A manager said to me, ““I assumed leadership of a department of sixteen people about three months ago. Most are reliable performers. A few are really good and one is marginal at best.”
“Would your team be better off if the marginal employee were gone?” I asked.
“No question, much better off.”
“Then why don’t you work with your human resources’ manager to professionally remove the employee?”
“The employee is sixty three years old. He was one of the first persons hired almost twenty years ago when the department was formed. There is scant chance of removing him.”
“Have you tried training and coaching?”
“He’s not really interested in getting better. I think he’s just holding on for a couple of years until he retires.”
When dealing with a persistent, low performer whom you cannot terminate, I think you just have to learn to tolerate the employee.
Be respectful of the low performer as a person, but do not waste time attempting to train, motivate, encourage, or improve the person’s attitude. Minimize disruptions as much as possible. Find work-arounds when you have to. Understand that you may have to check more often than you would like. Quit worrying about it.
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.
(Part 5 of 5 on Increasing Influence)
A manager said to one of his account executives. “If you will agree to deliver your service at no commission, we can get a second contract that is quite profitable.”
“Why should I do that? I will not be the one to deliver the profitable service. Someone else will benefit from my sacrifice.”
“True. But our division will generate a lot more revenue due to your cooperation. If you refuse to cooperate, you will lose an opportunity for a nice financial gain at the end of the year.”
This manager’s influence effort threatens the account executive by pointing out how lack of cooperation will result a lost benefit.
Other examples: “If your absentee rate continues, you will lose the opportunity to work here.” “If you continue to be out of compliance, you will lose revenue due to heavy fines.” “If you do not honor the guarantee, you will lose a lot of business from this customer.”
Threats and fear influence attempts are distasteful for most of us. And there may sometimes be nasty side effects. For these reasons, I think the “lost opportunity” justification should be employed infrequently and only after other influence attempts have failed.
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.
On the first day of class, a button-down-shirt high school teacher opened his class by announcing thirty-eight rules. Rule Number twenty-three read, “There will be a consequence for anyone who jumps out of the second-story window.”
For the first time in memory, six students were caught jumping out of the window. When asked why, one student replied, “Well, we had never thought about jumping out of the window. I guess we took it as a challenge.”
I do understand that discipline is important, and I am aware that rules are necessary for defining unacceptable behaviors and applying consequences.
I am also aware that attendance rules do not eliminate absenteeism, and social media rules do not prevent employees from wasting time on Facebook.
Some organizations have elaborate, detailed handbooks that cover everything from soup to nuts. These handbooks usually include many, sometimes confusing, disclaimers such as: this is not a contract; all policies are subject to change; and if a rule contradicts a policy, the rule will prevail.
There are no prefab options for good discipline. I say keep your handbook thin and limit it to a few, not exhaustive, rules. The best way to maintain good discipline in the workplace is to hire employees who are self-disciplined.