Managing Employees Whose Jobs You Do Not Understand

By: First Union


Managing Employees Whose Jobs You Do Not Understand

Are you a business owner who employs people whose jobs you do not understand? Do you struggle to connect with and understand your employees because you do not understand how they perform their job? When having conversations with your employees, do you find yourself struggling to understand how to find solutions?

It is very common to hire people whose jobs you do not understand - that's why you hire them. People work their way up into management through different means and maybe an expert in what their trade was, but that doesn't mean they know what everyone on a team does or how they perform their jobs. For example, business managers have backgrounds in the disciplines of their sector, whether they were software engineers who became product owners overseeing an entire product development department, a financial analyst who now manages all financial aspects of an organization or an account representative who was promoted to the accounts manager.

It is not expected for you to know every role required within an organization, but it is expected that you still work with them to understand at a high-level with open dialogue, ensure they have what they need to do their jobs, and continue to set productivity milestones and career-paths.

Know where you stand

It is very common to not understand the complexities of every job you oversee. You know what you have experienced. And as much as you can read up and research each role until you have walked a mile in their shoes, you do not truly know the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly tasks they must perform to do their job and help make the business money.

Be honest with yourself about your capabilities and knowledge. Plan to continue your knowledge and education, but know that you do not know it all.

Be transparent

Communicate to your employees that you are still learning their roles and responsibilities. If your employees know where you stand, they are more likely to be patient during conversations and more likely to help you understand what they do.

Transparency is key, and will also increase your employees' level of respect for you. You may find they will try to steer you in the right direction toward books, articles, videos, and courses. You will soon find yourself engaging in similar lingo, building trust and opening more doors for conversation and collaboration.

Also, don't try to trick your employees into thinking that you can do their job. That's a quick way to lose the respect of your employees and to not be taken seriously.

Be proactive

If you're not proactive when it comes to understanding your employees' jobs, you will struggle to connect with your employees and gain ground on pushing toward levels of performance. Take classes to help grow your knowledge on what your employees do, so you can ask better questions. As you learn more about their day-to-day challenges, alongside expanding your knowledge, you gain your employees' trust.

Ask for help

There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking your employees for help. And when learning about your employees' jobs, ask for clarification if they are speaking over your head. Never assume things, especially if you do not share a similar level of comprehension on the subject as your employee. Slow down and take it down a notch. Make sure everyone has the same expectation. Never regret asking for help.

Leverage your top employee's knowledge and experience

If you can identify employees who are influential, professional, intelligent, and well-liked among the organization, leverage their experience. Learn as much from them as possible, without overstepping boundaries and asking too much - don't make them resent you by making them hold your hand through managing the team.

Implement processes to improve departmental communication

Increasing departmental communication and process documentation can lead to a better understanding of when workflows and processes should happen. When implementing a process, make sure the goal can be reached by everyone in the department.

Educate yourself on past department failures

If there have been times where the department was run poorly, missed deadlines, or was perceived negatively in the organization, you want to learn why. Dig into the root causes of these issues. Were there communication gaps? Was work performed in a siloed fashion? Had there been a lot of turnover in the department? Were employees unable to collaborate and understand each other's values? Figure it out and don't make the same mistakes.

Be reasonable and logical

No one can master every discipline, but you can apply principles of reason and logic to every decision made. Bring a sound method of analysis for every scenario. Do not lose sight of the decision to have you manage the department because you may have found yourself in unfamiliar waters. Stay confident in what you do know and expand on what you don't.

Hold one-to-ones with your employees

The best way to know how to manage an employee is to ask them yourself. Does your employee need a lot of hand-holding? Are they extremely independent? Do they benefit from in-person meetings? Are they requiring additional education? Work on always identifying the following traits:

  • What projects is each employee working on?
  • What are each employee's strengths?
  • What are each employee's weaknesses?
  • What opportunities would each employee's like to see?
  • What opportunities do you see within the department?
  • Are there any threats to each employee being able to perform their job?

Whatever you can do to improve your relationship with your employees and your understanding of what they do, take it. Your employees will appreciate it and you will always learn from those opportunities.

Whatever the downfalls were, learn from them and do not remake those mistakes. You will always need more context for every situation and to perform a deep examination. But in the end, you will have learned more about your department, your employees, and how to manage them. Do your best to empower your employees to do their best work.

At the end of the day, it's important to cultivate an environment that lets your team do their best work. Take the time to understand your team's complexities and gain their trust. You will see a problem-solving, forward-thinking, dynamic, and product team.

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