Skill no. 14: Mentoring

A mentor is someone in the organization, usually older, more experienced, and in a higher level position, who sponsors or supports another employee (a protégé) who is in a lower-level position in the organization. A mentor can teach, guide and encourage. Some organizations have formal mentoring programs, but even if your organization does not, mentoring should be an important skill for you to develop.

You can be more effective at mentoring if you use the following six suggestions as you mentor another person:

  • Communicate honestly and openly with your protégé

If your protégé is going to learn from you and benefit from your experience and knowledge, you’re going to have to be open and honest as you talk about what you’ve done. Bring up the failures as well as the successes. Remember that mentoring is a learning process, and in order for learning to take place, you’re going to have to be open and honest in “telling it like it is.”

  • Encourage honest and open communication from your protégé

You need to know as a mentor what your protégé hopes to gain from this relationship. You should encourage the protégé to ask for information and to be specific about what he or she wants to gain.

  • Treat the relationship with the protégé as a learning opportunity

Don’t pretend to have all the answers and all the knowledge, but do share what you’ve learned through your experiences. And in your conversations and interactions with your protégé, you may be able to learn as much from that person as he or she does from you. So be open to listening to what your protégé is saying.

  • Take the time to get to know your protégé

As a mentor, you should be willing to take the time to get to know your protégé and his or her interests. If you’re not willing to spend that extra time, you should probably not embark on a mentoring relationship.

  • Remind your protégé that there is no substitute for effective work performance

In any job, effective work performance is absolutely essential for success. It doesn’t matter how much information you provide as a mentor if the protégé isn’t willing to strive for effective work performance.

  • Know when it’s time to let go

Successful mentors know when it’s time to let the protégé begin standing on his or her own. If the mentoring relationship has been effective, the protégé will be comfortable and confident in handling new and increasing work responsibilities. And just because the mentoring relationship is over doesn’t mean that you never have contact with your protégé. It just means that the relationship becomes one of equals, not one of teacher and student.

Skill no. 13: Managing resistance to change

Managers play an important role in organizational change – that is, they often serve as change agents. However, managers may find that change is resisted by employees. After all, change represents ambiguity and uncertainty, or it threatens the status quo. How can this resistance to change be effectively managed?

You can be more effective at managing resistance to change if you use the following suggestions:

Assess the climate for change

One major factor why some changes succeed and others fail is the readiness for change. Assessing the climate for change involves asking several questions. The more affirmative answers you get, the more likely it is that change efforts will succeed.

  • Is the sponsor of the change high enough in hierarchy to have power to effectively deal with resistance?
  • Is senior management supportive of the change and committed to it?
  • Is there a strong sense of urgency from senior managers about the need for change, and is this feeling shared by others in the organization?
  • Do managers have a clear vision of how the future will look after the change?
  • Are there objective measures in place to evaluate the change effort, and have reward systems been explicitly designed to reinforce them?
  • Is the specific change effort consistent with other changes going on in the organization?
  • Are managers willing to sacrifice their personal self-interests for the good of the organization as a whole?
  • Do managers pride themselves on closely monitoring changes and actions by competitors?
  • Are managers and employees rewarded for taking risks, being innovative, and looking for new and better solutions?
  • Is the organizational structure flexible?
  • Does communication flow both down and up in the organization?
  • Has the organization successfully implemented changes in the recent past?
  • Are employee satisfaction with and trust in management high?
  • Is there a high degree of interaction and cooperation between organizational work units?
  • Are decisions made quickly, and do decisions take into account a wide variety of suggestions?

Choose and appropriate approach for managing the resistance to change

There are six tactics that have been suggested for dealing with resistance to change. Each is designed to be appropriate for different conditions of resistance. These include education and communication (used when resistance comes from lack of information and inaccurate information), participation (used when resistance stems from people not having all the information they need or when they have the power to resist), facilitation and support (used when those with power will lose out in a change), manipulation and cooptation (used when any other tactic will not work or is too expensive), and coercion (used when speed is essential and change agents possess considerable power). Which one of these approaches will be most effective depends on the source of the resistance to the change.

During the time the change is being implemented and after the change is completed, communicate with employees regarding what support you may be able to provide

Your employees need to know that you are there to support them during change efforts. Be prepared to offer the assistance that may be necessary to help your employees enact the change.

