Monday, September 9, 2013

Management Style & RRC

In last week's article, I discussed my recent experience as a long-term, temporary employee at a warehouse. The experience did not turn out favorably, and I expressed my anger and disappointment in the previous article. However, this is a new week. It's time for me to move past the emotions that I felt last week and look at the situation from a different perspective.

My First Supervisory "Gig"

I remember in my early-twenties when I was rewarded with a promotion to trainer. I was working as a packer for a company that made surgical instruments. I remember trying to decide how I was going to act in this new position; strict, firm, fun, fair, laid-back, nurturing, or demanding. I clearly recall the first time I had to recommend one of my trainees for disciplinary action because of his behavior, and I remember one instance that I was disciplined because one of my trainees filed a complaint against me for cursing at him (no... it wasn't the same employee that I recommended for disciplinary action). I remember how unsure I was about exerting my authority as a trainer, wondering if new hires would perceive me as credible, being hesitant to give commands and delegate, and not knowing the point when "guidance" turned into "micro-managing."

I was training people of different ages, races, cultures, educational backgrounds, religions, and disabilities; I felt overwhelmed, intimidated, and scared. However, I learned how to perform multiple tasks in multiple ways so that I could effectively train different people, I learned how to deal with different personality types, and I learned that it was okay to go to my supervisor and admit when a personality conflict with a trainee was interfering with my ability to effectively train that person. It didn't happen often, but it did happen. So, while I don't condone how I was treated by my former line lead, I can sort of empathize with her situation on some level; it wasn't really easy for me to figure out my "default" management style in that environment, and nobody told me about using RRC (Record, Reason, Circumstance) in order to determine if a problem was caused by an employee trying to get away with something or a simple misunderstanding.

Management Styles

"Business Meeting" by thinkpanama CC By 2.0

In my management courses, we discussed different management styles and which ones would be most effective in different situations. While the terminology used to name these styles might differ, the following management styles are generally what most styles are based on:
  • The Directive, or "do what I say, how I say to do it," style is used when employees need guidance, and threats of consequences are used to ensure employee compliance. It is the least effective, yet widely used, management style.
  • Managers can also use the Authoritative, or "do what needs to be done within these standards/guidelines," style when employees need guidance; however, managers use feedback to motivate employees.
  • The Affliative, or "let's bond," style helps to manage conflict and uses coaching to correct deviations from standards. It focuses on motivating employees by demonstrating the manager's commitment to their happiness.
  • For the Participative, or "democratic," style of management, mangers give employees an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. This style also allows employees to give input on how/when tasks are performed.
  • In the Pacesetting, or "I'll do it myself," style, managers will personally take on tasks and expect employees to meet or exceed the managers' outputs. This style focuses on motivating employees by setting high standards.
  • The Coaching, or "let's optimize your strengths and improve on your weaknesses," style uses employees' sense of accomplishment as motivation. Managers using this style will often ask employees who excel in a task to teach other employees who are struggling.
My default management style changes depending upon the work environment I'm in at the time. For example: as a trainer for a former employer, my default style was authoritative; however, as my trainees became more experienced, I changed to the coaching style of management with them. If my trainees indicated that they were motivated by competition, I would react by becoming a pacesetter to help motivate them to perform better. However, when I was a night shift manager, I mixed the coaching, participative, and affiliative management style. It helped to make an otherwise tedious and boring shift for the people I worked (and myself) a little more pleasant.

As for my former line lead's management style... I think she was going for the authoritative style, but I think that her inexperience made it difficult for her to give effective feedback; which made her approach seem more "directive" than she intended. Whether or not she intended her style to be more authoritative and less directive in the situation that I described last week is really a moot point because she didn't consider the record, reason, or circumstance of the situation.

Record, Reason Circumstance (RRC)

In the past, I used "RRC" without even really thinking about it; however, I was employed by a company that embraced and adopted this philosophy. If you asked me about my philosophy on handling employee complaints or issues before I was employed by this company, I would have struggled to express my philosophy. However, using RRC is quite simple:
  • Record:  Has the employee demonstrated this behavior before? If so, what coaching or counseling has the employee received?
  • Reason:  What reason does the employee give for demonstrating this behavior? Going back to "Record," has the employee given this reason before? If so, was the coaching/counseling clear, or did the manager/supervisor follow up with the employee to ensure understanding?
  • Circumstance:  What are the factors involved in the situation? If the employee has demonstrated the behavior before, or the reason(s) for the behavior is the same; are there new factors involved that need to be considered?
Let's use RRC to determine how we might have handled the situation I described in last week's post.

