One Size Does Not Fit All: Treating Employees to Meet Individual Needs

Poor Grace in her over-sized sweater. One size does not fit all!

Poor Grace knew immediately that this sweater wasn’t the right fit. Employees recognize it, too, when managers aren’t working well with them. One size does not fit all!

It’s crystal clear that this sweater I made for Grace just doesn’t fit her. The top opening swallowed her neck size. The proportions are off. And why did I opt for a bulky yarn when my goal was to have a light-weight covering to keep her warm inside? Grace humored me by sporting it for a short while—mind you, she didn’t move around much because she didn’t see the point and she knew how ridiculous she looked. Not to mention it simply was not easy or fun to move around. It’s an apt metaphor for how hampered employees feel when working in opposition to their natural traits.

Employees come in different sizes and styles, too. But inexperienced, or disinterested, managers tend to treat all employees the same. This plays out in everyday interactions, as well as recognition programs, policies, procedures, and employee benefit plans.

The problem with this practice is just what Grace experienced. She can’t move as easily, in fact she can get stuck, when she’s hampered by something that doesn’t fit her.

Employees experience this all the time, trying to overcome the challenges that are placed on them because managers aren’t aware of the best ways to interact.

When making the sweater, I followed a pattern that I felt was appropriate. But I didn’t take the time to focus on the details, such as where Grace’s dimensions differed from the prescribed instructions. The single reason I didn’t take that seemingly simple (but critically important step) was because I’m a novice knitter and I didn’t feel competent making adjustments. So I decided to ‘wing it’ and see how close it would be. Customizing the pattern felt more terrifying than trying to get it right with a little extra effort in the planning stages. And you see where that got me (and poor Grace).

When managers aren’t comfortable in the communication process, they fall back to do things the way they know, which may not always be the best for the other person.

For example, when delegating an assignment to an employee, the manager should consider numerous aspects of the process and how it relates to the person taking on the assignment. Along with the level of experience and knowledge a person possesses, the person’s work style will weigh heavily into how to proceed. Do they need lots of details or just the big picture? Do they absorb information better in small doses or in one comprehensive session? Should you give lots of attention and oversight? Or stand back and give the person autonomy? Frequent check-ins? Does the employee know how to tap into additional resources they might need and will they be proactive to seek them out? Will they do better having a final deadline or establishing mini-milestones along the way? At the end of the project, how do they want to be recognized?

One of the simplest ways to work effectively with employees is to get objective information about their style. A valid and reliable assessment tool can provide a wealth of suggestions for managers who want to get better results from their team. Providing training and professional development opportunities for managers is so important — for their success and the success of their team.

Taking steps to become a better manager isn’t much different from learning other skills and I obviously need help with my knitting. Grace is going to have to depend on a store-bought coat to keep her warm this winter, but she won’t suffer. It’s not always that easy for employees to find alternative work environments.

What will you do today to ensure your interactions take into account the other’s person’s needs?

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  1. Michelle Veasey on February 28, 2014 at 11:02 am

    As always, you’ve shared such important HR lessons in a way that keeps me hooked to the end! Thanks for making the learning process delightful.

    • Robin on February 28, 2014 at 7:30 pm

      Michelle, what a wonderful comment, thank you so much. And I love your word choice of being ‘hooked’ because of the knitting theme!

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