Skill no. 12: Managing conflict

Conflict is a natural byproduct of people’s interactions in organizations and can’t be – nor should it be – eliminated. Conflict arises because organizational members have different goals and organizations have scarce resources. In addition, contemporary management practices such as empowerment and self-managed work teams where people’s work is interdependent and must be coordinated create the potential for conflict. The ability to manage conflict is, therefore, one of the most important skills a manager needs. It fact, when human resource managers of Fortune 1000 companies were asked to rank the importance of certain management skills, conflict management was in the top ten.

You can develop your skills at managing conflict if you use the following six behaviors.

  • Assess the nature of the conflict

The first thing you should do is assess the source of the conflict. Has the conflict arisen because of communication differences (semantic difficulties, misunderstandings, or noise in the communication channel)? Is the conflict the result of job or organizational structural differentiation such as disagreements over goals, decision alternatives, performance criteria, or resource allocations? Or is the conflict due to personal differences (individual idiosyncrasies or personal value system)? Also, are there any positive aspects to the conflict that make it more functional than dysfunctional?

  • Decide if this is a conflict that needs to be handled

Some conflicts don’t justify the manager’s attention. Some aren’t worth the effort and others might be unmanageable. Try to avoid trivial conflicts and focus on the ones that need attention.

  • Evaluate the persons involved in the conflict

It’s important that you identify and be familiar with all individuals involved with the conflict. What interests or concerns does each person have? What’s important to them? Who has power? What’s at stake? What’s their time frame? What are their personalities, feelings and resources? You’re likely to manage a conflict better if you’re able to view the conflict situation from the perspective of the conflicting parties.

  • Know your options for handling the conflict

Managers can choose from five conflict management options: avoidance, accommodation, forcing, compromise, and collaboration. Here’s a short description of each:

Avoidance: Withdrawing from or suppressing the conflict. Most appropriate when conflict is trivial, when emotions are running high and time is needed for the conflicting parties to cool down, or when the potential disruption from a more assertive action outweighs the benefits of resolution.

Accommodation: Maintaining harmonious relationships by placing others’ needs and concerns above your own. Most viable when the issue under dispute isn’t that important to you or when you want to “build up credits” for later issues.

Forcing: satisfying one’s own needs at the expense of another’s. Works well when you need a quick resolution on important issues where unpopular actions must be taken and when commitment by others to your solution isn’t crucial.

Compromise: A solution to conflict in which each party gives up something of value. Can be an optimum strategy when conflicting parties are about equal in power, when it’s desirable to achieve a temporary solution to a complex issue, or when time pressures demand an expedient solution.

Collaboration: The ultimate win-win situation in which all parties to a conflict seek to satisfy their interests. It’s the best conflict option when time pressures are minimal, when all parties seriously want a win-win solution, and when the issue is too important to be compromised.

  • Deal with the emotional aspects of conflict

During conflict, emotions (anger, fear, resentment, etc.) tend to run high. Therefore, it’s usually better to deal with those aspects rather than trying to settle substantive aspects of the conflict. This typically involves three steps. First, treat the other person with respect by being aware of your own emotions and keeping them under control. Next, listen to the other person’s point of view and make that person feel understood. Finally, briefly state your own views, needs, and feelings.

  • Select the best option

Start by looking at your own preferred conflict-handling style. You can assess this using the self-assessment exercise “What’s my preferred conflict handling style?” Then, look at your goals for resolving the conflict: what is the importance of the conflict issue? How concerned are you about maintaining long-term supportive interpersonal relations? And how quickly does the conflict need to be resolved?

All other things being equal, if the issue is critical to the organization’s or unit’s success, collaboration is preferred. If sustaining relationships is important, the best strategies in order of preference are accommodation, collaboration, compromise, and avoidance. If it’s crucial to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible, the best options are forcing, accommodation, and compromise, in that order.

Finally, knowing the source of the conflict can help you decide the best option. Communication based conflicts that revolve around misinformation and misunderstandings are best resolved by collaboration. Conflicts based on personal differences, however, arise out of dissimilarities in values and personalities. These types of conflicts are susceptible to avoidance because these differences are often deeply rooted. However, managers who have to resolve these types of conflicts frequently rely on forcing, not so much because it’s best for the parties, but because it works. Finally, structural conflicts can be resolved by choosing to use most of the conflict resolution options.