  • The employee never complained about the tasks that were assigned to her.
  • The employee never asked to be moved to a different task. 
  • The employee does have a record of putting product on the line before the line lead checked the product's product numbers.
  • The employee was told that the line lead needed to check product numbers before product was given to the line to ensure that the correct product was being used on the line. It was explained that in lot control situations, the client would be held liable for incorrect product by two government agencies.
  • The employee asked for assistance because she was still experiencing pain from performing her assigned task for the three nights prior to the incident.
  • The employee stated that she was feeling ill due to the heat.
  • The employee stated emphatically that she thought that the line lead had checked the product before she put it on the line.
  • The employee asked for assistance a second time and stated that she was confusing which product went to which area, despite the fact that the employee had been performing the task for the past three nights.
  • After being coached, the employee demonstrated her understanding of the procedures by consistently taking steps to ensure that the line lead checked the product before she delivered it to the line.
  • The temperature inside the warehouse was above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.78 Celsius).
  • None of the fans in the area were pointed towards the employee.
  • Employee was observed sweating profusely; the sweating stopped abruptly with no change to the employee's task or working environment.
  • Other employees observed that the employee was stumbling and exhibiting odd behavior.
  • Other employees were voicing their concerns about the employee's uncharacteristic behavior to the line lead.
I can't really be objective here since I am that employee; however, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I would have removed the employee from the line, administered first aid to the employee for heat exhaustion, and suggested that the employee at least go home (if not to the emergency room).

Final Thoughts

What it comes down to is that it is our responsibility as managers/supervisors to ensure the safety of even the most reprehensible employees while they are at work because the law requires us to do so. Better yet, let's take me out of the picture entirely, and think about it from a different perspective.

Let's say that this employee had the knowledge that I did, that the employee didn't care about her/his future prospects with staffing agencies in the area, decided to make an issue of it, and went to the emergency room instead of going home. At the very least, the staffing agency would have had to pay unemployment and medical bills for that employee. Worst case scenario: let's say that this employee didn't know what heat exhaustion was; let's say that this employee "sucked it up," came back from break, continued working, and either passed out or had a seizure caused by heat stroke. What if that employee had become permanently disabled or died because of it? What would happen to the line lead, the staffing agency, and the client? Would the government agencies, the press, or a jury care that the employee was "only a temp?"

What Are Your Thoughts?

What do you think? How might you have handled this situation, or how have you handled similar situations? What might you do (or are doing) to prevent these situations from happening?

Title image modified from "Big Buckle Briefcase" by smelly13cat CC By 2.0       


  1. I think you came to a great realization - What would have happened IF.....?????

    How would I have handled the situation? Be diligent when on the side of caution. I've seen situations where an employee will take EVERY POSSIBLE TURN to try to take to his/her advantage. While this isn't your case, you never know who you are dealing with.

    1. I see your point, and I agree that diligence is key when using RCC. It's one thing to assume that every employee wants to perform well and follow the rules, but it's another thing to ignore patterns of behavior that prove otherwise. I know from experience how easy it is to take it personally when you've assumed an employee's good intentions, and the employee's behavior proved otherwise. When this happens, it's tough not to become myopic and suspicious of every employee... Which is why dealing with the facts surrounding each employee's records, reasons, and circumstances objectively is so important.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. David Allman posted the following comment:

    “My default management style changes depending upon the work environment I'm in at the time.” - As it should be! Every situation is unique in their own way and circumstances change. And as a leader, you should be flexible enough to align your management style depending on the situation you're in.

    Hi David! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I took the liberty of editing your comment (removing a link) so that you could share your thoughts with readers.

    I think that it takes time and practice to figure out which management style is your "default" style in a given situation. When I first started out as a trainer, I wasn't very comfortable with the authoritative style of management simply because of my inexperience and my personal tendency to please others. I also tend to avoid being directive; however, I have had to fall back on that style when other management styles proved ineffective, and an employee's non-compliance threatened other employees' (or the public's) safety. I also think one's preferred default management style depends on the person's background. For instance, I've spent most of my career being a "grunt." I can easily recall what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the demotivating management styles, and have made a choice to try to improve upon what I observed.

    What do you think? Do you still have moments where the management style you would prefer to use isn't working, and you kind of grit your teeth and move on to a more effective (and less comfortable) management style?


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