It's no secret that in the 21st century, the business world has grown faster and sleeker. Access to new technologies and methodologies have given rise to a new breed of professional within the workforce, and while this has created exciting new opportunities for growth, it has also resulted in a raft of new challenges for managers.
While variations of these problems have afflicted teams for decades, actually dealing with them requires a more modern approach, especially when you are managing in a more flexible environment (such as with remote workers or job sharers).
To provide some insight and guidance, we've taken a look at the most common challenges of management today, as well as some practical strategies in dealing with them.
1. Maintaining Communication
Strong communication is the bedrock of any functional team; by ensuring your employees feel comfortable communicating with you and with one another, you cultivate a collaborative and, ultimately, more productive environment. At all levels, good communication ensures that issues are always resolved and never left to fester.
Therefore, fostering and maintaining such a culture is one of the biggest challenges faced by managers today. Without open dialogue in the office, every other management challenge you face will become exponentially more difficult, so you need to enable constructive feedback, encourage employees to share their thoughts and opinions, and engender a platform (digital or otherwise) that ensures everybody is continually talking to each other.
2. Resolving Conflict
Although communication can help negate situations of conflict, eventually, an issue will arise that you will need to step up and resolve. Whether it is a personal gripe between individual employees, or as a result of a broader performance problem, you need to address the matter as soon as possible.
To manage conflict effectively, you need to use all the information available. This means putting a process in place where you can listen to everyone that is involved, allowing you to work with your team members to find a positive resolution to the problem. Always be on the lookout for ways to improve this process, too, as drawn-out conflict can be hugely detrimental to productivity.
3. Hiring the Right Candidate
A manager is only as good as the performance of their team, so naturally, putting together a strong one is a crucial challenge for a manager. Finding candidates that possess the right skills and personality for your company can be an agonising process.
Ultimately, the most foolproof method for finding the perfect candidate is to establish a selection process that you can trust. Depending on the size of your business, this may mean integrating department heads and HR managers, but the sooner you and your company can implement such a process, the sooner you can find the right people and avoid the problems that come with hiring the wrong ones.
4. Developing Employees
One of the biggest challenges for the modern manager is adapting to millennial and Gen Z employees, who place great value on development and growth. If you are not paying attention to the professional progress of your staff, then it is more than likely that they will start looking elsewhere.
As well as increasing their value, helping your employees to realise their career objectives has multiple benefits, such as:
- Sending a positive message to other employees, making them more likely to be engaged with their work.
- Developing new skills that will bring added value to the work they complete.
- Attracting other competent prospects, making the process of hiring good people easier.
Engaging in employee development will benefit your balance sheet, too. According to Deloitte analyst Josh Bersin in a 2016 blog post, losing employees can cost as much as 1.5 to 2 times that employee's annual salary, so providing an environment in which they want to stay and grow is also a highly recommended financial strategy.
5. Holding Employees Accountable
As a manager, you should be doing everything you can to give your employees the best chance to succeed. However, on the inevitable occasion that a worker is performing poorly, you also need to be comfortable taking action. Not only will an office without accountability fail to get the best out of individual employees, but the entire team will lag without the presence of proper authority.
To keep your employees accountable, you need to be proactive in establishing your expectations. Be realistic in what goals are achievable and make sure you are communicating these expectations, either in one-to-one meetings or through company communications. This way, your employees will be aware if they are failing to meet their goals, and any issues can be approached and addressed quickly.
Holding your employees accountable isn't a mandate to be a disciplinarian, but rather an opportunity to determine why something might have gone awry. It shouldn't be an excuse to fire someone, either; accountability is about understanding the cause of poor performance and addressing any underlying issues.
6. Firing Staff
Of course, no matter how hard you try and help a struggling employee, there is a cutoff point at which the only remaining solution is termination. As unpleasant as it might be, firing a continually underperforming or incompetent employee is a reality that, at some point, all managers must face.
While there are no easy tricks to make this portion of your duties any less uncomfortable, there are best practices you can utilise to make the process as fluid as possible. For a start, your office policies and code of conduct should be clear, while you should also document any ongoing performance or attendance issues, as well as any other violations of office policy. Make sure that the entire process is as transparent as possible, and always deliver the news in a professional manner and setting, with (if applicable) the appropriate HR personnel present.
If you are forced to resolve layoffs, meanwhile, ensure you have a consistent and transparent system for carrying them out. Let your employees know that you have worked to get them the best severance package that the situation allowed for, too.
7. Retaining Employees
Another huge challenge faced by managers today - particularly given the nomadic nature of millennial workers - is the loss of key staff.
While you can't stop high-value employees from leaving, you can reduce the frequency of losing them by implementing rewards programmes, as well as enticing benefits packages. This doesn't just mean financial compensation, either; show that you are supportive of their career goals and give them the tools to keep growing within the company.
When your star employee does eventually claim to have outgrown their role, see if you can find them a new challenge elsewhere within the company. Not only will they appreciate your willingness to accommodate them, but they can continue to benefit the business.
8. Keeping News You Can't Share
One of the most uncomfortable challenges of management is in keeping things from employees, especially when your working relationships rely on trust and honesty to function effectively. After all, if your company is having financial problems or facing a takeover, the entire livelihood of your employees could be affected.
Those situations can be frightening for everyone involved and, as rumours tend to travel quickly, you may find yourself confronted by an employee who wants answers. As difficult as it may be, you need to assert that you can't disclose any information. Reassure your employee that you will inform them of any changes as soon as you can - but don't reveal anything that you have been instructed not to.
Remember: spilling the secrets of upper management doesn't just have consequences for your staff's morale; it also jeopardises any potential resolution strategy that your company is considering, too.
9. Developing Your Own Skills
One of the lesser discussed challenges that you will face doesn't necessarily revolve around your team; as well as staying on top of potential conflicts and employee development programmes, you must also ensure that you are continuing to develop your own skillset.
Always carve out time to reflect on your performance and analyse what you do well and what you could improve on, as well as identify ways in which you can address those weaknesses. Whether it's enlisting the help of a mentor, studying part-time for an MBA or finding advice and inspiration in books or podcasts, it's vital to stay on top of your own game, as well as everybody else's.
Are you a manager? If so, what common challenges do you have to address? Join the conversation and let us know in the comments below.