“I’m your boss, not your mother.”
How many managers have wanted to scream that while dealing with bickering or whining employees? Yet the truth is, parenting and managing have far more in common than we might like to believe.
I always saw my business as my baby, so the analogy strikes me as perfectly apt. And no, I didn’t really see my employees as my children. But I did realize that certain parenting principles applied:
- Set clear expectations: like children, employees truly want clarity on what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. If you don’t define the boundaries, they will often keep pushing the limits until you inevitably get frustrated enough to fire them, and they will be confused because you never made your expectations known. For example, if you don’t want your employees setting their own hours, make it crystal clear what time you expect them to show up, and outline the consequences for failing to do so. At the same time, you also need to let your team know when they’re allowed flexibility. One of my clients has employees who didn’t know they were allowed to work half-days when needed, and they didn’t realize their bosses wanted them to come up with new ideas and help solve workplace problems, because it was never clearly stated. Don’t assume your team is aware of what’s allowed and encouraged.
- Reward the behavior you want: tell your staff how they can wow you–what going above and beyond looks like. Don’t assume they know what really matters to you. And offer rewards for doing so. This can be as simple as giving praise, to financial bonuses and perks like extra vacation time or telecommuting options.
- Praise in public, reprimand in private: no one likes to see parents shouting at their kids in public. It’s embarrassing for everyone, especially the child. And it’s not soon forgotten or forgiven. Unfortunately, far too many bosses chastise their staff in front of each other, which is a real morale-crusher. On the other hand, praising your employees in front of others is a wonderful way to show appreciation, make them feel supported, and set an example of expressing gratitude on a regular basis.
- Keep it simple: yes, in the workplace you’re dealing with human beings who are at least in Jr. high, if not full-grown adults. But just like children, you’ll benefit from making your expectations as clear and simple as possible. Don’t use jargon, and don’t expect them to memorize essay-length memos on new operating procedures. It will usually take more time to summarize what you want in a very succinct and simple way, but it’s important if you actually expect employees to remember it and do it.
- You’re not their buddy, you’re their leader: one of my clients is an entrepreneur who struggles with making her staff take her requests seriously, because she’s so friendly with them. I understand, because I cherry-picked my staff so I would only be working with people whose company I really enjoyed. Consequently, I have enduring friendships with many of the people I hired. But the bottom line is, you’re their boss first when it comes to the workplace, and they need to know you fully expect them to do as you ask. If you’ve hired reasonable people, they will understand when you need to put your foot down. Just be sure to check in with yourself and see that you’re not simply being bossy for the gratification of your ego. However, the bigger reason you don’t want to simply be their buddy is that your team needs to know you’re in charge and you’re a strong, competent leader. Kids are the same way: they need to know they have parents they can respect and depend on, because it helps set their mind at ease and know they’re taken care of.