Employee Behavior Troubling You? Time to Intervene.

path 126441045_0121483a49_m“What you resist, persists.” Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist/psychotherapist, is credited with this powerful quote.

If more supervisors followed it, fewer problems would develop on their watch.  Sadly, most don’t.


Balancing acts.

Supervisors are busy. Some even overwhelmed.

They’re like the circus act where someone spins a plate on the end of a stick, puts it on his head, then takes two more sticks with plates and spins them in each hand.

No applause if the plates fall off…only sad sounding oohs from the crowd and maybe a boo from someone feeling mean.

Supervisors dread noise that doesn’t sound like attaboy or attagirl. Their job is to build a work group where employees keep lots of plates spinning, in spite of interruptions, faulty sticks, or a lapse in concentration.

Supervisors are continually on red alert for the material stuff that can disrupt performance:

  • Equipment needing repair
  • Technology flaws
  • Processes that break down
  • Cost overruns

They often see their job as running interference to avoid plates falling off sticks, when their most important job is to provide clear, consistent direction and behavioral standards to employees.

When employees know what is expected, they can do their best work. However, they don’t know if they’re meeting your expectations unless you tell them.

And you can’t tell them if you don’t pay attention to how they are working and acting. Or if plates 2333375431_5857d7e3f3_myou pull the covers over your head. (Crash go the plates!)

All behavior matters.

In general, supervisors don’t like to confront employees about problematic behavior, particularly when it seems incidental.

They chalk it up to:

  • A bad day or a slight misstep
  • A brain cramp
  • No big deal
  • Typical of “their” generation

Until, of course, you end up with a pattern, a full-blown employee problem that’s taking a toll. Your employees start looking at you with the unspoken question: “Why are you letting this happen?”

Crash go the plates!

Problematic employee behavior is a gift that keeps on giving if you don’t intervene early. Three typical categories are:

1. Testing the rules

  • Periodically arriving late to work for legitimate sounding reasons
  • Coming back “a little late” from lunch or breaks
  • Missing meetings here and there
  • Not reporting off as required

2. Reliability and dependability

  • Not completing/submitting work on time
  • Failing to communicate project status and/or needs
  • Finding reasons not to support coworkers
  • Making excuses

 3. Interpersonal conduct

  • Way of speaking to coworkers (harsh, demanding, critical)
  • Negative body language, one-on-one or in groups
  • Impatience, bullying, resistance
  • Gossiping, nay-saying, over-socializing

Signs of these behaviors usually surface within the first three months after a new employee joins the work group.

When a supervisor takes over a new group, those behaviors have already taken root.

Job one is to take inventory of how each employee is conducting him/herself, assess what is positive and what isn’t, and immediately have a sit down.


The longer you wait to confront unwanted or problematic behavior, the worse it will become and the more misery it will bring to your job as supervisor. What you resist, persists!

The earlier you call attention to what you don’t want, the easier your employee discussions will go:

  • Employees will know what you see and don’t want. That may be enough for them to change without further action.
  • You obtain a commitment for behavior changes which will launch improvement.
  • A dialogue starts, so you and your employee can get in a helpful performance feedback loop together.
  • Employees will recognize your commitment to fairness and a positive culture.

Good supervisors are teachers. Their primary role is to let each employee know what it takes to be successful in his/her job and how to contribute to the work group’s success.

It’s a lot easier to keep the plates spinning when everyone holding the sticks operates in a constructive work environment where they feel confident, safe, and understood.

Early intervention when employees are out of sync with your expectations positions everyone for a winning performance.

Opening photo by Polpulox !!! via Photoree                   Plate Photo by fonso via Photoree

5 Supervisor Mistakes That Can Breed Employee Backlash

Supervision is a game of chance. Winning or losing often depends on how you treat your employees. Are you:Back to the Drawing Board

  • Fair or double-dealing
  • Honest or hypocritical
  • Aware or clueless
  • Self-serving or an advocate

Attract too many negative labels and you may breed employee backlash–often the death knell of a supervisor’s career.

Emerging signs  

Managing the range of employee expectations is a daunting challenge. Supervisors who tune out employees will soon find themselves dealing with unwanted and unexpected behavior.

Suddenly, some or all employees:

  • Stop giving input at meetings
  • Grumble consistently about assignments
  • Become de-energized and less productive
  • Challenge policies
  • Complain to others about you
  • Resist your direction, overtly or covertly

You know the situation is serious when you observe these signs in your best employees.

Supervisors often unknowingly generate backlash when they see their management style through their lens only. A supervisor’s job is a juggling act. Upper management, customers, and suppliers often create an engulfing noise can make a supervisor deaf to the voices and needs of their employees.

