When You’ve Had Enough, How Far Should You Go? | Managing Emotions

No one likes criticism or unfair treatment. Most of us just suck it up until one day we’ve had enough. Then watch out!

Think twice

Knee-jerk reactions never pay. When we’re fed up, we need to keep our wits about us. Most of the time, we’re reacting to situations that have been brewing.

I’m a big proponent of not becoming a doormat for anyone at anytime. We’re entitled to respect and fair treatment, both of which we need to stand up for in the right way at the right time.

I’m also a big proponent of understanding the consequences of the actions we want to take. Too often, however, people let their emotions get the best of them, shooting themselves in both feet.

If you choose to act on a workplace issue, you may be, at the very least:

  • Implicating your boss who is responsible for the work environment
  • Subjecting your performance history to review in light of the issue
  • Challenging the company’s practices and their overseers like HR
  • Setting up your motives and credibility for dissection

These daunting considerations are intended to sober your emotions not negate the legitimacy of your issue.

I’m a passionate believer in doing what’s right and fair. But we shouldn’t  be stupid about it.

A clear head, an understanding of workplace realities, and a good plan set you up to do what needs to be done. A little internal leverage with influential people doesn’t hurt either.

Know what you want

Just getting your issue noticed isn’t enough. If you’re going to stir the pot be specific about the remedy you want.

Here are two interesting cases:

My client, Annette, from a Fortune 100 company was promoted to lead a work group in another state while she maintained a home office. The prior manager had built a culture of favorites; that manager was now Annette’s new boss. The perceived loss of “favorite” status by one employee resulted in a public outburst during a workshop that included insults aimed at Annette. She turned the matter over to HR: Disciplinary action followed.

Impacts: Annette’s new boss felt the sting and so did the punished employee. Other employees assessed the situation through their respective lenses. HR validated Annette’s action, noting, however, that this was a severe step considering how new Annette was to the position. Will there be subsequent fallout? Time will tell. In this case, Annette had everything documented and took swift action. She was willing to risk backlash because setting a standard of professional conduct mattered to her. What would you have done?

Next there’s Victor who was receiving poor performance reviews from a boss who didn’t like his approach to handling complex technical projects. Victor saw his boss as uncommunicative, a poor leader, and politically motivated. Victor’s reviews got progressively worse; he was put on notice to improve or else. He wanted to defend himself by reporting his boss to HR or anyone who would listen. He considered suing. Ultimately, Victor was terminated..

Impacts: Taking on the boss would mean proving that each aspect of Victor’s negative evaluation was wrong and making a case that the boss had something against him. If Victor successfully makes the “bad boss” case to the company, chances are no other manager there would want Victor. If he could manage to negate the performance criticisms, he would likely end up pointing an accusing finger at some coworkers, creating bad blood. To sue the company would leave a permanent mark on Victor that could be an obstacle for future jobs. Victor chose to move on. What would you have done?

Remember, it’s business.

Our emotions can cause us to do reckless things. When it comes to our jobs, caution makes more sense. It may feel great for the moment to tell the boss to “take this job and..,” but that only gives the control back to him or her.

We need to know how to size up each situation, identify our options, and chose the one that’s going to help us get what we want or cut our losses. Please, keep it together, okay?

Photo from Roberto Kaplan Designs via Flickr


Turning Employees Around—What It Takes | Feedback Power

Under-performers are part of the landscape in any workplace. You know who they are and so does your boss.

None of us is perfect. Without guidance, it’s easy to adopt behaviors and habits acceptable to us that, ultimately, don’t wear well with others.

As employees we need feedback from day one. There is no better (or cheaper) way to teach us the skills and behaviors we need to be successful.

Performance feedback is one of the most important roles of any supervisors. It’s how problems are nipped in the bud, skills are polished, misbehavior is corrected, and a continuous performance growth culture is built.

Getting through 

Supervisors resist giving feedback because they’re uncertain about:

  • What to say
  • How employees will react
  • What to do if there’s pushback
  • Whether they’ll make matters worse

Employees resist feedback because they:

  • Don’t want to change
  • Don’t get it
  • Don’t respect their supervisor
  • Don’t see any upside or consequences

To make the situation stickier,  employees may perform exceptionally well in some areas like production but terribly in others like on teams.

