Parenting Your Employees to Better Performance

Copyright 2005 Inez Ng

Have you ever worked for someone who was such a micro-manager that it drove you crazy? And have you ever worked for someone who was so hands-off that you felt like a lone warrior on the battlefield? These are examples of you working for leaders who did not adapt their style based on the employee’s needs. I would venture to guess that you were not entirely motivated to put out your very best effort every time when you were feeling such frustrations.

What can you, as a manager, do to prevent the same mistake? My suggestion is to follow what good parents do.

Good parents instinctively know how they need to manage their children. But we sometimes don’t make the same connection when we are at work. Let’s think about the different stages of a child’s development.

The Toddler
At this stage, there is so much they don’t know. They are just learning the basics of how to walk, and run, and talk, and play with others. The parents are generally right there at almost every moment. They are very involved in the child’s development.

• They set boundaries for the child: “don’t’ go near the stove, its hot!”
• They give very directive instructions: “Put the toy truck back into the basket.”
• They give frequent feedback and encouragement: “That’s right, this is a blue ball. Now pick out the red one. That’s great!”

When you have an employee that is at the toddler stage in terms of job skills and proficiencies, you need to adopt the hands-on parenting style of leadership. First determine what they know and don’t know. Set boundaries for them so they don’t get into big trouble. Be very directive in what you want done, and provide them feedback and encouragement so they know whether they are progressing and satisfying your expectations or not.

The Teenager
At this stage, the child wants more independence, and prefers to figure things out for himself. But the parents know that they still need to provide supervision. And they also give the child more space to experiment and build confidence.

When your employees are at the teenager stage, they often think they know more then they actually do. Surely you were never guilty of this when you were a teenager, right? So, you still need to be around enough to keep them out of trouble. Instead of checking in with them every day, you can now check in with them every week on their progress.

Your requests can be less directive, and more objective defined (“I’d like you to clean up your room this weekend.”) Instead of offering information and directions with every assignment, you can now wait for your employee to approach you with questions.

When your employees see they you have eased off your level of supervision, they know that you are feeling more comfortable with their ability to perform, and their confidence grows. But always remember to continue to give feedback and acknowledgement for their efforts.

The Young Adult
Now your employees are almost independent. Like a good parent, you have provided them all the skills and knowledge to make it on their own. At this point, you can ease off even more on giving directions and checking up on progress. Instead, you want to help them grow as contributors to your organization.

Now when you hand over an assignment, you can give the most crucial details and leave them to figure out the approach. You let them know that when they come to you with problems and questions, you would like to see their recommendations or solutions.

At this stage, your responsibility as a “parent” is quite light. But you must continue to give feedback and acknowledgement so your employees stay motivated to excel. They need to know that you have noticed their development and appreciate their efforts.

The Adult
Now you are on “easy street”. Your child has moved out of the house, and is successful and productive. At this point, your role as parent is to show love and appreciation of the person they have become (thanks to your hard work), and to offer them opportunities for growth.

Your expectation of these employees is that they can pretty much operate without you. You provide them with the vision of where you are going and they immediately rally the troops and make a plan and start marching down the road.

When these employees encounter a problem, you expect them to come to you with a list of alternatives, the recommendation they want to choose, and just ask for your concurrence. They come prepared with all the critical information you need to make a sound decision. You can ask these employees to be mentors to your toddlers or teenagers and take some of the responsibilities from you. You continue to provide them feedback and acknowledgement so they know they are still on the right track.

Now take a look at your team, and make an assessment of what stage of development each of your employee is at present. Adopt the appropriate parenting/leadership style that is needed and your employee will respond. Most employees want to do a good job for you, so set your expectations clearly and watch them perform.
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Inez Ng