Sadly, there are also many supervisors who, for some reason, are uneasy with their own employees. When that’s the case, they tend to go into hiding, in a sense.  They may stay in their offices, quote policy instead of owning their decisions, and/or take inflexible positions on the way work is done.

Communicate without fear.

Supervisors make their own trouble with employees when they don’t communicate what they do and why.

Many feel that if they say the wrong thing, they’ll get themselves cornered with employees down the road. But saying nothing only plants the seed for future conflict and backlash.

Here are six typical mistakes that supervisors make and how to avoid them:

  1. Making a knee-jerk decision. Just because an employee wants an immediate decision doesn’t mean that you must give one, especially when you have several implications to consider. Instead, say that you want to give the request more thought with a decision forthcoming at a specific time. Then make sure you deliver it.
  2. Taking a defensive position when challenged. Employees who question your decisions give you an opportunity to educate them about the needs and direction of the business. Your logic and insights help to expand theirs. If their questions cause you to rethink your position, then they’ve done you a favor and have created a special professional bond.
  3. Being dismissive about employee input–Your employees are your team; they make or break your ability to succeed as a supervisor. Treating their input as insignificant builds a wall that can create animosity. Employee input is gold. It helps you understand expectations that you need to manage and can provide ideas that can lead to important improvements that everyone benefits from.
  4. Avoiding face-to-face conversation–There is nothing more alienating to employees than a supervisor who is invisible, distant, and unapproachable. When employees feel disconnected from their bosses, their loyalty bond is likely to be weak. Supervisors need to be real by being present, eyeball-to-eyeball–not text-to-text.
  5. Continuously quoting policies and procedures–Supervisors need to own their decisions to engender respect. Too many supervisors don’t want to make decisions that they may need to defend, so they quote a policy instead Policies and procedures set foundations and parameters but they aren’t recipes. Supervisors need to apply policies in ways that meet their intent. Employees expect you to take actions that deliver the right results in ways that support them..

Be there.

Being upfront puts supervisors in a position to create respect and confidence in employees. No employee believes that their boss will be right all the time. They just need to feel connected.

Supervisors who communicate with their employees, who are honest about what they do and don’t know, and who can be trusted to do what they say, will create the kind of relationship employees need–one that will hold up in good times and rough ones.

Photo from gever tulley via Flickr

How Becoming the Boss Can Change You

Faults are often easier to see in others than ourselves. As employees we’re daily observers and targets of our supervisor’s style. What we see reflects what our supervisors have become. 

If we’re lucky, we’ve got a good boss. If not, we’d like to run for the hills. 

It’s hard to believe that ineffective supervisors used to be regular employees, like us. They had the same expectations from their own bosses for: 

  • Honesty and respect
  • Clear direction and the tools to do good work
  • Open communication and the chance to be heard
  • Fair performance feedback and opportunities to grow 

So what changes when those same employees become supervisors? Could it happen to you? 

What we see. 

There’s an endless list of perceived causes about what happens when coworkers become the boss or the boss’s boss or an executive. It’s a vicious chain that gets more toxic as poor supervisors get promoted. 

We often label those bad bosses as: 

  • Drunk on power and authority
  • Management’s pawn
  • Afraid of making mistakes
  • Micromanagers looking for scapegoats
  • Protecting his/her territory 

These changes, affecting one-time, regular employees who become the boss, are often the result of fear, confusion, and struggles for career survival. 

What they discover 

No one who gets promoted really knows what they’re getting into. It’s all rosy and can-do at the interview. The promoting manager fawns over the new supervisor, declaring how s/he has all the right stuff to handle the task. 

The hiring manager promises all kinds of support. “I’ll be there to help you. We’ll be a great team.”

This is fine and dandy if the hiring manager is actually a good boss. If not, things can go south quickly. 

Remember this: You don’t really know what you’re walking into until you get there. 

Tests that can change you 

As a supervisor or manager faced with these situations, what would you do? 

  • Your manager wants your performance ratings to form a bell curve. You have a high performing, veteran workgroup. You’re told to lower specific employee’s ratings.
  • You recommend the best candidate interviewed for a job vacancy. Your boss disagrees and tells you to hire someone s/he knows and likes.
  • You’re told to deliver a half-truth about the company’s financial shape.
  • Your boss insists that you receive recognition for work done by one of your employees because it will look more impressive to the board.
  • One of your employees, a valuable contributor, has objected openly to a policy your boss enacted. You’re told to build a case to get rid of him. 

