Oct 31 2019| Leadership

Managing Difference

How can I get the best from each individual in my team?

by Phil Eyre Founder

This was the question posed by Appleby at their latest Next Generation event. I was excited to be invited to share my perspectives, experiences and ideas, alongside Elvina Aghajanyan, Head of HR for HSBC in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and Stephen Burt, Branch Manager for Julius Baer in Guernsey.

We all agreed that leading people is exceptionally rewarding, precisely because everyone is different, creating opportunities for creativity and managing challenges in conflict.


What are the challenges that we all face? 

We are generally supposed to prefer people that are ‘like us’, sharing our communication style, values, beliefs and mindsets, especially in those ‘fast-thinking’ moments (see UnconsciousBias). 

Whilst most of us acknowledge the truth that differences bring opportunity for creativity and seeing problems in a new light, we can struggle to put our good intentions into practice.


Here are a few things that typically get in the way: 

             -  Daily tasks

The ‘day job’, or ‘business as usual’, can often be used as a reason not to engage more with team members. ‘I have too much to do’ is an often-repeated phrase in most workplaces. This is especially the case for people newly appointed to a manager role as the type of work that they have performed to date has been task-orientated rather than people-orientated. Yet the role of the manager is to manage people, arguably more so than tasks. Making a switch in habitually prioritising ‘the doing’ to prioritising ‘the people’ requires effort, as does any change.

             - Conflict

This consumes us more than creativity. We are naturally more disposed to our risk-signals than to opportunity and this can cause us to dwell more on perceived conflict and problems, than on constructive and creative differences. If these negative senses are not checked out, it can be too easy to form a belief that ‘they’ are a problem, which can then become self-fulfilling.

             - Presumption

We can be too quick to presume to know the reasons that a team member is acting (or not acting) in a particular way, based on our own experiences and beliefs rather than what’s true for them. The warning sign is when we hear ourselves say something like, ‘When I first joined, I would never have…’, yet their experience and reasoning will be different. Understanding this difference will enable the manager to design a precision solution to the problem, rather than a ‘blunt instrument’ intervention.

Overcoming these challenges takes commitment in both intention and time. Making time to listen to your team in group or one-to-one scenarios. Taking time to carefully and clearly communicate your expectations. Taking time to understand what motivates each person. Taking time to coach them up. This also needs to be understood as quality time, not reluctance on your part. You are giving your people your best attention and energy and in return inviting them to do the same. 

Elvina recommended that managers give at least 35% of their week to their people; one of the guests was able to allocate 50% of their time to their people. This will create the conditions for mutual understanding, respecting and harnessing differences for greater team success. Managers therefore need to engage different tactics to prioritise and delegate the team’s work, orienting their own effort to fostering a collaborative environment.


What specific challenges do we face in the Channel Islands from a cultural standpoint?

The population regimes set a procedural challenge and recruitment isn’t easy in a near full-employment environment. However, the more creative businesses are surprisingly multicultural, with multiple nationalities represented. The islands have a genuinely global reach, with CI branches connecting with international colleagues and serving customers worldwide.


Local factors that can create challenges


  • The blurring of personal boundaries

Work relationships often blur into other areas of life, whether socially, at the school gate, in personal and family relationships, or through sports or other activities. Our relationships are more closely woven together than in many places. This creates a more complex environment, with our work relationships potentially impacting on an aspect of our personal lives. Whilst this can help when team building (‘I know someone who would be great for this role’), this dynamic can hold us back, if we are not careful, from having the necessary difficult conversations at work. 


  • An aesthetic mindset

In our work, we use psychometrics to measure various human factors. We observe a high aesthetic mindset in both Guernsey and Jersey. This is a desire for harmony, balance, wellness, beauty, poise and form. It can bring wonderful creativity but, at the same time, this approach to choices can make conflict especially difficult. Highly aesthetic people would usually prefer to keep the peace.

Tactics to have those hard conversations sooner can have a significant impact in the islands. Creating an environment where feedback is welcomed and valued, even if uncomfortable, not only enhances people’s wellbeing (it’s better to be clear and understand the problems) but also provides a competitive advantage. Setting up regular one-to-one conversations, calling out problems as they arise in a way that other people can hear and understand, tailoring development plans, and supporting and holding your team to account (and asking them to hold you to account) will create flourishing and successful conditions. 


