When Venting Between Managers and Their Employees Is an Issue In Your Business

accountability business growth coaching communication decision making difficult conversations employee complaints empowerment expectations feedback leadership management team mental health support mind management organization problem solving productivity professional development relationships resources solutions strategy team support values venting vision work stress Feb 19, 2024


In this episode of Leadership is Feminine, Kris Plachy addresses the challenges and dynamics that arise when a manager becomes the go-to person for complaints and venting within a company. She shares her perspective on the role of managers in extending culture, expectations, and values into the organization, while also emphasizing the importance of effective communication and translating the founder's vision to the team.

Kris explores the issue of things getting lost in translation when communicating with managers, emphasizing the need for clear expectations and a strong emphasis on the organization's vision. She also discusses the importance of managers taking ownership of their role and responsibilities, particularly when it comes to addressing tough situations and holding employees accountable. Kris shares insights on empowering managers to be effective leaders rather than just messengers for the founder's directives.

Join Kris as she delves into the intricate world of leadership, offering practical insights and solutions for managing a team while maintaining a healthy and productive work culture. If you're navigating the complexities of building and leading a team, this episode is a must-listen.

“You've got to empower these managers to take responsibility for what they're doing. And if they don't agree or they have other ideas, let that be a part of your conversation. If all you're doing is telling people what to do, but you just hired someone and paid them a lot more money to be a babysitter of employees, that's what you're going to get.”

Key Takeaways From This Episode

  1. Building a Management Team: Clarifying expectations, values, and vision
  2. Connecting Tasks to the Bigger Picture: Ensuring managers understand the reason behind the tasks and decisions
  3. Addressing Difficult Conversations: Coaching managers to develop the language to address uncomfortable topics with team members
  4. Dealing with Employee Complaints and Venting: Encouraging employees to bring solutions and recommendations when something doesn't work
  5. Distinguishing between legitimate concerns/complaints and informal venting: Formal process for addressing complaints, involving HR or higher-level management, and addressing mental health challenges and they are handled in the workplace

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Well, hey, hey, hey, welcome, welcome to Leadership is Feminine. This is Kris time we met, I was talking to you about gossip and I told you that this podcast I wanted to talk to you about what to do when you start building a management team and you might have a manager, or even two, in the business that is now having more relationships and more interaction with people on the team than even you might have in the past. Now they're sort of doing more of that day to day managing. And there's a lot I want to say about this.

In fact, a lot of the women that I've been coaching and advising in Lead Advisory and even in my Sage program, this is a big part of where they are. Is their business has grown to the point that now they have a manager or two or six. And there's a lot of things that we have to talk about when it comes to extending culture, extending expectations, extending agreements and values into the organization when people aren't directly reporting to you anymore. And how do we do that?

But specifically, what I want to talk about today that builds a little bit off of what I was talking about last week is, how do we deal with the issue of when we have a manager who reports to us, but other people work for, and they become the person in your team, in your organization, that your employees go to, to complain, to vent, or to even make kind of side glance, side eye comments to about maybe decisions or things that are going on in business? How do we address that ourselves and how do we help them? How do we help our manager deal with that?

And it's really interesting a while ago, I don't, I don't even remember when this was, but I remember someone saying to me that they needed, they knew for sure they needed to have like this manager on their team because they wanted somebody else on the team for people to go to, to vent to. And I remember thinking, why do we assume people need somewhere to go to vent?

And this podcast, I'm giving you my perspective. You certainly might have a different one, but I actually don't think that is necessary. And I also don't think it's healthy. I think that, building off of what we talked about last week, that gossip is really insidious. I think that this belief that people need to vent is- at work about work, I don't know that I agree. And I also don't know that that's constructive, right?

So a couple of the things that I want to talk to you about as it relates to having a manager, like I said, this is a big thing to unpack, and I'm actually still trying to figure out how to do this best for y'all, but I have a few ideas.

