The Fish Rots from the Head Down


“I’m having trouble with my team,” a manager explained. “We make too many mistakes.  Quality is a concern.  We have too many accidents.  People miss too much work.  Today’s employees just don’t seem to take pride in their work.”

I asked if he would be OK if I visited with his team and he said, “Sure, if you think that might help.”

Several members said, “He doesn’t get here on time himself and he sometimes leaves early.”  Others’ comments included: “He doesn’t wear the new safety vests; says they are too hot.  Why should we.”  “He berates us about meeting schedule when he knows that some of the parts need reworking.”

When I mentioned these behaviors to the manger, he said, “I’m the leader.  Why should I have to do everything they do?  I have a reserved parking space.”

This manager apparently operated as a do-as-I-say, not a do-as-I-do leader.  Employees study their leaders constantly and leaders’ actions overpower their words.

You want employees to come to work on time; show up early yourself.  You want quality work; show a passion for quality.  You want people to work safely; demonstrate safe practices with your behavior.  Teams, like fish, rot from the head down.

 

Be Wary of Using Financial Incentives to Motivate


Part 2 of 5 on Employee Pay

I believe in “pay for performance.”  That is, higher performers deserve greater pay.

However, financial incentive and bonus systems often result in less performance plus other unintended consequences.

Psychologist Sam Glucksberg, in his famous candle experiments, predicted that cash awards would motivate teams to produce better solutions faster.  However, the opposite occurred.  Teams that had opportunities to earn larger cash awards actually took longer to complete their work.

A number of studies in actual companies show that financial incentives often lead to less, not more, performance.  Additionally, incentives may encourage jealously, turnover, and cheating.

In an effort to improve food quality, a large canning company offered bonuses to employees who found insect parts in their food products.  Guess what happened.  Employees started bringing insect parts from home, tossing them into the process and later discovering the parts and claiming bonuses.

For very repetitive work, incentive systems may actually increase performance.  But for assignments that require problem solving, incentives change the focus from “get the best solution” to “do what you have to do to get the award.”

What then is the best way to reward high producers?  How about just paying them more based on managers’ judgements?

The Five Toughest Personnel Decisions


Part 5 of 5

Helen, age 64, has been with the organization 33 years.  For most of those years, Helen’s performance was exceptional. “She lived and breathed the organization,” is the way a previous boss described her.

Helen has recently experienced serious family problems that have affected her health to the point that she is unable to adequately perform her job.  Helen says that she wants to work 10 more months and retire at 65.

The president said, “I’m in a dilemma, I feel sorry for Helen and I’m very grateful for what she has done for us.  Still, I’m not in a position to hire another person.  If Helen stays, others will have to take some of her work.”

“Could Helen take an early retirement?” I asked.

The president reported that he had suggested early retirement but Helen said that she would like to stay on until sixty-five if she could.

I say tell Helen and anyone else that you absolutely will honor her request.  Helen’s thirty-plus years of loyalty and productivity are surely enough to earn her another ten months.

When others complain about having to do part of Helen’s work, listen with empathy.  Smile and say, “I understand and I really appreciate what you are doing to help us out here.”

 

The Five Toughest Personnel Decisions


Part 3 of 5

“I’m at a loss about what to do about Margaret.” a manager said to me.

“What is the concern?” I asked.

“We hired Margaret about a year ago to manage a troubled group.  Although she has worked very hard, performance continued spiraling downward.”

“Were your expectations clear?”

“Yes, and she admits that she has fallen far short.”

“Did you give Margaret enough support?”

“Yes, we fully financed what she requested.  We met frequently and often agreed on needed changes.  For some reason, Margaret was unable to effect the changes or she took too long.”

“Were there unexpected challenges, things that blew up seemingly out of nowhere?”

“Not really, she had issues with a couple of employees and she had to replace a vendor but nothing too unusual.”

Margaret is an example of a good cooperate citizen who tried hard but was unable to achieve a tough goal.  There is a temptation to lower expectations and continue supporting hard working employees who do not achieve desired outcomes.

I believe, though, this is a case where the person just did not have the wherewithal to get the job done.  While it is heart-wrenching to remove a hard-working, committed employee, I think it would be better for all—including Margaret—to replace her and try again.

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.