Skill no. 11: Interviewing

The interview is used almost universally as part of the employee selection process. Not many of us have ever gotten a job without having gone through one of more interviews. Interviews can be valid and reliable selection tools, but they need to be structured and well organized.

You can be an effective interviewer if you use the following seven suggestions for interviewing job candidates:

  • Review the job description and job specification

Be sure that prior to the interview, you have reviewed pertinent information about the job. Why? Because this will provide you with valuable information on which to assess the job candidate. Furthermore, knowing the relevant job requirements will help eliminate interview bias.

  • Prepare a structured set of questions you want to ask all job applicants

By having a set of prepared questions, you ensure that you’ll get the information you want. Furthermore, by asking similar questions, you’re able to better compare all candidates’ answers against a common base.

  • Before meeting a candidate, review his or her application form and resume

By doing this you’ll be able to create a complete picture of the candidate in terms of what is represented on the resume or application and what the job requires. You can also begin to identify areas to explore during the interview. That is, areas that are not clearly defined on the resume or application but that are essential to the job can become a focal point in your discussion with the candidate.

  • Open the interview by putting the applicant at ease and by providing a brief preview of the topics to be discussed

Interviews are stressful for job candidates. Opening the discussion with small talk, such as the weather, can give the candidate time to adjust to the interview setting. By providing a preview of topics to come, you are giving the candidate an agenda. This helps the candidate begin framing what he or she will say in response to your questions.

  • Ask you questions and listen carefully to the candidate’s answers

Select follow-up questions that flow naturally from the answers given. Focus on the candidate’s responses as they relate to information you need to ensure that the person meets your job requirements. If you’re still uncertain, use a follow-up question to further probe for information.

  • Close the interview by telling the applicant what is going to happen next

Applicants are anxious about the status of your hiring decision. Be up-front with candidates regarding others who will be interviewed and the remaining steps in the hiring process. Let the person know your time frame for making a decision. In addition, tell the applicant how you will notify him or her about your decision.

  • Write your evaluation of the applicant while the interview is still fresh in your mind

Don’t wait until the end of the day, after interviewing several people, to write your analysis of each person. Memory can (and often will) fail you! The sooner you write your impressions after an interview, the better chance you have of accurately noting what occurred in the interview and your perceptions of the candidate.

Skill no. 10: Disciplining

If an employee’s performance regularly isn’t up to par or if an employee consistently ignores the organization’s standards and regulations, the manager may have to use discipline as a way to control behavior. What exactly is discipline? Discipline is actions taken by a manager to enforce the organization’s expectations, standards, and rules. The most common types of discipline problems managers have to deal with include attendance (absenteeism, tardiness, abuse of sick leave), on-the-job behaviors (failure to meet performance goals, disobedience, failure to use safety devices, alcohol or drug abuse), and dishonesty (theft, lying to managers).

You can be more effective at disciplining employees if you use the following eight behaviors.

  • Respond immediately

The more quickly a disciplinary action follows a behavior that requires disciplining, the more likely it is that the employee will associate the discipline with the behavior rather than with you as the disciplinarian. It’s best to being the disciplinary process as soon as possible after you notice a violation.

  • Provide a warning

You have an obligation to warn an employee before initiating disciplinary action. This means that the employee must be aware of and accept the organization’s rules and standards of behavior and performance. Disciplinary action is more likely to be seen as fair when employees have received a warning that a given behavior will lead to discipline and when they know what that disciplinary action will be.

  • State the problem specifically

Give the date, time, place, individuals involved, and any extenuating circumstances surrounding the problem behavior. Be sure to define the problem behavior in exact terms instead of just reciting company regulations. Explain why the behavior isn’t acceptable by showing how it specifically affects the employee’s job performance, the work unit’s effectiveness, and the employee’s colleagues.

  • Allow the employee to explain his or her position

Regardless of the facts you have, due process demands that an employee be given the opportunity to explain his or her position. For the employee’s perspective, what happened? Why did it happen? What was his or her perception of the expectations, rules and regulations, and circumstances?

  • Keep discussion impersonal

Make sure that the discipline is directed at what the employees has done (or failed to do) and not at the employee personally.