I want to talk to you about how things get lost in translation. So when they come from you and then they go through someone else and then they get into the team, how does that affect the message? I want to talk to you about when that person does have to manage people and has to sort of deal with the hard parts of managing, holding people accountable, having a difficult conversation, firing people, and they don't want to do it. They want you to be involved. How do we deal with that?

And then I want to talk to you about how they become and what to do if they become sort of that neutral-bit, good cop role, in the middle of you or the decisions that are getting made in the business and they're sort of having, they're put in a position of like being the apologist or the defender of those decisions, but still sort of on the side with the employee, right?

So I'm talking about this because over the past few months, a lot of different clients of mine have brought up different challenges, like I've referenced. Like, "I share information with my managers and then it gets into the company and it's not what I said." "I am finding out that my managers are spending a lot of their time dealing with employees who are upset or angry or, or venting about things that I didn't know they were dealing with."

Or, "I have a manager who I've hired on purpose to manage people on my team. And then whenever anything hard comes up, they don't want to do it, they want me to do it. And I'm like, why do I need to do it? I hired you to do it", right? So those are kind of topics I want to talk about.

So first of all, let's talk about sort of things getting lost in translation when we hire managers. So once we've gotten to the point where we're, you know, and this is what so many of my clients are aspiring to, right? Getting to the point where they're not in the weeds of the day to day, the business, they hire someone to really get all of the organization and the operations of the business going every day and managing that.

But then sometimes you all have meetings with your managers and then the translation of what you guys talked about doesn't actually show up in the way that you wanted it to. So what do we do? How do we do that? And I think we have to first be careful that we don't assume that what you two, you and the manager, or you and four managers have talked about makes sense to them.

And so just like you would have figured out, right, that you need to have very clear expectations. You need to make sure your values are clear. You need to make sure behavioral expectations are clear. You need to make sure that productivity and organization skills and all the things that you hire people for in regular jobs, managers understand.

And we have to make sure that they're really clear about the vision. What does what we talk about as managers have to do with where we're going, the promise of the business. Do we tie that together for them? Because if what we tend to do with our managers is focused specifically and only on tasks and tactics and not strategy, then they're going to just become super versions of an employee.

And they're going to go out, and you're going to talk about the things that need to be done. And then they're going to go out and translate that into things that need to be done, and they're not attaching what we're trying to create to the bigger picture. And what I know for sure is that people understand destination. They understand, 'here's the experience we're creating. Here's the plan and why we're doing it. And here are the elements that go into that.' it's so much easier for people to engage than if it's just a list of things to do.

And I think a lot of times managers in their quest to make you happy. They leave a meeting that that you've had and then they go give work assignments or follow up with the team and they're really trying to just regurgitate what you want, the tasks, the outcomes, without really giving context.

So when you have your manager meetings and when you talk to your managers and you talk about things that need to be done, let's always make sure that we're addressing not just what the it is, but the why. Right. The reason that this matters is because I really want this to tie into this, right? The reason that this matters is because I really want this to tie into this.

The second thing we have to do is have them tell us back. When you first bring a manager into a role, and even if they've been with you a while, if this starts to get slippery and things are not happening the way that you thought they would, then you have to remember that accountability first comes with understanding. And so if we make agreements in our conversation, like, "Okay, it would be really great if the sales team would start this and da, da, da, da, da, for this reason", let's have the manager tell us back what they're going to do.

How are you going to work with the team to make sure this is the result they get? What is your plan? Do you need some help thinking through it? How will I know it's working? How will I know if there's a problem? Say it back to me, let's talk it through. What did you hear me say? What is the goal of this? What do you want your delivery to be?

And this is a common issue for a lot of managers, but it's critical when we're starting to step away from the front, the front of the plus, right. We're doing more of the strategic work as a visionary, is we have to remember that we want our managers to take responsibility for and ownership for the results. Not that they are just parroting what you want, and they're telling people to do work. They're telling people what to do because it's what you want, right?