As a supervisor you need all employees to deliver value in all aspects of their jobs. That’s what you’re paying them for. To accept poor performance in one area is to accept paying a full salary for only part of the job.

“Can you hear me now?” 

Delivering feedback is one thing. Getting employees to hear and act on it is another.

That means you need to:

  • Follow up on your feedback to make sure it’s being implemented
  • Reinforce it through repetition, review, and discussion
  • Reward or deliver consequences based commitments

Feedback only works when you have your employee’s attention. It starts with a conversation where you and your employee talk to each other. Each needs to hear what the other is saying and come to agreement on next steps.

It takes real commitment from both supervisor and employee. And often it takes repeated effort, time, and sometimes consequences.

Michael Vick, a dramatic case 

Michael Vick was a high performing employee as the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons football team. He could throw and also scramble for yardage like few others.  Vick was a superstar who came from a rough background where he, as a kid and young man, he struggled to avoid the vortex of the streets.

After he went into the pros, he remained tethered to some unsavory people from his “old life.” For years he received feedback from coaches and others about his need to break those ties. He didn’t heed the feedback.

In 2007, he was implicated in a dog fighting ring and pleaded guilty to federal felony charges that resulted in 21 months in jail. Feedback didn’t get his attention but the consequences of not listening did.

Vick had to come to grips with what he’d done and turn it into advocacy. He had to restart his NFL career and recover from bankruptcy. Coach Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a job as a back-up QB in 2009 where he faced relentless negative public reaction. It was another round of feedback, often painful,vitriolic, and deserved.

It took positive performance to turn things around for Vick.

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, Michael Vick snapped the ball as the starting QB for the Eagles, winning the game 33-13 over the St. Louis Rams. He ran for 98 yards and threw two touchdown passes. He’s now playing with a multi-million-dollar contact, his life clearly on the upswing.

Michael Vick took a long time to hear it and paid a big price for ignoring feedback.

Hearing feedback pays 

It’s one thing to listen to feedback and another to hear it. It’s one thing to hear feedback and another to act on it.

Good feedback generally comes from people who care about us—people who want us to perform well, so we can experience success and growth.

Each of us is both a giver and receiver of feedback. We are positioned to help others turn around and ourselves too. There’s power in feedback. Let’s commit to using it well.

Photo from Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr

Change or Stagnation? What’ll It Be? | Facing Resistance Behaviors

Odd, isn’t it? We accept a job. Learn how it’s to be done. Then decide to do certain things our own way. That’s okay if our boss agrees that our way is as good or better. But often, s/he doesn’t think so.

We resist change when it doesn’t compute.

Few employees understand how their work impacts the business. Theirs is not a big picture view; it’s a focus on tasks. All jobs, in some way, affect:

  • Profitability
  • Brand identity
  • Customers
  • Efficiency and effectiveness
  • Productivity 

The way we perform either helps or hurts the business and, often, the people we work with. When we resist changes designed to improve the business, we become an obstacle to success.

Resistance can be a cover up.

We rely on our knowledge, skills, and experience to help us achieve. Without the right skill set, we feel helpless and may try to hide our deficiencies.

We especially don’t like it when changes are made to the way we’ve always done our jobs. As a result, we may:

  • overtly resist by creating “noise,” pushback, or non-participation
  • covertly resist by “waiting it out,” expecting management to tire of the resistance and abandon the change 

Change follows consequences.

Successful businesses depend on change. Innovations are change and so are new programs, new employees, new equipment, and new processes. As employees, we are expected to accept and adapt to change willingly, regardless of how disruptive it may feel.   

Change is as good for us as it is for the business. It’s how we add knowledge and skills, test our capabilities, grow and position ourselves for advancement. We need it or we’ll stagnate, become soured about our careers, and lose our edge.

What a horse taught me!

Woody was the first horse I ever bred. He was big, had lots of personality and a strong will.  

As a yearling, he was coming into his own. I would feed him and my other horses at 5:30 AM and turn them out before I went to work.

For Woody this was an important ritual, teaching him the proper deportment he would need for a good life.

One morning he decided he didn’t want to be led out. When I entered the stall, he turned his back on me ready to kick. I was in no mood for attitude! After trying to coax him for about 5 minutes, I turned the other horses out, leaving him alone in the barn. I knew he wouldn’t like that and hoped it would convince him to cooperate.