Each of these situations challenges you to stand up for what you believe is right. Do you have the courage, influence, and leverage to resolve these fairly?

Or will you just do what you’re told, protect your own job, or make a token effort to do the right thing and then go along? 

These are knotty questions. They’re about how much you’re willing to put on the line. You will have to untangle a host of justifications, read between the lines, and weigh consequences. You’ll have to separate the right from the wrong.

There may be a lot of history, precedent, and perspectives to influence your thinking. You will now have insights that your employees don’t. Your vantage point is different from theirs and you will have to figure out how to bridge it. That’s what good supervisors do. 

Check yourself. 

If what you’re being asked to do doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That’s the time to stop and think. Ask yourself: 

  • What are the impacts and implications of this action?
  • Who benefits? Who gets hurt?
  • What more do I need to understand? 

Keep asking “why” questions of your manager until you get the clarity you need. At the very least, your questions may be all that’s needed to influence a change in direction. That’s how your business fitness works for you. 

Tomorrow you may become the new boss somewhere in your organization. Better to be the agent of change than the victim of it! Everyone’s counting on you. 

Photo from cbanck via Flickr


Come to the Rescue or Let ‘Em Squirm? Your Call! | The Value of Leadership Intervention

Ever been in a tight spot at work? Over your head? Out of your league? I sure have.

Terrible thoughts start to take over:

  • I’ve lost all credibility.
  • My career is toast.
  • I’m going to hear about this.
  • This is my last shot. 

If we could yell, “HELP!” we would. But would anyone throw us a rope?

“Hey, Boss, I’m over here.” 

If we’re lucky, we work around leaders who are willing to step forward when we’re in a pinch. They may be our immediate boss, someone higher up, an esteemed colleague, or a customer with clout.

We may get ourselves into situations like:

  • Being unable to handle a Q&A
  • Over-committing company resources
  • Irritating a customer
  • Making a faux pas with a bigwig
  • Overstepping our authority 

We don’t do these things on purpose. They are mistakes, oversights, and gaffs that we’ve gotten ourselves into but can’t get out of.

Our leaders are our hope. We need them to make things right again, so we can stay on the right track.

To help, our leaders can:

  • Insert themselves into the situation
  • Redirect discussion and facilitate agreement/collaboration
  • Defer actions and clarify expectations
  • Pull rank and impose direction
  • Take the fall for us (Ouch!) 

Good leaders are teachers with a kick! 

We get ourselves into fixes for lots of reasons: poor preparation, immaturity, impatience, and short-sightedness. The leader who rescues us shows compassion, empathy, understanding, and fairness. We deserve that the first time.

The leader who lets us squirm knows that until we truly “feel” the consequences of our goofs, we won’t grasp their importance and our need make changes.

Smart leaders have a tolerance for our missteps but not a penchant for them. When we learn, we’ll get points. When we don’t, we’ll feel it!

From squirming to rescue!   

1.) I was scheduled to meet with the COO along with my boss. I wasn’t feeling well that day and told my boss I felt a bit off.

At the meeting, I opened my mouth to speak and out come these sounds: “Tha thea, tha thea.” My boss looked at me, stunned.

He quickly interrupted whatever I was trying to say to give me a moment to regroup.  He turned the conversation back to me. I said: “Tha thea, tha thea.” I sounded like the cartoon character, Porky Pig, whose famously stuttered line was: “That’s all, folks!” (Right then, his words seemed to summarize my career!)

My boss jumped in again. The COO swallowed a laugh. Miraculously, I recovered.

On the way back to the office, my boss said to me, “What the hell happened to you in there!” What happened was that he rescued me!

2.) Rachel, a very smart, spunky woman, ran the field service dispatching department for me. It was a very tough job and she was its first woman supervisor.

I attended her initial storm debriefing meeting, involving the line supervisors from the field, Rachel, and her staff. There were lots of pent up issues in the room. Rachel focused on defending her people while the rest were gunning for her.

She wasn’t a great listener. The meeting rose to a higher and higher pitch. She lacked the experience to hold her own on her own. I let her squirm just enough to realize the situation but not enough to undermine her credibility with her staff.

Then I started to participate in the dialogue, got agreement for changes on both sides, and committed to ongoing improvement. Rachel got the picture.

Step up! 

Letting someone get skewered at work or anywhere else when they are giving it their best shot is heartless. No one is made better when that happens.

Being business fit includes taking the lead whether you have the position authority or not. When you know how to bail someone out of a tight spot, just do it. The loyalty and learning that result are worth your effort!

Do you have an experience where you were rescued or left squirming? How did it work out? What did you learn?