Managing people we don’t recruit



Most LTO (Language Teaching Organisation) managers work very hard at trying to build a team of enthusiastic, professional and hardworking people. This team will usually be formed of people who we have actively recruited and people who we have had no say in recruiting. Managing this second group of people can be particularly tricky.

This group is made up of people we have either inherited or people who are imposed on us for one reason or another. Often they are people who have been working in our LTOs (Language Teaching Organisation) longer than us, they will have set ways of working which we don’t necessarily agree with, they may feel some resentment that we have the job we have, they are often very resistant to change, and if they want, they can make our lives very difficult.

But, we need to somehow work with these people and form a team of sorts that functions at least an operational level, and one which preferably also becomes engaged and participates at a strategic level.  If, as managers, we are to move our LTOs in the direction we think they should be going, then learning to manage effectively the human resources available to us is a must.

One of the first mistakes I made as a manager was thinking that I could change people. In fact it has taken me a long time to learn that we cannot change people. People don’t change, at least not significantly so. And normally the longer somebody works for the same LTO, the more set they tend to get in their ways and the more unlikely it is that they will change.

This is not a whinge; it is a reality check because I find that many managers are often not good at remembering this. We tend to try to change people, consistently fail and end up getting exasperated!!  So … enough! It’s not the way to go.

So here are few things I have learnt:

This first thing it’s useful to remember is that everybody has their own personal and professional agendas and it is highly unlikely that they are the same as ours, especially if we have not recruited them. So, get to know these people, listen to them and try to find out what those personal and professional agendas are. If we don’t know what they are, it will be very difficult to use them to our or our LTO’s advantage.

Second, stop fighting these people and getting frustrated by their negativity or indifference. They probably have good reason for feeling as they do. The better we get to know them, the easier it will be to understand where they are coming from and the more we will be able to empathise with them. However brilliant and enlightened our ideas are, the baggage they carry with them will colour their reaction to these ideas. It is only when we have an insight into where they are coming from that we will be able to understand and manage these reactions better.

Third, try to find ways of engaging these people at an operational and strategic level in a way which plays to their agendas and naturally brings them on board. This means again listening better and it also means being flexible as a manager. Don’t develop such a strict game plan that you can’t adapt it to work for the individuals you need to get involved.

I once read that a LTO is not a democracy, and I think, unless you work for a cooperative, this is true.  The managers / directors will make most decisions at the end of the day. But, even if we come up with a brilliant plan, if we don’t get the people that work with and for us on board, if we don’t adapt it to work for the people who need to be involved, and if we end up imposing change on these people, we will cause significant resistance and it won’t work.  To be successful we need to listen better; to try to understand where any resistance to proposals is coming from by understanding the agendas of the people we work with; and to be prepared to be flexible. If we manage to do this, the likelihood is that we will get more of our team on board and stand a better chance of creating a team which will move in the direction you think your LTO needs to move.