“Different Strokes for Different Folks” are what we apply when we as managers deal with subordinates. “Different strokes” imply that we should behave differently toward different people. But behaviour just by itself might not be enough.
A household of two (2) married relatives of mine has two (2) female domestic helpers and a male family driver. The domestic helpers get along very well with my relatives and do their jobs very well.
The family driver is newly hired. The driver does his job satisfactorily. He is careful while at the wheel and is quick when summoned. He follows instructions and has even helped with the gardening at the home.
The domestic helpers, however, don’t get along well with the new driver. He has no sense of humour and doesn’t have a rapport with the helpers. The new driver also is often grouchy and sometimes rude.
My senior relatives sought my advice on what to do with the driver. I say there is nothing to point to that the driver is doing wrong. The driver is doing his job as asked and even goes the extra mile by helping with the garden. He may not get along well with other people but he is doing his job.
“Different strokes for different folks” seems to be good advice on how my relatives should manage the driver and the helpers. Treat each person with a different behaviour. My relatives can have light conversation with the helpers but be more serious with the driver.
“Different strokes for different folks” implies we take on a different personality mask whenever we talk to a subordinate. Do we try to be funny with some but serious with others? Do we put on a smile or do we look emotionless?
But it goes beyond that. This is because how we manage people should not only entail how we behave but how we influence them to do their jobs well.
Paul Hershey and Ken Blanchard introduced a situational leadership model in 1969 that argued that there are different “leadership styles” when it comes to managing people. Hershey and Blanchard essentially said there were four styles:
Through the years since the 1970’s, managers have built on these “styles” and as in my case, I’ve adopted the following depending on whom I’m overseeing:
- Dictator: I dictate in detail to the subordinates what I want, what they must do and I supervise them to make sure they does what I tell them to do;
- Coach: I provide instructions, tell subordinates to demonstrate, and then I correct them for any mistakes. I monitor their performance from a distance but continue to make corrections as needed;
- Facilitator: I set standards and goals and leave the subordinates alone to perform. I check their performance and ask them what they can do better. I provide continuous advice to improve their performance;
- Delegator: I allow the subordinates to set performance standards and targets and leave them to perform although I occasionally provide feedback. Essentially, I trust them to do their job and just check that their results are aligned to what I want.
To get to know which style is best, I assess first the subordinate. And that requires listening, and not just analysing performance based on my own point of view. It seems logical that to know someone, I’d have to seek what his or her thoughts and feelings are.
When I tried these approaches with different people, managers felt I was being too nice sometimes. That I should apply a firm hand, that is, punish poor performance right away even before asking the person how or why he or she didn’t do the job as expected.
This “shoot first, ask questions later” policy did work for veteran managers who already knew their people well, especially the ones they knew were hard-headed and who would short-cut work at any given opportunity. It didn’t seem to work for me when I was just new to a managerial position as I wouldn’t be outright familiar with the people reporting to me.
In other words, as a manager I needed to learn fast and apply the styles unique to every individual subordinate as soon as possible. I could be listening too long and people would abuse that courtesy. Getting to know people does not give me a luxury of time; I needed to assess every subordinate quickly.
A lesson I learned when it comes to managing people is it would be ideal if I were the one who hired them or got to know them before I became their manager. It was an advantage that I was there when my relatives interviewed and hired the family driver so I sort of had a head-start in knowing his personality. It also helped that I’ve known the domestic helpers for a long time especially whenever I visited my relatives.
I advised my relatives to talk to the driver professionally, that is, just tell him what the next day’s schedule is so he can prepare the car and be immediately ready. It would also allow the driver to plan his work schedule for the garden. The driver had that personality in which he’d speak up when he was in the mood, so I told my relatives to not prod the driver with too many questions or small talk. Instead, just tune in when he does start talking.
And over time, the driver did start talking. He’d once in a while give small talk and some opinions about his work. He would answer quickly when I and relatives asked about the garden. He suggested improvements which I and the relatives approved. It isn’t the perfect employer-employee relationship the relatives envisioned as the domestic helpers still find the driver’s stoic behaviour annoying, but the driver does his job well so there are no complaints.
We count on continuing improvements with the management styles we use which hopefully will be effective in the long run.