The Engaging Manager and Sticky Situations

Newsletter articles

1 Sep 2014

HR Insight Issue 19

Dilys Robinson, Principal Research Fellow

Dilys RobinsonThere are situations at work that every manager hopes will not happen, but knows they inevitably will. Poor performance, unacceptable behaviour, a bad attitude, conflict within the team, breaking bad news – knowing that it is all part of the line manager role does not make it any easier to actually do. A very natural reaction is to do nothing, and hope the problem will go away. However, all the evidence points to the inadvisability of this approach. How should managers tackle sticky situations effectively, and plan those ‘difficult conversations’ with confidence?

Our Engaging Manager research focused on the good people management behaviours adopted by managers who are really good at engaging and motivating their teams. Even in high-performing, enthusiastic teams, however, problems can occur – and the team will expect the manager to deal with them. The latest report in the Engaging Manager series explores these situations, and describes how the managers in our research went about tackling ‘sticky situations’.

Our engaging managers were all very performance-focused, and believed in delivering their excellent results through their teams. They had high expectations of their teams and were clear about performance and behavioural standards. If a team member fell short of these, they did not allow the problem to fester by ignoring it, but instead tackled it promptly and effectively. Their willingness to prepare for difficult conversations, and their coaching style, helped them to get to the bottom of problems and set clear improvement goals. However, this did not mean that they could not get tough if they had to; all of our managers had, at some point, taken team members through disciplinary processes and most had managed people out of the organisation if they did not improve. They did not enjoy doing this, and felt a degree of personal failure if they could not turn round a difficult individual, but they felt in was in the best interests of their team and their organisation.

The teams managed by our engaging managers were appreciative of this willingness to act, because they did not like the team’s achievements to be tarnished by underperformers, conflict or poor behaviour. Senior managers also appreciated the effective ways in which the engaging managers tackled tricky situations – not least because it meant that they did not have to get involved and sort out the mess!

This report describes how engaging managers approach performance management, tackle poor performance and poor behaviour, and go about breaking bad news. It includes a list of top tips, based on these model behaviours – what to do, and what to avoid.

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