How Effective is Management Training?

People skills are essential. The ability to communicate clearly, motivate yourself and others, coach, set priorities, draw out the unique strengths of each individual in your team, provide feedback, and receive and learn from critique are all essential qualities for an effective manager.

Given that the impact of the manager is a significant factor in people’s career choices (according to Gallup, 70% of people leave their manager rather than their job), there are compelling reasons for investing in these essential skills.

Some businesses are better at this than others. The Next Generation guests observed that, for most of them, their training and development was oriented towards technical qualifications rather than people-leadership skills. Some had been appointed to management roles with little by way of training.  Others observed that people with strong technical skills had been promoted to positions of authority, but their people skills were somewhat lacking. This can be incredibly demotivating for others and set an expectation that promotion requires leaving all soft skills at the front door. That should not have to be the case.

Naturally we agree and we are encouraged that our client base creates the time and budget to invest in people-leadership. We observe the benefits not only in results (lower staff turnover, more effective problem solving, creativity, business development and more) but also in the general mood and demeanour of the teams that we work with. Positive people generate positive results!

Effective training should be tailored wherever possible to make it real and applicable. As part of our suite of services, we offer development programmes via our sister company, see [here] for more. Crucially, we ensure that everyone we work with can apply the leaning in a tailored, individual way. One size definitely does not fit all.


Purpose, Meaning and ‘Serve to Lead’

No one gets out of bed and decides that they want to do a bad job. Helping people to connect their skills - not just technical, but personal skills, experience, ambition, things that energise them - with the needs of the business is what makes management exciting.  This is at the root of high employee engagement, with your team working both hard and smart to achieve compelling outcomes. 

People-leaders need to be passionate about their people. Passion need not mean ‘extroverted’, in fact some of the best leaders are introverts.

However, it will include these traits:

 -   A serve-to-lead attitude 

Being there to support and challenge when necessary, with a desire to help their people to grow, stretch, development and improve. Good managers ask, ‘How can I make your life better today?’.

-   Interested

Genuinely wanting to know what really motivates each team member and connecting those   motivations with the workplace.

-   Interesting

Effective people leaders will point their people towards work that is interesting, not only in itself but ensuring that everyone understands the bigger purpose of the task, project or role. They provide opportunities for stretching work, passing responsibility and providing support to team members.

-   Communicate with their ears

Effective managers listen more than they speak. They pay proper attention, hearing body

language and what’s not being said as much as the words spoken. They are open to feedback

about how they can improve, at least as much as giving feedback to others in their teams.

 -   Set clear expectations

    Great leadership is clear; clear about why the work needs to be performed, the impact it

    will make, measures of success, timeframes and sources of support. They are clear about

    expected attitude and how this is reflected in behaviours. 

-   Self-aware

They understand their impact on others in different environments, both positive and

potential negatives. They adjust their preparation and approaches accordingly with the aim

of bringing their best to each individual situation.


What would you add from your experience in working with managers?


Our work is all about helping our clients to foster a healthy and flourishing workplace, so that work is exciting and energising most (if not all) of the time. Enhancing your people-leadership skills is a critical part of this. Call us today to find out how.


About The Author | Phil Eyre

Phil is Leaders’ founder. He has an enthusiastic and inspiring style, drawing on his experience in business, academia and social sectors to help any leadership team to achieve phenomenal performance. Phil has sophisticated expertise in psychometrics and in the application of human data for individual, team and organisational success. He has trained with, and been mentored by, global leaders in this field, notably Dr Chuck Coker in the US. Phil began his career in the UK offshore finance industry in 1994, working for a wealth management company in Guernsey, Collins Stewart (CI) Limited, now Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil was head of the company's Guernsey division, with a staff of 120 and assets under management of £4.5billion before resigning from executive responsibilities in 2008. Phil has served on the boards of three charities, including BMS World Mission, a UK charity with over 80 employees and a global reach. Phil also ran the Guernsey hub of a national theology college, received accreditation as a pastor in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and served as a non-executive director for Canaccord Genuity Wealth International. Phil is a member of the NED Forum and the Institute of Directors.

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