Managing people can be an exasperating experience. Every time you think you have it figured out, someone does something to frustrate you. Over time it is easy to become cynical. However, there are certain skills and procedures that can help you succeed. 

Here are just a few:

Keep Future Focused 

You cannot do anything about the past, so focus on the future. Ask “what” and “how” questions, not “why” questions. “Why” questions drive you into the problem, not the solution. Problems are always in the past and solutions somewhere in the future. For example, asking an employee why he or she is late can generate a barrage of excuses. “The baby kept me up, I had to find my dog, the alarm clock broke, etc.” I know an employee who had 17 grandmothers die each year on the first day of hunting season. Acknowledging the issue and asking a “what” or “how” question avoids excuses and focuses on a solution. “You’re late. What can we do in the future to ensure you are on time?” is a much more effective discussion.

Is it Attitude or Skill?

With an attitude problem they won’t do it. With a skill problem they can’t do it. While this is way too simplified of a solution, a standard rule of thumb is to train for skill problems and terminate attitude issues. Be careful, as pride and ego can make skill problems initially appear to be an attitude problem. For example, rather than admit he or she doesn’t know how to do the paperwork, many will express that it is stupid, a waste of their time, etc. rather than admit their inability. 

The first question to ask is, if you gave the employee a million dollars, could he or she do it? If the answer is no, capacity and ability are impacting the situation. Sometimes it’s unpopular to question capacity, but in reality, people do have limitations such as age, physical strength, learning disabilities, etc. If the person does not have the ability, reassignment is essential. If the person is capable but cannot do a specific task, coaching and training is required. 

If the person has an attitude problem, is it an issue of values or circumstances? Some people just do not have the work ethic and other values required to be a good employee. You can teach people a skill but it’s almost impossible to teach someone how to work. While some jobs require a warm body to help, ultimately such people need to be replaced. It’s not unusual for employee circumstances to create a short-term attitude issue. Martial or children issues, a death in the family or illness can all create employee issues. Talk with the employee about it. Listen once and then insist on performance. Losing his or her job certainly won’t help the situation. Plus, winning at work can create a refuge from life’s challenges. If they’re unable to get it together, suggest a leave of absence until things sort out. 

Work Environment Over Personalities

Remember that teacher in middle school who had a no-nonsense classroom environment? I bet you still remember his or her name. “Little Johnny Hellion” wanted to misbehave but knew better. When Little Johnny went into that room, his personality didn’t change, what changed was the classroom environment forced a change in behavior. As a manager, it’s perfectly acceptable to control and monitor employee behavior but totally unrealistic to try and change employee personalities. For example, I can’t make people want to come to work, but I create an environment where I don't pay them unless they show up. I can’t make a whiner stop whining, but I can choose not to listen to them. Trying to change a person’s personality is like trying to teach a pig how to sing; it doesn’t work and annoys the pig.

Establish Achievable Production Goals  

Everyone likes to know where they’re going and what success looks like. Help employees hit the estimate by setting daily and weekly production goals. A manager’s role is to help employees succeed and develop an engaging attitude. Uncertainty can block our brain’s ability to prepare for future events and move forward. Anxiety or worry is typically about an imminent event or uncertain outcome. Keeping employees in the dark creates an anxious and unproductive workplace. 

Be a manager that helps workers succeed through employee engagement, systematic communication and production targets. Set realistic goals and help employees achieve them. Everyone likes to win. One study found that only one in nine construction workers could tell you what they were supposed to accomplish in a given day. 

Being a supervisor is always challenging, but using these basic skills can help relieve your frustration. Stay future focused. Evaluate employee shortcomings and act accordingly. Establish a culture of productive behavior by focusing on achievable goals.