Business Management & Leadership Resources

Appreciating Employee Differences

By Timothy I. Thomas

Tim Thomas

Timothy I. Thomas is the President and CEO of Makarios Consulting, LLC, a leadership development and business consulting firm. Makarios Consulting specializes in interactive training and one-on-one coaching in progressive organizations in order to equip and empower their leaders to maximize their own leadership skills and inspire others to accomplish extraordinary business results. Timothy Thomas is the author of Creating All-Star Performers: The Power of Effective Feedback, now available for immediate download.

Many managers strive to treat all employees the same, either out of a sense of fairness or in an effort to avoid being accused of favoritism. However, according to Marcus Buckingham’s and Curt Coffman’s best-selling book First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, which is based on in-depth interviews by the Gallup Organization of over 80,000 managers in over 400 companies, great managers do not use this approach. Why? Because great managers realize that their role is to “reach inside each employee and release his [or her] unique talents into performance” (p. 58).

Great managers pay attention to the small, subtle differences in employees’ motivations, needs, goals, and styles and use this information to guide them in bringing the best out of each employee. Great managers recognize and apply each employee’s strengths in ways that meet the company’s goals and customers’ needs.

Here are several simple things you can implement immediately to start appreciating and taking advantage of employee differences:

Plan effective meetings.

Some people like to think out loud, while others do their best thinking when it’s quiet and they can reflect without interruptions or distractions. To get the most from everyone at meetings, send out the meeting agenda in advance and indicate any topics that will require brainstorming, discussion, and/or a decision. During the meeting, make sure everyone has a chance to provide input. Don’t let the most vocal members of the group dominate the discussion.

Get support for your ideas.

Some people readily see the big picture, are adept at spotting patterns and trends, and focus on future possibilities. Others more naturally focus on the present reality and the practical details involved in getting things done. If you face difficulty presenting your ideas and gaining support for them, it may be due to this difference in styles. Think about what you tend to focus on and consider fleshing out your idea by adding the other perspective.

For example, if you tend to focus on the big picture, take some time to think through some of the details required to make your idea a reality. Or, if you tend to focus on the details, take a step back and try to see the big picture (the broader impacts of your idea) and use your imagination to brainstorm some additional possibilities. When you present both the big picture and the details required to see it through, you make it easier for others to understand your idea and you increase your chances of winning support for it.

Determine appropriate deadlines.

Different people approach and work with deadlines differently. Some like to start projects early, work steadily step-by-step to completion, and be finished well ahead of the deadline. Others like to be involved in many different projects/activities at once, work on projects in spurts, and tend to pull everything together at the last minute just in time to meet the deadline.

Either approach can be used to get the job done well and on time. However, when people with differing approaches try to work together on a project, it can result in stress and conflict. One way to minimize this tension is to break the project up into smaller pieces and assign a deadline for each piece. Establish clear responsibilities for specific tasks and agree on times to check in regarding progress.

Between checkpoints, allow individuals to work in their own way at their own pace and trust that they will follow through on their commitments. During the check-in meeting and discussion, hold everyone accountable for what they’ve agreed to do. It is possible for people with very different styles and approaches to work together smoothly, but it requires some adjustment and trust on both sides.

© 2008 Timothy I. Thomas
Article Source: Makarios Consulting, LLC