Instead he got worse. Now, when I entered the stall, he turned and gave a hard kick at me. And another. It was clear: This was going to take a while. I couldn’t let Woody win for his sake and mine.

So I decided to wait him out. I stood at the stall door, holding the lead, and said, “Woody, when you’re ready, come over here, and I’ll take you out with your buddies.”

He looked at me and pitched a major temper tantrum. He bucked and bucked and hurled himself around. Then he’d stop, turn his back to me and peek around to see if I was still there watching. Then he’d carry on again—stop and peek. This went on for 20 minutes.

Finally, he tired of the drama. He quietly came over to me, let me hook the lead to his halter and walk him out to his pasture. That behavior never happened again!

Woody’s decision to ultimately accept what was expected was his ticket to a productive and happy career.

Business fitness boosts our change tolerance. 

Change always puts us a bit off our game. Our ability to see “what’s going on” at our jobs and “how we fit” helps us put change in a useful perspective. So when we face change, let’s invest in making it work and skip the tantrums!

What’s the most difficult change you had to adapt to? Did you resist or accept from the outset? How did it all work out?

Supervisory Courage or Cowardice? | Handling Employees With “Attitude”

Do you have one of these? An employee who’s negative, resistant, complaining and blaming, or uncooperative. One is bad enough, but more than one can be unbearable.

What you resist persists. 

Confronting behavior problems is no fun, but it’s a supervisor’s job! Employees with “bad” attitudes won’t get any better when the supervisor:

  • Ignores them
  • Makes excuses for them
  • Accommodates the them
  • Accepts them
  • Rewards them by giving in 

The hard reality is that supervisors need to TALK to these employees about what they are doing and why.

That “talk” word makes many a supervisor’s blood run cold. They often don’t want to face that employee, don’t know how to conduct or control the meeting, or aren’t clear about the outcome they want.

So they keep putting off the confrontation until work is compromised, other employees are negatively affected, and their effectiveness as a supervisor is questioned. The problem persists!

Start by trying to understand the cause. 

To get the ball rolling, supervisors needs to accept two premises:

  • There is an underlying reason why an employee’s attitude is “bad” and the supervisor needs to find that out. 
  • The employee owns his/her attitude problem. The supervisor is responsible for mitigating its negative impact on work group performance.   

Too many supervisors feel that they need to defend themselves when they confront. Remember: It’s the employee’s attitude that is causing the problem.  The onus is on them to improve, not the supervisor.

Take charge. 

Don’t delay. Meet with the employee as soon as you observe the unwanted attitude.  Start by identifying the unacceptable attitude/behavior you have observed like:

  • Negative or accusative statements
  • Work not submitted on time or according to instructions
  • Fault finding with other employees or the supervisor
  • Defensiveness or being dismissive of others
  • Bullying or actions that incite conflict 

State the specific instance(s) where you personally observed the attitude or behavior. State the impact that these behaviors have on the work.

Ask, “What is driving your attitude/behavior?” Then listen. Ask for clarification until you understand what’s behind it all.

When you think you’ve got it, say, “I want to be sure I understand what your reasons are. I heard you say____. Is that correct?”

Solutions are both art and science. 

To get behavior change, there is an element of negotiation and a bit of compromise. Supervisors need to reinforce exactly the behavior they expect and how they know when they are getting it. You need to make that clear up front.

The next step is to ask, “Are you willing to make the effort to change?” If the answer is “No,” then you need to tell the employee that his/her job will be at risk.

If the answer is “Yes,” then ask, “What will you do to turn your attitude around? How can I, as your supervisor, help/support you?” The employee commits to action and the supervisor to support.

Next you schedule specific times when you will meet to discuss progress. To start, that’s at least weekly. As things improve, less frequently.

The employee needs to understand that you expect to see significant improvement within a 3 month period. Along the way, you’ll be restating your expectations and giving specific feedback.

The effort and consequences must be real. 

The time supervisors invest in an employee with a “bad” attitude is significant. The reward is a positive turn-around. However, not everyone will change, so termination of employment is a potential consequence.

When you invest time in employees who are difficult, you also make an impression on your good employees. They will see that you care, observe what it means to supervise, and accept the fairness of the outcome.

Business fit supervisors are prepared and ready to face and resolve tough challenges. It’s no picnic but it’s worth it!

What experiences have you had supervising or working with an employee with a “bad” attitude? Did you know the cause? What happened to him/her?