I worked for a marketing company that has a contact centre to handle one of the services they offer to their clients. I started off working as an executive in the contact centre and was subsequently promoted to a supervisory position. During (almost) two years of managing people there were many lessons I learned, lessons that will probably be applicable to many other areas of my life.
Although I have only experienced managing people in a contact centre environment, these points can apply to any type of people management role. Contact centre people management might actually be the most challenging type, because you’re managing people who more than likely don’t want to make the job their career, there are often not many career progression options anyway, and the role itself is usually monotonous. So, here are 5 things I learned about managing people.
1. You Can’t Be Too Emotional
Even if there’s that person who challenges your authority in front of the rest of the team you manage by refusing to stop watching a YouTube video when you’ve asked him not to, despite company policy stating you’re not allowed to watch YouTube videos while you work, (yes, this really did happen to me) you have to keep your cool. We’re only human, so it’s a natural reaction to get annoyed or angry when someone has done something to tick you off, even in the workplace (maybe, especially in the workplace).
But, as a people manager you have to learn to rein in or, at least, mask those emotions. Don’t argue back, especially in front of the other staff, don’t raise your voice or show your anger and don’t, under any circumstances, cry. What you should do is stay calm, and, if necessary, ask the offender to come with you into a meeting room – or anywhere away from an audience – where you can talk privately about the problem. During the private chat, don’t let your cool slip. Try to think objectively not emotionally.
When I first became a supervisor, it was difficult for me to keep my emotions under control. I realise it’s because I took things personally. They obviously think I’m stupid or incompetent or they have no respect for me as a manager, I thought, when someone did something that was against company policy right under my nose. But that was probably not the case at all.
Eventually, I learned to keep my emotional responses masked so well that I was difficult to read. From my demeanour alone the team wouldn’t know whether I was asking them into a meeting room to let them know they were doing well, or asking them into a meeting room to let them know they were being let go.
My main point is, if you are too emotional when managing people, it looks like you lack control – like you lack control of yourself and of the situation. So why would the people you are managing believe you have control of anything else? On top of that, it doesn’t look very professional.
2. You Can’t Be Friends With The People You Manage
This was a lesson I learned very early on in my supervisory role. Because I started off in the same role as the people I managed, this point was a very difficult thing for me to accept. I wanted to show the people I managed that I wasn’t going to be different towards them just because I was now their line manager. I was still the same person I always was. I wasn’t going to turn into a power-hungry dictator. I wasn’t going to be the type of manager they hated, because I’d started off in the same role as them and we were friends.
I took this approach and it almost bit me in the butt. Because you do have to be different towards your co-workers and friends when you become their manager. Of course, you’re still the same person, but your goals and targets will be different. Your targets will probably now involve their performance, so you have to care whether they’re performing well or not. You have to care whether they’re turning up for work. You can no longer turn a blind eye (or join in) when you know they’re doing something wrong.
When I first became supervisor, I was pretty good friends with one co-worker in particular. So, I didn’t say anything when they turned up late for work often, or when they kept taking days off with little notice, or when they promised to make up the time they’d missed and then didn’t keep that promise. After I’d had enough of this ‘friend’ obviously taking advantage of me and I decided to actually be a supervisor to them, it resulted in the friendship being over. Which was fine by me, to be honest. It made my life easier.
I also noticed that people who I wasn’t exactly friends with, but I’d call them acquaintances, suddenly kept a distance from me. I was no longer invited to group outings. I wasn’t asked if I was going to work socials anymore because they didn’t care whether I was going or not. I was no longer part of their team. I found that the people I could be friends with at work were the other supervisors, other co-workers in managerial positions, or people I didn’t directly manage.
I have to admit, it was lonely, at first. But I realised that, actually, it was probably for the best. Remember what I said about keeping your emotions under control? Well, if you’re not friends with the people you manage, this is a lot easier to do.
3. You Don’t Have To Be Feared Or Hated
Following on from my previous point, although you can’t be friends with the people you manage, this doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly with them. Everyone remembers their rude, condescending, jobsworth manager, and no one remembers them with fondness.