It's not what is best for the business. It's not for what will help the employee grow. It's not for what will change the results this month. It is, what is best for the business. And what am I talking about?

What I'm saying is I have a meeting with a manager and then that manager leaves my meeting with me and goes and meets with their team. And the manager has an option. The manager can say, "Well, I just met with Kris and this is what she wants. She wants this and this and this and this by Friday."

Now I could also as a manager say, "Okay, y'all, I want to let you know what we're working on. Here's where we are. Here's where we need to go. So by Friday, we need to have this and this and this accomplished."

What's the difference? Who is taking responsibility and ownership for it being done? A lot of people like to say, "Kris wants this," "Kris likes it this way," "Kris prefers if you do it this way," "Kris thinks this". Now, listen, it's very normal for people to do that. There's a problem though, right? It's not you, but they report to you as the manager.

They don't report to Kris. But if, as a founder, you keep insisting that people are doing what you want and they're hearing that message, then the manager becomes neutered. Like, the manager doesn't have a role here. They're just a messenger. And so then the employees know that the only person who's actually ever really doing anything in this company is you as the founder. And I honestly don't think that's a good plan for you long term.

You've got to empower these managers to take responsibility for what they're doing. And if they don't agree or they have other ideas, let that be a part of your conversation. If all you're doing is telling people what to do, but you just hired someone and paid them a lot more money to be a babysitter of employees. That's what you're going to get.

Baby sitters don't have a lot of authority. Substitute teachers don't have a lot of authority. That's not probably what you want. You want people to respect the manager and you want people to, when the manager says, "This is what we're going to get done this week," they're doing it because they want to make that manager happy. They want to achieve the goals of the team, not just because Kris said so.

So that's the first one. If we really want that message to get through and we want it to be clean and we want it to be aligned with what we have originally, the picture we originally saw, that we have to communicate and have a conversation with managers and invite them to turn that into something that they can be responsible for.

Okay. Number two, when you have a manager who won't do the hard stuff. When they won't do the hard stuff, I, listen, the first thing I know to tell you is not uncommon. Because that's why so many clients hire me, right? I have clients who are making a really large, very successful, multi-million dollar businesses and they don't want to do the hard stuff either.

And the reason why is we haven't really been taught and we haven't had a safe place to practice. "How do I address things that I'm uncomfortable talking about in a way that I could help my team member? I can do it without sounding either too passive or too mean or too aggressive," or, all the things. "And so since I don't know how to do that, I would just rather not. Could you do it?" Right?

So what we have to recognize if we're promoting people into management who have never been managers before, and even those who have, this is not something that most people are good at. Now, that is not a pass. Because it's the deal you make when you sign up to be in a management role is to be willing to address anything with anyone about anything at any time, like, that's your jam. You have to be able to give feedback, whether it's amazing feedback or difficult feedback. And if you're not telling people that and interviewing for that, you've got to start. Because you're setting people up if they don't really recognize what that means, right?

And I know that if you've been leading people for a while, you know what I'm talking about. There's some stuff you end up having to talk to people about that work for you that you're like, "Are you seriously going to make me have to address this with you?" So how do we deal with that? Well, we have to give them the resources they need to develop the skills they need to be successful. But that doesn't mean we don't hold the expectation.

So for now, if you have someone right now who is not engaging in the tough stuff, then it might be worth you either investing in you, or them, or both of you to learn so that you can start to teach and role model and role play with them how to have these conversations.

Now, you might start by doing that, and you do the first one and then the next time it happens, you sit in the room with them, but you do it. And then the next time that happens, they do it with you in the room and then the next time it happens, they do it. But there has to be a plan that we're going to hold them to the expectation that every time something difficult happens with an employee, doesn't mean you're going to step in and solve it. That is part of their responsibility.

