Thursday, September 28, 2017

How to Deal with More Experienced Staff

It's a question that always comes up when I conduct leadership and management training in the Philippines.

It's one of those things that put a dent on the confidence of new managers and frustrates many of them. It happens a lot nowadays that management would hire or promote someone who has less experience than the people they are supervising.  Here are a few examples.

A factory in Bulacan hires Industrial Engineers with a few years of experience as supervisors of employees who have been in the company for so long that they have already named the screws and bolts in the factory and knew if there are problems with the machines just by hearing how they sound.

Another client, a retail company promotes people not based on their seniority but performance and other merits. This makes it likely for them to get promoted so fast that they get supervise people who used to supervise or mentor them.

So the question they ask is how do we deal with them? How do we make them follow our instructions? Here's my answer; respect them, respect their experience, and make them your ally. Having people who have more experience than you in your team should be an asset not a problem.

My age now seldom gives me the opportunity to lead more experienced people, but whenever I can, the first thing I do is express my appreciation that I am with people who can contribute greatly to team output and outcome. I tell them that the team would benefit a lot from their wisdom and advice, and that I wish to share leadership with them. I also tell them that I would get out of the way if I know that they're doing work that I know they can do well. I would also sit with them to discuss rules of engagement for collaboration and decision-making. I try to make it clear that I need their advice for important decisions but make it even more clear that unless I delegate decision-making to them, I make the decisions. We can argue or debate about those decisions, I can assure them that I will listen and will allow my self to change my mind as a result of their suggestions and as i see fit but will make my decision whether they agree with it or not, if i think it is the right thing to do and I expect them to respect my decisions.

New managers need to recognize or maybe even recall how frustrating it is  as well to work under a supervisor who knows less and are unwilling to listen.  Ignorance and stubbornness is a bad combination. As a new manager, we need to be humble enough about our blind spots and be willing enough to be guided in our decision making  by those who are very familiar with the terrain.

There are two important ingredients to teamwork, respect and clear expectations. Respect should be mutual but it's the leader who should show it first. Expectations should be sufficient to guide the behavior of all parties.  It builds trust, and trust helps get things done.