concerned about your reports. The important thing is to assign the appropriate urgency. Being casual about “Big Red Button” situations means someone has to endure a terrible situation and typically results is bad outcomes. Similarly, being forceful about yellow flags often comes off as being pushy or micromanaging.

Making sure the right level of timeliness and intervention is a big part of getting better outcomes and successful employees.

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