For Every Action, There is Likely to be a Reaction


Janice’s manager said to her, “I appreciate your reporting the customer’s failure to comply with all safety rules.  But you should have insisted that he wear safety glasses and hearing protectors at all times.  If the customer failed to obey, you should have canceled the tour.  Consider this to be a verbal reprimand.  A copy goes in your file.”

Janice had been responsible for guiding a new customer through on a plant tour.  Although Janice had carefully explained all safety requirements prior to the tour, the customer consistently ignored some rules.  Janice did not think the customer was ever at risk.  Still, she repeatedly and politely nagged him to comply.

At one point, the customer became irritated and said, “This is silly.  I’m forty feet away from any moving parts.  These things are uncomfortable.”

Janice later commented to a friend that she feared she might offend the customer to the point of jeopardizing a potential high-dollar sale.

Managers described this incident in numerous meetings and promised consequences for all future failures.

Employees heard the message loud and clear.  However, over the next year employees reported in confidential interviews that customer violations continued and perhaps even increased.  Tour guides simply quit reporting what they thought were incidental violations.

 

 

The Five Toughest Personnel Issues


Part 2 of 5

Alfredo’s manager described Alfredo as, “a likable, high-performing employee who gets along well with others.  He has been with us about eight months.”

The manager continued to say that Alfredo had been traveling a lot lately and the office manager became suspicious of his expense reports.  Taxi fares seemed too high and some restaurant tickets included more people than necessary.

The manager confronted Alfredo about his expense reports and he responded, “I probably did inflate some of my expenses a bit.  My previous company seemed OK with that.  But I know it is wrong.  I won’t do it again.”

About thirty percent of participants in my workshops say they would give Alfredo a warning and watch him closely.  He is a good producer and a good team member.

But about two thirds say that falsification of records justifies termination.  Alfredo did admit his discretion but only after he was caught.  This is a character issue.  It is probably not the first time and will not likely be the last.

While some managers tend to overlook such practices, especially for high producers, I side with the two-thirds who argue that it is a character issue and grounds for termination.

 

The Five Toughest Personnel Decisions


Part 1 of 5

A manager said to me, “I’m concerned about Jacob.  He has really struggled during the last few months.”

“How long has Jacob been with you?” I asked.

“Almost fifteen years.”

“What is Jacob’s performance history?”

“He’s been a pretty good performer, not great but reliable.  The volume in Jacob’s job has increased dramatically and we have become very dependent on technology.”

“Have you trained Jacob sufficiently?”

“Yes, we’ve offered extensive training.  In reality, the job has probably outgrown Jacob’s abilities.”

“Do you have other tasks that you could assign to Jacob?”

“Not really.  We are fully staffed and I’ve shifted tasks as much as I can.”

When a job outgrows an employee’s abilities, I think the company should try to reassign the employee to other tasks.  However, as in this example, reassignment is not always practical.

Another option is to continue coaching and training and hope to get the employee up to speed.  However, this usually does not work.

As tough as it sounds, the better option for both the organization and the employee is to compassionately remove the person from the organization and assist him/her in finding a better fit with another company.

 

When The Pronoun “I” May Be More Effective Than “We”


While jointly writing checks to pay bills, one party says to another, “We need more stamps.”  While the first party may simply be acknowledging a need, he/she is more likely, by implication, making a request of the second party to buy stamps.  Communication by implication is fraught with risks.

Consider these implied messages from mangers to employees.

“We need to be more responsive to clients.”

“We need to improve our on-time deliveries.”

“We need to reduce overtime.”

In each of these examples, the person hearing “we,” may not see the need to do anything differently because the manager has retained co-ownership of the issue.  Consider making the requests with the pronoun “I.”

“I would like for you to be more responsive to our clients.”

“I want you to improve your on-time deliveries.”

“I would like for you to reduce overtime in your department.”

By using the pronoun “I,” the manager owns the expectation and more clearly assigns the responsibility for achieving the expectation to the employee.

I understand the importance of teamwork and I get “there is no “I” in team.  I also believe that leaders who use the pronoun “I” more clearly identify their expectations.  And they do so without diminishing teamwork.

 

This May Not Work for You, but . . .


Felix said to his manager, “I have an upset customer who claims we should be responsible for repairing a product still under warranty.  However, I think the customer caused the damage by improperly servicing the equipment.”

After listening further, Felix’s manager gave him a specific checklist of actions to take with the customer.

Felix approached the customer and began working through his manager’s suggestions.  The customer remained disappointed and later wrote a nasty complaint on social media.

Later, the manager asked Felix, “Why didn’t you get that issue resolved the way that I told you to?”

Felix responded, “I did exactly what you said. He just wouldn’t listen.”

I recall asking a friend how to get a stubborn horse to take the bit.  My friend said, “Now, this may not work for you but this is how I do it.”  Then he successfully performed the feat while I watched.

Of course, the next day as I tried to execute my friend’s methods, the horse resumed his bad behaviors.  However, I knew that I still owned the issue and did not consider my friend accountable.

Felix’s manager, I believe, should have put qualifiers on his suggestions.  Felix would know that, although the manager offered advice, the customer issue was still his to resolve.

Do You Create a Jekyll and Hyde Issue at Work?


Lucius said, “My new manager is very friendly.  He’s always asking about my kids and he likes to talk golf.  I thought we had a good relationship.”

Lucius continued, “Yesterday, the boss got upset because he thought I had not done enough to help to a younger employee.  I tried to help the new guy but he ignored my advice.”

To Lucius, the manager was unpredictable because he seemed to turn from “nice guy friend” to “jerk boss.”  Author Bruce Tulgan calls this the “Jekyll and Hyde” problem.

The Jekyll and Hyde issue emerges when managers build relationships based on sharing personal matters at work.  Eventually, a manager will need to have an awkward conversation about a work problem.  Employees are surprised because they see the relationship flipping from boss-friend to corrective-parent.

Managers, Tulgan believes, should save most of their personal talk for after work, social events and other encounters.  At work, the boss’s role is to keep people laser-focused on quality, deadlines, customers, safety.  This requires constant work talk.

Effective leaders strive to create trust and rapport with employees by mature discussions about what is going well and what needs improving.  For most, there would not even be a relationship were no for the work.

 

Do You Practice Seagull Management?


VP Roberto surprised Julia with a request.  “I need a plan that will reduce headcount in your department by ten percent.”

Several times, Julia approached Roberto to discuss options.  Each time Roberto responded with something like, “I’m pretty busy.  Give me your best plan and I’ll look at it.”

After considerable thought, Julia produced a plan for ten percent reduction.

Roberto responded, “We have too many supervisors.  You need to lose some supervisors.  I don’t want all of the shrinkage from employees.”

Julia responded, “I will be relying heavily on my experienced supervisors.  There is going to be a lot of confusion when we start realigning duties.  And I can’t just demote a supervisor and expect to get the commitment we need.”

“I can’t accept the plan,” Roberto said.  “I’ll take it from here.”

Roberto’s eventual decision had no resemblance to Julia’s plan.  Of course, the department was confused and disheartened.  Turmoil continued for many months.

Roberto could have eased some of the confusion had he stayed more engaged with Julia.  But Roberto chose to exemplify Ken Blanchard’s seagull management—he flew in, made a lot of noise, dumped on everyone and then flew out.