Employees Underperforming? Get Their Attention! | Supervise for Accountability

Work’s piling up. You’re worn out. Finally, you get the okay to hire.  You’re pumped. Relief is in sight. Truth is: Employees are work. Actually, they’re your job.

Employees, especially new ones,  mean that you’re faced with:

  • Job orientation and training
  • “What do I do now” questions
  • Reluctance to make decisions when you’re not around
  • “I didn’t think that was my job” disclaimers 

So where’s your relief? You’re not totally free of the work you hired for, because it’s still in your head, and the people you hired to do it feel like an added burden.

Take heart. The time you invest developing your employees will deliver big rewards.

Be clear about employee accountabilities. 

The biggest mistake is hiring people to complete a string of tasks. Look at your job descriptions. My guess is that they describe responsibilities, duties, and/or tasks.

If you want employees to lighten your load and add value to your business, hold them accountable for results. That means the tasks/duties they complete must be the means to the ends that you need.

Here’s how you link tasks and accountabilities (also referred to as results or outcomes):

  • Process customer claims (task) within 48 hours, ensuring a positive interactive experience for the customer (result)
  • Maintain product inventory (task), ensuring availability to meet monthly demand (result)
  • Market services to clients (task), averaging 5% conversion to sales monthly (result)
  • Complete administrative reports (task) within the first 5 days of the new month (result) 

Employees need to know what they are expected to contribute to the success of the business. It’s not just about being busy doing tasks. It’s about doing work that counts.

The next big question, of course, is: “How do supervisors and business owners motivate employees to do their best work?”

Being “in” on things matters most. 

Repeatedly, studies have been done on what motivates employees. We always think that must be money, but it isn’t. Actually, we all want to feel like we’re important enough to be in the know.

Supervisors who want to bring out the best in their employees share relevant information and make them part of what’s going on.

They can pump up the motivation and ability of employees to do their “best” when they:

  • Engage employees in decision-making about things that will affect them (i.e., scheduling, work processes, equipment purchases, working conditions)
  • Involve them in the root cause analysis of work that “went wrong” (i.e., customer problems, accidents, equipment failure, miscommunications)
  • Ask them for ideas, innovations, and insights (i.e., new products, procedures, work processes)
  • Give them visibility with customers, vendors, suppliers, and management
  • Take them to see similar business operations in other companies or to visit departments they impact in their own company
  • Give them business cards, reminding them that they are representatives of the company and impact its brand

 Talk to your employees. 

Reinforce each employee’s accountabilities monthly. That means a face-to-face dialogue about:

  • how they are doing
  • what they may be uncertain about
  • how ready they are to take on more responsibilities
  • what help they need from you, and
  • what they can do to get better 

This is where the two of you talk about your expectations and how you can  support to each other. It is not a performance review;  it a conversation.

Becoming the “best” is a team effort. 

Setting the bar attainably high is the best thing you can do for your business and your employees. Employees who think they’re being set up for failure won’t make the effort. Those who believe their supervisor is counting on them to succeed will knock themselves out to deliver. If that isn’t the case, then that employee is the wrong fit and may need to move on.

Supervisors who use the smart moves for achieving business fitness with their employees create an individual development culture that delivers success all around. Nothing beats an employee team making it happen!

What approaches have you experienced that helped employees become their “best”?  What made them work? Any cautions? Thanks.

8 thoughts on “Employees Underperforming? Get Their Attention! | Supervise for Accountability

  1. I agree whole heartedly with your assessment. It surprises me that I can still hear that $ is a motivator. Lack of $ and the recognition it implies can be a demotivator but in and of itself is not a motivator.

    People want to be successful and knowing their goals and the role it plays in the company’s success is important.

    • Yes, people want to be paid what they’re worth but, for the right working conditions and opportunity to be a meaningful player, will work for less. I sure have done that.

      I just helped a client hire a new employee under just those circumstances. Sometimes more money to do a job you hate, just isn’t worth it. Thanks!

  2. Another terrific post, Dawn. We are in the midst of a re-org (usually the wrong solution to an ill defined problem), and I have been preaching communication as the tool for making this process actually produce something of meaning. I appreciated the ideas you have here.

    • Thanks, Jen. I’m with you. Re-orgs are so often done to avoid doing the heavy lifting which is changing processes or people who aren’t delivering the right outcomes! If there is no compelling reason to reorganize then there is little reason to create the disruption that goes with it. Good luck fighting the good fight on this one. I suspect you’ll get a couple of wins this time around which is better than none. Glad the ideas were useful.

  3. Dawn, this is wonderful advice for supervisors and managers. While it seems like “common sense” to many of us who have been advocating exactly what you recommend, the advice you give in this post is often “news” to managers.

    Holding people accountable for results rather than tasks makes perfect sense, yet I can already hear the excuses from the manager: “I’m not even sure what results my boss wants (or the results keep changing); “I don’t have time to show them how to do things or involve them in decisions–it’s just easier to do the work myself; I don’t trust my employees to deliver results unless I stand over them every second and tell them what to do and how to do it.” These are just a few of the actual excuses I have heard through years of developing and delivering management training at all levels.

    I believe that managers need to be fairly enlightened and have done enough work on themselves to be rid of the baggage that produces comments such as the above. That takes a heap of coaching and development opportunities. Before we can engage employees, we need to engage managers.

    • Mary, you are so right. I too have heard those excuses over and over again. They are all cop outs as we both know…all to avoid doing the job of managing/supervising. The notion of “doing the work myself” means accepting that the company should pay two people to do the same work! Egad!

      The real issue here is consequences. If there is no penalty to not doing one’s work as expected or supervising as expected, then there will likely be no change. The bigger the company the easier it is for it to absorb thse costs. A small business goes under when the problem isn’t fixed.

      These issues have been around for decades and will likely be around for decades more. But hopefully, little by little changes will come.

  4. Dawn,

    I’m one of the new employee’s at my organisation, having been taken on to relieve the workload of my boss by taking a specific workload off of her. I’m very experienced in my field, but have moved into a completely new industry which brings with it a completely different approach and different ‘political’ motivations. She wants to maintain responsibility for the work, but wants someone to manage/do the tasks, although she claimed in the interview process that she wanted someone to “take this away from her”.

    I had begun to question my motivation and have struggled with the notions of “being the outsider” as a result of being both the new guy, and also the only one in a small team dealing with my subject matter. Induction amounted to being pointed at the Intranet and given the minutes to the last committee meeting, and whilst I believed my responsibility was to lead the function (and meeting) my tasks are more simply to arrange and facilitate the meeting.

    Your article has been useful to me as it clearly could be some guidance written directly for my boss, and highlights to me that there must be many people who have faced the same situation. It’s given me some real nuggets and helpful ideas that I can introduce with my boss as constructive feedback and try to work with her on these areas to improve my own job satisfaction. I was previously very motivated and really excited to be joining the company to do this job and can clearly testify that simply being paid good $ in itself it is no motivation at all – I think they refer to it as being a hygiene factor?

    • Gary, you’re right: There are way too many bosses who simply throw their employees into the water and expect them, not just to swim, but to navigate the currents, out paddle the predators, and survive the storms. So often there’s not the slightest inclination to give you so much as a life vest!

      Sometimes we’re left to feel like this is some sort of test to see what we’re made of, but I don’t believe that. It’s more often a lack of awareness of the supervisor’s role as coach and our role as their team players who need to ask for the direction we need. You seem to have a very strong sense of the conditions around you. What a great start! I’m delighted my post has given you insights that you can use to get clarity with your boss and a successful period in this challenging job!

      Many thanks for your terrific comment and for reading my blog. ~Dawn

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