  • Be consistent

Fair treatment of employees demands that disciplinary action be consistent. This doesn’t mean, however, treating everyone exactly alike. Be sure to clearly justify disciplinary actions that might appear inconsistent to employees.

  • Take progressive action

Choose a disciplinary action that’s appropriate to the problem behavior. Penalties should get progressively stronger if, or when, the problem is repeated. For example, you may start with an oral warning, then move progressively to a written warning, a suspension, and then, if the problem behavior warrants, dismissal. Keep in mind, however, that there may be some behaviors that warrant immediate dismissal, and these should be clear to employees.

  • Obtain agreement on change

Disciplining should include guidance and direction for correcting the problem behavior. Let the employee state what s/he plans to do in the future to ensure that the problem won’t be repeated.

Skill no. 9: Developing trust

Trust plays an important role in the manager’s relationships with his or her employees. Given the importance of trust, today’s managers should actively seek to develop it within their work group.

You can be more effective at developing trust among your employees if you use the following eight suggestions:

  • Practice openness

Mistrust comes as much from what people don’t know as from what they do. Being open with employees’ leads to confidence and trust. Keep people informed. Make clear the criteria you use in making decisions. Explain the rationale for your decisions. Be forthright and candid about problems. Fully disclose all relevant information.

  • Be fair

Before making decisions or taking actions, consider how others will perceive them in terms of objectivity and fairness. Give credit where credit is due. Be objective and impartial in performance appraisals. Pay attention to equity perceptions in distributing rewards.

  • Speak your feelings

Managers who convey only hard facts come across as cold, distant, and unfeeling. When you share your feelings, others will see that you are real and human. They will know you for who you are and their respect for you is likely to increase.

  • Tell the truth

Being trustworthy means being credible. If honesty is critical to credibility, then you must be perceived as someone who tells the truth. Employees are more tolerant of hearing something “they don’t want to hear” than of finding out that their manager lied to them.

  • Be consistent

People want predictability. Mistrust comes from not knowing what to expect. Take the time to think about your values and beliefs and let those values and beliefs consistently guide your decisions. When you know what’s important to you, your actions will follow, and you will project a consistent behavior that earns trust.

  • Fulfill your promises

Trust requires that people believe that you are dependable. You need to ensure that you keep your word. Promises made must be promises kept.

  • Maintain confidences

You trust those whom you believe to be discreet and those on whom you can rely. If people open up to you and make themselves vulnerable by telling you something in confidence, they need to feel assured you won’t discuss it with others or betray their confidence. If people perceive you as someone who lack personal confidence or someone who can’t be depended on, you’ve lost their trust.

  • Demonstrate competence

Develop the admiration and respect of others by demonstrating technical and professional ability. Pay particular attention to developing and displaying your communication, negotiation, and other interpersonal skills.

Skill no. 8: Designing motivating jobs

As a manager, it’s likely you’re going to have to design or redesign jobs at some point. How will you ensure that these jobs are motivating? What can you do regarding job design that will maximize you employees’ motivation and performance? The job characteristics model, which defines the five core job dimensions (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback) and their relationships to employee motivation, provides a basis for designing motivating jobs.

The following five suggestions, based on the job characteristics model, specify the types of changes in jobs that are most likely to lead to improving the motivating potential for employees.

  • Combine tasks

As a manager, you should put existing specialized and divided tasks back together to form a new, larger module of work. This step will increase skill variety and task identity.

  • Create natural works units

You should design work task that form and identifiable and meaningful whole. This step will increase “ownership” of the work and will encourage employees to view their work as meaningful and important rather than as irrelevant and boring.

  • Establish client relationships

The client is the user of the product or service that is the basis for an employee’s work. Whenever possible, you should establish direct relationships between your workers and your clients. This step increases skill variety, autonomy, and feedback for the employees.

  • Expand jobs vertically

Vertical expansion of a job means giving employees responsibilities and controls that were formerly the manager’s. It partially closes the gap between the “doing” and “controlling” aspects of the job. This step increases employee autonomy.

  • Open feedback channels

By increasing feedback, employees not only learn how well they are performing their jobs but also whether their performance is improving, deteriorating, or remaining at a constant level. Ideally, this feedback should be received directly as the employee does the job, rather than from his or her manager on an occasional basis.