One of the most challenging aspects of leading a team is knowing how to alter your management style to different personalities, processing styles, abilities, and ways of working. People are not widgets, and it’s likely that your default management style won’t bring out the best in everyone on your team. Some people thrive in a highly structured environment with a lot of oversight, while others prefer to “set it and forget it,” establishing goals and deliverables and then working independently until a task is complete.
As you learn the individual styles and skills of your team members, one other thing to consider is the different levels of competence on your team. Competence may or may not have anything to do with raw talent, intelligence, or training; levels of competence can vary widely depending on several factors. As a leader, understanding where your direct reports land on a scale from low competence to high competence can help you determine what level of oversight and additional training or development you need to provide.
Here are three basic levels of competence and the kinds of management these employees will need to be successful.
1. Employee competence: Low
It’s important to understand that saying someone has a low level of competence is not a negative observation. Most of us have low competence as neurosurgeons, but that does not mean we aren’t intelligent! Employees with low competence may be new to the company or the workforce and need time to learn the role or function. Identify why the employee’s competence is low—did the employee need more training or time in the onboarding process?
Once you understand the reason behind the low competence, you can provide the right level of oversight until the employee grows. You will need to spend more time telling, guiding, directing, and providing answers in this situation. Create a structured work environment, and offer more follow-ups and direct oversight until the employee becomes more competent.
2. Employee competence: Medium
Someone at a medium level of competence may also be new to the company but may have more career experience or knowledge than an early career employee. Medium competence could also indicate someone who is naturally bright and talented but not practiced in the work at hand.
Managing someone with medium competence should be a collaborative process. For employees at this level, engage in more two-way conversations, and set goals and deliverables together, with input from both sides. A moderate structure to work may be helpful—something that allows for multiple iterations and follow-ups but still provides plenty of opportunities to work independently. Try to avoid micromanaging someone at this level; start to encourage more independence and autonomy to move these employees into a higher competence.
3. Employee competence: High
High-competence employees are those with years of career and company experience—people who can do their jobs in their sleep. Managing these people may be easier because oversight is reduced, but it can also be essential to encourage these employees to keep stretching and growing, so they remain engaged.
For these highly competent employees, ask questions, set high-level expectations, and listen. Encourage these people to find stretch assignments or new learning opportunities. While fewer check-ins are required when managing high-competence employees, don’t ignore these star players! Ensure you follow up and check in enough to feel liked, competent, and valued.
Above all, remember that competence levels are not a reflection of the value of your people. As a leader, you have a unique opportunity to encourage growth at every level of competence while still meeting company objectives. Approach all of your team members with a “people-first” leadership style, and work toward a team full of engaged, connected employees at every level of competence.
- Am I over-managing some of my Medium- or High-competence employees? How?
- Am I under-managing some of the Low- or Medium-competence employees? How?
- What is one thing I can do to improve how I match my oversight to employee competence?