And honestly, this is why we started offering the Manager Formula to our founder clients that we work with, to their managers. So while our clients are going through the work they do with me, their managers can go through a structured program with coaching support to develop who they are as managers. And they do that with my COO and my amazing master coach that has been on my team forever, for years, who many of you know as Michelle Arant.

And we're finding that it's been really, really helpful because everybody's learning the same language, but from a different point of view, right? The founder has a different perspective than the managers do. And managers need a place to go to work through their challenges that doesn't tap the founder every time they have to have, they have to deal with, they have to make a decision that comes with the team.

So the best thing you can do is invest in your manager so they have skills they need. That's how it works. So, but you have to have the expectation that they will learn. And that might involve you doing a little bit of work with them, and it also might involve getting them the tools and the support or the resources that they need to do that.

The last thing I want to talk to you about is when people go to your manager to vent. This one is a big deal to me. I think I've probably mentioned this on a past podcast, but I remember when I was a newer director. So when I had been a manager and then I took over a director position and I had I don't know, eight or nine locations and managers in every single one.

And for as much as I thought I communicated, I still felt like there was this undercurrent of something going on. This is when I, like I said, the first, like, the first six or seven months that I was in the role, and that's usually the rockiest for all of us. And I just remembered that I would find weird energy in different environments. Like, I would go into one location, everybody would be super excited that I was there. And I'd go into another one and nobody would come out of their cubicles. Like, it was very weird and felt weird.

And then the things that one person would say versus another person. And so much so that I remember going to my boss and saying, "I kind of feel like I'm in a Shakespearean play. Like, it's like, she's telling this one, this one and this one." It just was so wasteful of time. It drove me nuts because of course my perspective is, I don't think there's anything you can't tell me. I don't think there's anything we can't talk about.

But if you work for a manager who becomes the buffer, so if an employee works for a manager and that manager inadvertently - I really do believe most of this is very inadvertent - sets it up so that that employee or those employees can come to them and say, "I can't believe we're doing this. I can't believe we changed this. I can't believe this is what our next focus is going to be. I don't like our new comp plan. I don't like our new benefits package. I don't like our new office chairs..." you name it, right?

But they complained to the manager. What's the manager going to do with that? It's the first question. What are they supposed to do? They're going to come tell you. Is that right? Are they going to come tell you, and then you two have a venting session about the employees having venting sessions? Like what's happening? Right? Because it can go all sorts of directions and you know that. Right? Or they don't tell you. You don't even know. That's why you might walk into a room and everybody's looking at you like you're the devil and you don't even know what you did. That's a, I'm being facetious.

But listen, I've walked in many different environments. Trust me, it's been a really interesting career of mine. So managers are not there to absorb venting. HR people, not there to absorb venting. Managers are there to coach, develop, provide feedback to, direct, hold accountable employees for their roles, their performance.

If there's a problem, I want you to develop this language with your team. This is how I recommend you address it. Now, this builds off of the gossip, the gossip part that we talked about last week. Because I think, as I said at the beginning of this podcast, I think our belief somewhere along the line that people just need to vent, like it's healthy, like, I don't agree. I don't actually think that's true because I think you're just giving people a pass for not learning how to do one of the two things that we're going to talk about.

Which is that if you have a legitimate concern about a new program, a new policy, a new structure that we have implemented in the business, then that is always something that we would be willing to discuss, with your recommendations and solutions.

So, if you don't like the new office chairs. I understand that. Why don't, if that's something you would want to talk about, I'd like you to make sure that when we talk about it, you bring solutions. You bring some recommendations. I don't need to sit with you for 22 minutes to find out why you don't like the chairs, and how ugly they are, and how they don't match the furniture, or whatever it is that you have to say about the chairs. That is not my place. It is not my role.

If you don't like this new policy that we've just implemented, then I would like you to come to me and say, "You know, this policy about this is, this isn't working. I want you to know why. And here are a couple of recommendations I have. And here's a couple of solutions." I don't need to listen to you for 15 minutes tell me why you don't like it.