After I’d learnt that I couldn’t be friends with people I managed, I almost went in the opposite direction and thought I had to put on this tough, scary and serious demeanour in order to gain respect. But having someone afraid of you doesn’t necessarily mean they respect you. There’s a healthy balance. Be friendly, and most importantly continue to be yourself, but at the same time, create boundaries, show people what you will not tolerate as a manager, deal with issues quickly and in the best way possible.
There might still be those who find you intimidating even though you haven’t done anything to warrant that. But some people just find authority figures, in general, intimidating, and, let’s be honest, everyone is slightly afraid of their boss, no matter how laid back or friendly their boss is. I mean, your boss is the person who decides whether to keep you employed or not, why wouldn’t you be a bit afraid of them! Likewise, there might still be those who remember you as that manager they hated no matter how laid back or friendly you are because, hey, not everyone you meet in life will like you!
4. People Never Grow Up
Speaking of hating managers, people quite often blame their manager for getting sacked from their job, despite it usually being their own fault. That’s because people, in general, don’t like to accept their mistakes. People don’t like to take responsibility for their actions. It’s always: oh, the manager didn’t like me, that’s why they sacked me, never, oh, I’ve been underperforming for 2 months and I’m always late for work that’s why they sacked me. Basically, people never grow up.
After managing people, I’ve come up with this theory that most people reach their peak maturity level in their late teens, early twenties, max. Speaking for myself, I’m only in my late twenties now, but I don’t feel much different, maturity wise, from how I felt in my early twenties or even how I felt in my late teens. I could be wrong, of course, but I don’t think I’ll feel much different even when I’m fifty. I believe most people choose to be mature; it’s definitely not something that automatically comes with age.
I had the mindset that being a people manager would be relatively easy. We’re all adults here, right? I thought. All I need to do is tell them what they need to do and they’ll do it, right? I’m not going to have to tell them to do something over and over again, right? I’m not going to have to check that adults are doing their job, right? I’m not going to get complaints and ‘I don’t want to do that’, when adults are asked to do something that is a part of their job, right? Right? Wrong. Oh, how naïve I was.
I wanted to be a teacher at one point, a secondary school teacher – until I realised I have no patience for teaching so it would probably be a huge mistake. Well, managing a team of about 40 people? Kind of felt like being a teacher. Or a mother. We even had people trying to play off supervisors against each other like children do to their parents. For example, they’d ask one supervisor(mum) something and if the supervisor gave them an answer they didn’t like they’d go ask the other supervisor(dad) the same thing. That’s why we supervisors (there were three of us) had to make sure we were on the same page about everything so they would get the same answer regardless of which one of us they asked.
Now, bear in mind, I wasn’t managing mostly teenagers or even people in their early twenties. Of course, there were uni students and a few teens and people in their early twenties, but the majority of people I managed were either in my age group (mid to late twenties) or older than me. Some even had children of their own!
5. Being A People Manager is Not That Great
When I was first promoted to supervisor, I thought, great! Now I no longer have to do the calling and dealing with customers and worrying about hitting my targets. Plus, I get a bit more power and more money. I soon came to realise that calling and dealing with customers and only having to worry about hitting my own targets was a piece of cake.
It was easy, compared to managing 40 people’s performance and managing the resource planning, both of which impacted the overall service we provided for our clients and whether they were happy with said service.
As everyone knows, with more power comes more responsibility. I was responsible for the whole team’s performance, which meant that if they were underperforming and/or not providing a service our clients were happy with, ultimately, I was to blame.
And I might have earned more money, but I also had to get in earlier than my actual shift start time, I often left later than my shift end time, I had to work some weekends when, as an executive, I only ever worked Monday to Friday. I had to cover the other supervisors when they were away, which meant that I sometimes had to work double shifts, or work several weekend shifts in a row when it wasn’t my turn. Plus, when I wasn’t at work I still couldn’t completely switch off. I’d be checking my work emails and other work related things on my phone!
Now, I know this sounds like a lot of not-so-positive lessons learned, but, honestly, it wasn’t so bad! I actually enjoyed most of it. Most of the points listed were simply challenges I had to overcome and learn from. And I love a good challenge. It keeps things interesting and, dare I say, fun. When I was managing people, no two days were ever the same, and it certainly kept the workday from dragging!