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3 minutes

3 People-orientated management styles

These three styles take the focus away from the manager and put it much more on those who are being managed.

  • Situational management style
  • Democratic management style
  • Laissez-faire management style

To both small and large extents, these require managers to take a more hands-off approach to decision-making and grant their teams more authority.

An example. A fast-growing sportswear brand buys out an upcoming, smaller rival. That done, it hires a new Chief Operating Officer (COO) to manage the merged staff base. Straight away, they find that they are faced with a real jumble of skills and engagement levels.

Workers who’ve come in from the smaller rival are not as developed as those who helped the larger firm grow. Some are in the earliest stage of their careers. To make matters even more challenging, some even resent the merger, and that’s showing through in their work ethics and willingness to take part. But the COO is determined to find out as much as possible about the needs of each individual, to keep them motivated and collaborative.

What that shows us is that having to mange employees with an uneven spread of skills, effort and engagement is a common scenario. In the late 1960s, management thinkers came up with the situational style to tackle that challenge. Essentially, it advises bosses to change  their management approach, based on employees’ levels of ‘performance readiness.’ That will involve managers being very hands-on in some cases while, on the opposite end of the scale, providing other staff with almost complete autonomy.

The four approaches that comprise the situational style are:

Telling. For largely green rookies, inexperienced people who require close attention. Here, the manager directs and guides employees through the task in a very detail-oriented fashion, with little in the way of conversational back and forth.

Selling. For staff with limited ability for the task but a willingness to have a go. In this case, the manager will encourage and support staff through the various steps of the task and persuade them that they’re on the right track through positive, two-way interaction.

Participating. For staff who are able to carry out a task but, for engagement reasons, are not as willing as they should be. Under this approach, the manager will ask staff: “What do YOU think?” By inviting employees to chip in thoughts based on their specialist experience, the manager will boost their confidence, helping them feel part of the decision-making.

Delegating. For self-motivated staff who know what they’re doing and where they’re going. Here, the manager’s main role is to sketch out the broad vision and desired outcomes for the task, rev the employees up and watch them go. That will involve handing out a generous measure of authority and stepping back.

By focusing on different levels of staff competence and willingness, situational management takes the emphasis off the manager and puts it on the employees. One drawback, though, is that it may look to the untrained eye like inconsistent management.

An example. A manufacturer of action figures that has done very well in the film and TV tie-ins market decides that, at last, it’s time to release its own range. These toys will not be based on any pre-existing character or intellectual property (IP) owned by someone else. The creative director knows that the appetite in the company to build a new line from scratch is vast. Every month for the past couple of years, their online suggestion box has overflowed with comments urging the senior team to develop original characters. Some of the more recent comments suggest that employees have been getting a bit frustrated with the firm’s reliance on licensed brands. Make no mistake, across the whole business there’s a lot of pent-up creative energy looking to get out.

With that in mind, the creative director decides to throw it open to the floor. Anyone can submit ideas. At this stage, there’s no right or wrong answer. Maybe one employee’s ideas will win out, or maybe the business will mix and match. What’s most important now is to get everyone’s creative juices flowing.

What that shows us is that if frustration over the lack of original ideas has been building up in the workforce, the Creative Director’s spin on the democratic style will swiftly boost morale. Each employee will feel that they have something to contribute, and that their ideas will be valued, whether or not they make it over the finish line. The shared creative process will also help staff to bond. Yes, there will no doubt be a few rivalries. But staff will have the buzz of working together towards an outcome they’ve wanted to see for a long time.

In many ways, the democratic style is the opposite of command and control. Instead of driving employees from the top, the manager puts them in the driving seat. However, some managers may be overwhelmed by the explosion of ideas – and may struggle with the slower pace of decision-making,

Laissez-faire management style draws its inspiration from the French term, meaning “let it be” or “leave alone”.

An example. A marketing agency for a string of fashionable consumer brands has a thriving social media department, staffed with switched-on enthusiasts who love their work. The Head of Social Marketing makes a point of hiring team members who’ll put lots of effort into understanding their clients’ audiences and tones of voice. They will also have a flair for maintaining excellent customer relationships.

They are confident that he has assembled a terrific team. Each member can be trusted to run their set of clients like a mini business within the business, so they let them get on with what they do best. The friendly competition that creates in the department certainly doesn’t hurt.

What that shows us, is if you imagine the delegating option in situational management happening all the time, that’s pretty much the laissez-faire style in a nutshell. When a team is practically overflowing with high levels of engagement, motivation and creativity, the manager has the elbow room to provide staff with freedom to work in their own ways and define their own roles. In return for that freedom, team members must be expected to shoulder greater responsibility than employees who are managed more closely. Which means that they are more accountable for things that don’t go right.

Laissez-faire management would suit the growth of team members who’ve come into their jobs brimming with competence and aptitude. Any member of our social media team could reasonably expect to rise to management level within a few years, once they’ve built up a track record of working autonomously. But beware. One or two less experienced, new team members could upset the well-oiled machine, if those recruits don’t feel properly supported. More daring staff may feel tempted to challenge the manager’s authority. And an overconfident manager may not be curious enough to uncover festering mistakes that could threaten the whole department.

Where next?

Why are management styles important to understand? What is your management style? Find out. There’s two other groups of styles to find out about, process-based and inspirational.

Using these different styles only comes with practice and that’s what our Managing People courses help managers and aspiring managers do, all in a safe, confidence-boosting environment.