And I would advise everybody in the company to get the same feedback. It isn't kind to use other people's time to complain, especially when they have no ability to solve it.

So we don't want them to stop talking to managers and then just take each other's time. We don't do that here. We solve problems here. We're a small, agile, founder-led business. We don't indulge problems. We identify solutions. And I'm all in. I will never turn you away for a conversation with you about your recommendations and solutions. That doesn't mean I will do them all, but I, I will always hear that out. If you want to send me an email, if you want to have the conversation.

But what I do not want to indulge, and what I will not support paying my managers or pay my team to do is to sit around and vent and complain, that's not what we do here. And that may not be a place you want to work.

Now, that's what we do if we have something that is just not working. If we have a complaint, then that is a formal conversation. "I work with this person. They never get their job done. I'm affected by it." "This person has bad body odor." Whatever. Listen, right?

We've had it all. If you have a complaint, you can bring your complaint to my managers, to the manager, or to HR, and that will become a formal process to the extent that formal is formal in your company. But what it means is it's documented and it will be addressed and likely at another level.

So if you have a person that you think is causing challenge for you to accomplish your job and you bring me a complaint as a manager, then I will take that and now it's going to get handled. But that also means you're going to be involved in whatever that looks like. There might be mediation. There might be documentation. They might have a complaint against you. Like, there's a whole list of things. I don't know what's going to happen, but it becomes now it's not just you and me chitty chatty venting, right?

So if there's something that legitimately needs to be addressed, something that you're not, it's not working, let's make recommendations and solutions. And if it's a complaint, that's a formal process.

If you are having a mental health problem - this is the last thing I want to say about this - because I think a lot of managers are getting tangled in this problem stuff, getting a divorce, or I have ADD, or I have, right, I have disassociative, I have this, I have that, I have depression, I have anxiety, I have all... listen, there's so many people right now that are really, really wrangling with a lot of issues.

The first thing is you always need to talk to your attorney, but as I understand it, unless someone comes to you and says they have a doctor's note, they have a proven demonstrated diagnosis, documented diagnosis. They haven't actually told you that they have a mental illness, that they're struggling with anxiety. Everybody says they're struggling with anxiety. That's not a documented diagnosis.

But if they come to you and say, "I'm really struggling with anxiety. I've been working with my doctor," that, again, becomes a formal process and you might want to look at what are the resources you can make available to your team that is struggling with mental illness, mental illness challenges, any, on the spectrum of that. There's so many options. But that is not your manager's job or yours to help them figure out. And you don't want to do that. That is risk love. Okay.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that if you want to come in here and tell me about the amazing day that you had, I am all in. If you want to come in here and talk to me about how much you love your new white shirt, tell me everything. But if you want to come in and whine and complain, do not. Think twice. Let's do some mind management. This is part of why I want to help you with some tools for your managers and your staff, because I just don't think people know how to deal with that.

Work is stressful, that's true, but we can do hard things, right? I know we can, but that's, it's a definitive line for me. So I'm hoping that you're hearing that, and you find a balance. I think a lot of people like you and people like me and my clients, we don't know how to do that. And then we don't know how to hold and help our managers do that, hold our managers to that expectation. Because then managers have to learn how to have those difficult conversations.

Like, "Hey, Joyce, you come in here a lot. And you like to complain a lot. And I want to let you know, that's really not acceptable, but I want you to know what is. But complaining is not part of our ethos here. Solutions are our ethos. That's what we do here. And if you have a formal complaint, I will always hear that. And if you have a personal problem that you need support with, then you need to let us know, and we'll let you know if we have the resources for that."

Your manager's job is not to be the sponge for everybody's problems. So I hope this was helpful. There's a lot to unpack when it comes to promoting and having managers that report to you. And I will continue to have opportunities to do that here in this podcast. And it's also work that I do with my clients and our programs. So, if you need additional help, you know where to find me, but in the meantime, thanks for tuning in.

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