Ensuring the wellbeing and productivity of a group of highly varied individuals makes being a manager a difficult task. Different personalities, outlooks, talents and shortcomings; forming a slick and cohesive unit can be a hard task for superiors, which is why many employ the use of management theories and models in their work, thereby making sense of what can be a chaotic and confusing task.
The ins and outs of leader-member exchange
Human minds work on a subconscious level far more than we like to think they do, and it’s these subconscious emotions that the leader-member exchange theory is principally concerned with.
The theory states that when an employee is first brought under the charge of a manager, the manager consciously and subconsciously evaluates them, thereafter placing then in either an in-group – the trustworthy, skillful, devoted members – or an out-group – the untrustworthy, unskilled, lazy individuals.
As the routine treatment of each group and their members continues, the in-group is given more interesting, challenging work while the out-group is provided with repetitive tasks and no chance for development. This dynamic then crystallises, rendering half of the team effectively useless.
The model teaches would-be managers that they need to identify who forms their out-group, understanding why these individuals fell out of favour and what their skills, wants and needs are. The manager can then use this information to rebuild the relationship between manager and employee. Skills development should also be taken into account.
Of course, different team members have different strengths and weaknesses, so managers should be sure not to enforce complete uniformity in the workplace if it makes the team worse than it otherwise would have been.
Change management and controlled crises
Developed by physicist and social scientist Kurt Lewin in 1947, the change management model is a useful tool for managers that need to transition an organisation or team away from one way of acting to a new, better, way of doing things.
It involves the manager creating an organised crisis, using the reasons why they think the status quo should be changed to attack the core attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that need to be altered in the long term. This allows a more positive working environment to be created.
It’s a difficult and stressful process, but by letting team members know why the change is required and how it will benefit them, they can begin to come to terms with the change, subsequently assisting in the remoulding of the group.
By constantly communicating a feeling of team cohesion, talking to each member and devoting time to explanation, the uncertainty will recede and the new attitudes, behaviours and such will slowly become the new status quo, to the benefit of all.
Nudge theory – change doesn’t need to be painful
Many workers will agree that one of the worst management traits to experience first-hand is a confrontational and heavy-handed approach to direction. Having orders barked at you isn’t something many people enjoy, after all.
Step forward nudge theory, developed in the 1970s by the American psychologists Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein. This theory states that employees can be made to do things much more effectively – with less stress and friction – when they are nudged, not pushed.
Take, for example, the common issue of unclean desks. Telling employees to tidy up is likely to make them either resent being treated as children, or feel dominated, while making litter bins more visible and numerous could have the same effect, with none of the resistance or disenfranchisement.
The same goes for missing deadlines or targets. By placing clocks visibly in the office or by giving employees their own planners or calendars, the situation will improve in a more positive way compared to, say, enacting draconian and target-based disciplinary measures.
The result? Happier employees, a more effective workplace, and greater levels of staff respect.
Being a manager is difficult, but when done well, the results can be both measurable and far-reaching. For more information on management theories head to the Free Management Library, or take a look at GSM London’s business management course if you think a managerial career could be the right professional choice for you.