Managing Staff is Not Parenting

What’s your reaction when individuals or organisations consider their employees to be ‘children’ and the workforce to be their ‘family’?

We often form strong bonds with colleagues and the reference to family is associated with well-intentioned care for colleagues. However, there are serious pitfalls in assuming the way we function in our family setting is appropriate at work. Let me give you an example.

I debrief leaders after their organisation has used our 360 Degree Feedback Assessment. This perception based tool provides valuable feedback into how an individual’s manager, peers and direct reports see them in their role. At times, it includes contributions from board members, stakeholders and customers.

I once debriefed a manager whose feedback was that they were ‘harsh’ with their direct reports and that was impacting self-confidence, performance and professional development. This manager was aware of their style and thought there was nothing wrong with it.

The manager thought there was no point telling people what they do well because it is better to help them with what they’re doing wrong.  He gave examples of how he applied this in the way he raised his children.
“If it’s good enough for my children then it’s good enough for my staff,” he said.

The problem here is the context – employees are not your children. You can’t adopt a one size fits all approach to “managing” people, across organisations or from other areas of your life.

The other issue here is that ignoring strengths and focusing on ‘weaknesses’ is perilous. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give children and employees feedback on areas that may need further development. It’s widely acknowledged that strengths can be harnessed to support developing skills and behaviours. Constantly making people aware of shortcomings rarely, if ever, gets the desired result.


This article was first published in Fairfax Media Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


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