I Am Your Leader; I’m Not Your Therapist


A manager, trying to find out why a good employee began coming in late, said, “You haven’t been yourself lately.  Is something wrong?”

“I’m having some personal problems.  It’s hard to keep my mind on work.”

“What’s going on?”

“My wife and I have not been getting along.”

“When I went through my divorce it was hell. Maybe you need to slow down on your drinking.”

“My spouse has gone on a spending spree. We are having financial problems.”

The conversation continued for another thirty minutes without a resolution.  The manager later explained that he was trying to find the root cause of the employee’s problem.

I think most managers’ fail when striving to find reasons why employees miss work or behave inappropriately.  Managers may even worsen the situation by giving bad advice or enabling dysfunctional behaviors.

Consider two ways to help employees get through a personal wreck.  One, show your concern by honestly laying out the consequences of their behaviors.  Two, encourage employees to visit your Employee Assistance Program where they can receive professional help.

No matter how well meaning, most managers make poor therapists.

Do Not Feel Like a Failure if Some Employees Fail to Respond to Your Coaching


Jeffery whines constantly.

Eric puts off assignments and rushes to complete them at the last minute.

Shirley cannot seem to avoid gossiping about her coworkers.

Ethel does good work most of the time but is prone to silly mistakes.

Horace’s work space is always a wreck.

What to do with employees who behave like this? Coach them up, of course. But how much coaching does it take to cure these missteps?

Here is a reality check—you are more likely to win the lottery than you are to turn these flawed performers into reliable, go-to team players.

By the time you hire employees, most of their behaviors are hard wired. They have heard your lectures from previous employers, former teachers and their friends. You can also bet their parents gave them their best shot.

Who you hire is who you have. You cannot turn iron into gold and you will not likely perfect these prickly behaviors. You may be a good coach but you are not that good.

If problematic employees sabotage your team’s performance, work with human resources to professionally remove them. Perhaps they can find a better fit in another organization.  But if the irritating behaviors hover around the nuisance category, get over it. As the comedian Ron White said, “You just can’t fix stupid.”

 

My Top Ten Idiotic, Motivation-Killing Statements


businessman rating

Here are my top ten idiotic, motivation-killing statements.

If I gave you a “five,” you wouldn’t have anything to strive for.

You haven’t been here long enough to get a “five.”

I don’t give “five’s.”

HR requires that I write a justification if I give you a “five.”

Our policy discourages high ratings.

If I gave you a high merit increase, you would think you had it made.

Never let them know you are satisfied with their work.

Others might be envious if I gave you a big increase.

Yes, you did a good job, but this was a team success.

I know your attendance is perfect but we can always do better.

Effective leaders delight in awarding their best producers with high appraisals and merit increases.  The result is:  high producers strive even harder.

While lesser performers may publicly whine and whimper about their modest increases, they will learn that to get more they have to produce more.

Withholding rewards from high performers based on fear of losing commitment or upsetting slackers makes about as much sense as the late Yogi Berra saying, “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”

 

Continuous Coaching on Employees’ Weaknesses Frustrates Everyone


Max, a new supervisor, said to Jamison, a well-trained and experienced employee, “Your work is good but the metrics show that it takes you too long to complete your tasks.”

“I like to be very careful,” replied Jamison.  “I don’t release my work until I know it is right.”

“I appreciate that but I don’t think you need to spend time verifying information that has already been double-checked and approved.”

“I just like to see for myself.  I don’t always trust what I get.”

“Sometimes I see you completely redoing a task that is already in compliance with customer specs.”

“I want to make sure that customers get my best work.”

Becoming irritated, Max said, “You are making it hard for others to complete their tasks on schedule.”

“They should concentrate on their work and not worry about me,” replied Jamison.

The more leaders focus on fixing employees’ weaknesses, the more frustrated everyone becomes.

According to Gallup Surveys, continuous coaching on employees’ weaknesses creates frustration, anger, de-motivation and resentment.   After employees have had sufficient training, if their overall work is acceptable, it may be better to realize that not all will be superstars.

 

Four Actions to Consider Before Adding Headcount


We are running forty days behind plan,” complained Jeremy the plant manager. We’ve applied lean manufacturing concepts. We’ve reduced cycle time.  We’ve maxed out overtime.  Our only hope of catching up is to add people.”

“How many?” asked the site manager.

“At least thirty full-time plant workers.”

“How long to catch up after we get the thirty on board?”

“Should be meeting schedule in about four months after all are hired.”

After considerable debate, the site manager reluctantly agreed to add thirty employees. Fast forward six months. The additional wages and benefits spiked labor costs. And the plant is still forty days behind.

An influx of new people almost always challenges quality and safety practices, teamwork suffers, meeting time increases, decisions drag out, disruptive behaviors surface, and customer and vendor coordination requires more time.

Before adding headcount, in small or large segments, consider four actions.

1. Replace inadequate producers who have been given several chances.
2. Remove support personnel who are not critical and replace with operators.
3. Eliminate bureaucratic approval processes that bog down decisions.
4. Evaluate supervisors and replace those who are not effective leaders.

Should you still think you need to add employees, be deliberate and select carefully.

 

Can We Just Eliminate Annual Performance Appraisals?


“Over my career,” a manager confided, “I’ve done hundreds of annual performance reviews.  I can’t remember the last time that an employee made significant and lasting behavior changes as a result of one.”

Another manager reported, “We had so many complaints about our appraisals, we appointed a task team to develop a new form.  After many hours of deliberation, followed by training on the new process, we rolled out the program.  Everyone was excited at first; but after a year, complaints whelped up again.”

“I spent hours preparing data to support my ratings,” said another.  “I don’t think it helped at all.  Employees who disagreed still argued and whined about low ratings.”

No one pays attention to annual appraisals until they do.  When managers become unhappy with an employee, the appraisal emerges as documentation to justify termination.  Employees know this.  That is why many get defiantly defensive about low ratings.

For these reasons, Deloitte, Accenture, Gap, Lear, General Electric, and many others have dropped their annual appraisal process.

I think brief, monthly employee reviews are less stressful and much more meaningful than annual appraisal rituals.  Consider questions like, “What were your two most important achievements last month?  What are you planning to focus on next month?”

Confirm what you agree with.  Discuss your disagreements.  This approach is quicker, less stressful and more meaningful.

 

You Are Only as Good as Your Team


At the time Helena was promoted to supervisor, the crew was successfully assembling about thirty vacuum cleaner components per shift—the lowest among twelve teams at three different sites.

“I knew I had to do something,” said Helena.  “I began coaching our slower, mistake-prone employees.  Most appreciated my help.  We did reduce our rework a bit and assemblies increased to about thirty-three per shift–still way to low.”

Eventually, Helena extended her training efforts to all employees.  Most seemed thankful but production remained flat.

Next, Helena began strictly enforcing attendance policies.  “Some employees grumbled,” she said.  “A couple quit. Four weeks later we were producing only about thirty-five assemblies per shift.”

“Having run out of options,” Helena lamented, “I bit the bullet and released two of my lowest performers.  I felt bad.  I knew they had bills to pay but they just couldn’t do the work.”

Over the next few months, Helena replaced more low producers with better workers.  Production quickly improved to forty per shift.  And after two more months, Helena’s team set a company record of fifty-two units.

As Dominique Wilkins, the former NBA basketball great said, “You are only as good as your team.”