Managing people in a tight labour market

Last Updated on Thursday, 2 June, 2022 at 11:10 am by Andre Camilleri

Silvan Mifsud is director of Advisory at EMCS Tax & Advisory

Managing people was always a challenging task. However, many businesses are finding that the challenge to manage people in such a tight labour market has become so difficult that they feel at a loss at how to balance a level of discipline and control while retaining the best human resource talent with the company. Many business leaders feel that they are being pressured to square a circle, leading them to conclude that they cannot bring change or rock the boat. That means that bad behaviours or poor performances are not addressed; leading to the proliferation of harmful cultures within businesses.

Let us start from the basics. The start is based on the mindset. Now more than ever, business leaders and managers should keep in mind that the word “discipline” comes from a Latin term meaning instruction, training, knowledge and coaching. What I mean is that employers should be focusing on a mindset that is based on a behavioural coaching approach. Such an approach asks the fundamental question: “Is the lack of performance the result of an honest mistake, reckless behaviour or intentional conduct?” Once an employer makes this inquiry and understands the underlying behaviours, it can develop an effective corrective action plan. To develop a coaching environment, an employer should evaluate whether its processes are clear and understandable. When an incident occurs, look at all the action that led to the situation and conduct the investigation in partnership with your employees. Taking this kind of approach does not mean misconduct and should not be documented but the focus should be on remedial training and other corrective action that is needed.

Let me be clear. While such a mindset does help in taking the stigma away from discipline, there may still be incidents whereby certain behaviours or actions are so serious that there is no way from escaping from this, resulting in employment termination. What is important in such instances is a level of consistency – taking serious action should be a multi-level decision within an organisation because allowing unchecked discretion to line managers could lead to inconsistent decisions which in turn could lead to legal issues.

Turning back to the behavioural-based coaching approach, it is therefore of critical importance that managers are trained to be able to handle and use this approach. This is why I keep repeating that the so-called “soft skills” have now become (more than ever) “core skills”.

To this effect, over the past years, I have developed a core training module, which trains people in key skills to manage people using the above-mentioned approach and hence master skills related to leadership, teamwork and communication. These skills are interlinked (as seen below) and build on each other so that the above-mentioned coaching approach can be fully used.

Very complementary to the core training, it is then very useful for business leaders and managers to gain skills on:

  • Delegating effectively: Avoiding the plague of micromanagement
  • Managing conflict
  • Building personal and team resilience

There was a time when managers or business leaders were measured on their technical skills only. This was and still is a mistake. However, in times whereby the labour market was less tight and the business environment was less challenging, businesses could live with the various negative impacts of having managers not skilled enough to manage people. Things have now changed drastically and businesses do not have the space to allow this anymore. Having business leaders and managers skilled in the above “core skills” has become of critical importance to balance the need of required discipline and performance improvement on one hand and not having employees feel threatened – leading to positive change that does not bring with it higher employee turnover.

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