Deal With Individual Issues


There are for me two broad ways of dealing with a management issue in your team. Most places I’ve worked have operated on the basis of removing management overhead by the use of global policies that apply to all to deal with problems. The other option is to deal with individuals as individuals and manage the situation, rather than set new restrictive policies.

Generally in the tech/digital industry you should be able to operate on the basis that you have a professional team of adults who should be treated as such. I tend towards the opinion that we should worry about quantity and quality of output and not concern ourselves with how and when that output is generated. Enable people to work in the way that is most effective for them and you’ll get the best output. Encourage a hybrid, flexible working model and so long as the job is done everything is ok.

We should not need to be concerned with what time someone got to work, where work is, and if they worked that time back later in the week, the same day or never. It should generally be “what we lose on the swings, we gain on the roundabouts”. People’s level of attention, their ability to focus on delivering quality work will wax and wane with so many different things, allowing them to work when they can work their best will net a much better level of productivity, engagement, commitment and mutual respect than clock watching their comings and goings.

As an example.

But I apply that same thought process to most things. Internet access should not be monitored and controlled, if someone needs to hop on and order that thing/sort that thing out for their personal life when they get a moment at work, that’s no big deal. I’m sure there’ll be a time they’ve been in early, left late, stopped for a meeting, had some work thoughts in their “own time”.

So long as the job is getting done and done well, it doesn’t matter. This of course requires managers to have a view as to how much work is expected and the quality of that work, but if the manager doesn’t have that view - they’re probably not able to manage that work.

I like to have an “etiquette” in the office for this, rather than a set of policies and rules. The etiquette can be mutually agreed in the teams and across the teams, it allows us all to work together to provide as much flexibility as we can have while not holding each other back. Making sure each other’s working hour preferences are known and shared, as well as locations, so we know we have times we can link up, meet in person or virtually and enable communications. Agreements around focus time, you’re offline, notifications etc off, but a phone call is the thing that breaks in but only in an emergency.

This seems to mostly work really well, if something isn’t working, we’ll discuss what’s not working and how we can try something new to fix that problem. But it’s not a rule or a policy that gets you in an HR meeting. It’s a shared agreement as to how we can make work work for all of us.

My Golden Rule that I share with the team is “Don’t Take The Piss”. It’s fairly self explanatory. I also ask people to tell me if they feel someone is taking the piss. It’s important the team feel that everyone is pulling their weight and doing their share. It’s important that they speak to me, or someone, if they feel that’s not the case. Because we could be unaware. That happens, when it does we need to know and take action. But it could be that there is a reason why it looks like that person is taking the piss - short term agreement for a personal reason/issue/concern. Anyone who thinks someone else is taking the piss, when they’re not, needs to know enough to be happy that the other person isn’t. For obvious reasons of personal motivation and team morale.

When I find that someone appears to be not doing their job, we have to sit down and reflect on the possible reasons why. They could have personal issues, they could lack the right support/enablement at work to do it. There could be a wide range of reasons. I prefer to take the approach of at first sitting down with that person in a 1-2-1 and asking the right coaching questions to try and pick in on what’s wrong.

Mostly, I’ve found this works and I’ll rapidly find out there is an issue with the individual volunteering this and mostly being glad of the chance to address it. We then look to see what we can do to help, address the issue, support the individual or manage the impact.

Rarely, I’ve found individuals who need to be told I’ve seen an issue, what the issue is and what the impact is. Mostly in this case, again, they’re glad we’re dealing with it constructively and we’ll put a way forward in place.

Sadly, on a handful of occasions there’s been an individual who we can’t course-correct. Generally, here is where we lose significant management time to tracking Personal Improvement Plans, managing inadequate performance takes time away from multiple people. Behind the scenes, there will be HR meetings, discussions in management meetings. Work put in place to track and evidence behaviour. All time that is taken away from supporting the wider team and business to deal with a single individual.

It can be a high price to pay, but the alternative is to put bigger clearer policies in place with enforcement. Treating the whole team as irresponsible based on the actions of an individual. This affects morale, productivity, engagement and respect from a wider team. So for me, the choice is clear - deal with the individual issues as individual issues. Enable your management team to deo that effectively. Support them with having difficult conversations, shouldering the responsibility of actioning.

Otherwise, further down the line, you’re in the position of explaining to the team that the reason they can’t have nice things, is one time, an idiot let the side down.