An Employee Funk Rescue Tactic–Watch ‘Em Work. | Tailored Motivation

Motivating employees should be high on a supervisor’s to-do list. Too often, though, what’s tried falls flat.

Not every employee needs or wants:

  • A go-team pep talk
  • Artery-clogging donuts at staff meetings
  • Certificates for weekly productivity achievements
  • Public praise for a job well done (Many dread this)
  • Brown bag lunches with the boss

That said, employees do want and need reasons to stay motivated.

No easy formula 

One-size-fits-all motivational techniques either don’t work or don’t last. They assume that each employee works based on the same drivers.

Motivation is a function of aspiration. If you don’t know what your employees want from their careers, then you can’t tailor motivators to fit them.

There are two ways to figure out how to motivate employees:

  • Ask them what gets them energized to do more
  • Watch how they work, taking note of what gets them going or stalls them

Once you know what motivates each employee, tailor your actions to their needs.

Take mental snapshots of your employees when they’re in gear and when they’re not. Think about what you can do to help and then take action like in these scenarios:

1. Mary is a staff engineer in a mostly male work group. She gets bogged down in the details when given repetitive assignments but becomes highly engaged when working on a team. That changes, though, when she gets the notion that her ideas aren’t being fully considered. If that happens, she disengages and becomes despondent. 

Watching Mary work offers a clue to what motivates her—work that provides her with visibility and recognition. When those aspects are absent, she loses energy and interest. One remedy is to schedule opportunities for Mary to showcase the results of her routine work and periodically assign her to be a team leader. 

2. Brian is a crackerjack IT troubleshooter, interacting with coworkers at every level, answering user questions, fixing glitches, and installing new software. He’s considered humorless and indifferent by some, cavalier and impatient by others, only when the workload gets overwhelming and coworkers are impatient.

Observations of Brian reveal changes in him when under stress. Instead of coming across as energized and enthusiastic about providing these expert services as usual, he comes across as resentful. Just like us, Brian has a stress threshold that, when reached, brings out negative reactions and attitudes. To keep Brian motivated, his supervisor needs to keep tabs on his workload and the conditions driving it. A weekly conversation with Brian on ways to manage his workload can become a strong motivator.

3. Martha, a physical therapist, was promoted to manager of a hospital-based exercise center. Her responsibilities include scheduling, recordkeeping, supervising professional staff, equipment maintenance and purchases. Her workday is full but not always fulfilling. She often stops to watch wistfully the client care being given.

Martha was promoted because of her technical capabilities and commitment. She’s wired to do an exceptional job no matter what. Although motivated to excel as manager, she misses those one-on-one caring interactions that she left behind and very likely is concerned that her skills will erode. Her manager can fix this by scheduling Martha to fill in for physical therapists when they’re out or by assigning a limited number of clients to her schedule and delegating some administrative duties. 

The price paid 

Poor motivation is contagious. Other employees catch it easily. When it becomes epidemic, productivity and quality suffer.

Low motivation among employees is a drag on the collective energy of the work group. It gives employees an excuse for not giving their best effort, fully participating in teamwork, delivering on their commitments, and believing that they have a future with the organization.

Remember the last time you felt unmotivated? Did your supervisor help pull you out of it? That’s a big part of a supervisor’s job. It’s important to pay attention to the motivational needs of your employees and give each one the unique support they need. Time to get motivated to motivate.

Photo from KaiChanVong via Flickr

Pretty Good at Managing Employee Performance? What About Bob?

Go to training. Learn how to manage people. Go back to your work group and deliver all those promised results. Sweet!

Ugh…then reality turns sweet into sour. Live situations don’t match the training role plays or the workbook exercises. 

Our success as managers is a function of our ability to select and apply the best practices we need to solve the performance issues staring at us. 

Here’s a test case for you the puzzle through. See what you think and then we’ll compare notes at the end. 

What about Bob? You decide. 

Bob is an individual contributor who wants to become a supervisor. He’s been after his supervisor, Gail, for an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership skills and his readiness for a promotion. 

Recently, Gail’s work group customer satisfaction ratings had declined, so she wanted to determine the root cause. She saw this as an opportunity to give Bob a chance to lead a team to develop an improvement plan. 

Gail met with Bob, explained her expectations, assigned three coworkers as team participants for two hours each a week, and gave Bob a deadline to deliver an action plan. She also asked for bi-weekly progress reports

After the first team meeting, Bob told Gail that he didn’t think the right people were on the team. He also requested more detail about what kind of action plan she wanted and tried (unsuccessfully) to negotiate more weekly meeting time. 

After each team meeting, Bob was in Gail’s office asking for more particulars about what she wanted and for her approval of his meeting minutes before sending them out. 

Bob then started having disagreements with team members and asked Gail how to handle them. He complained again that they weren’t the right people. Gail was spending almost 3 hours a week dealing with Bob. 

To make matters worse, Bob submitted the action plan a week late. It lacked substance and did not have the full endorsement of the team. 

What would you do? 

This situation challenges us to put into practice all aspects of what we’ve been taught about managing employee performance.   

Here’s my take on the performance management techniques that were at play. (The bold is what I focused on.) Gail used some techniques effectively but not others—at least not yet. What did you see? 

Employee development: Gail decides to give Bob a chance to lead a team, an opportunity for professional growth aligned with his career aspirations. The project was important and created an opportunity to engage other employees by making them part of Bob’s team. 

Project managementGail recognized that process and accountability are important to team success, so she built that into her stated expectations for Bob when she asked for bi-weekly progress reports. 

Coaching: When Bob started having disagreements with two of the team members, Gail needed to coach him on how to resolve conflict effectively, including some self-examination by Bob about his team leadership approaches. 

Time management: Bob’s reluctance to act and/or inability to solve problems independently was costing Gail almost 3 hours a week. She needed to reestablish her expectations with Bob and hold him to them. 

Performance feedback: Bob delivered an action plan… that lacked substance which was unacceptable on several levels. So, that assignment needed to be redone with or without Bob. Bob needed specific, documented performance feedback about his work, including initiatives for further supervisory skills development. 

We need all the pieces. 

Using performance management techniques in isolation only gets us part way. Each situation we face demonstrates how different best practices intersect, strengthening each other and delivering greater benefit to the employee, the company, and ourselves. 

Effective management is both art and science. The people we work with are pieces of a complex puzzle which challenge our ability to solve problems. Individual performance management techniques are part of our toolkit. When we use them well and together, we can create a positive workplace experience. 

So how do you size up this situation?

Photo from alasis via Flickr

Kicking Yourself Only Slows You Down | Maintaining Career Momentum

Regrets—they’re inevitable. Some people say they don’t have them. That seems hard to believe. There are so many “dumb” things that we do throughout our careers, often without thinking or knowing, that we’d like to take back.   

Take stock 

I bet you can think of a few things that you’d like to do over like: 

  • Something said—I once let an F-bomb fly at an executive staff meeting. (They understood I had strong feelings, but ugh!)
  • Something left unsaid—I never made the time to tell one of my mentors how important he was to me. Then he moved away and I lost track of him
  • Actions taken—I left high school teaching and then went back to it in another state instead of making the career change I needed.
  • Inaction—I kept my art business going for many years when clearly it was never going to be profitable. 

There are plenty of other circumstances where we make poor choices like:   

  • Compromising or not compromising on a issue
  • Failing to close a good deal
  • Deciding to hire the wrong candidate or not hire the right one
  • Staying too long at a job we don’t like instead of moving on
  • Not accepting a career-enhancing assignment    

Here’s the good news: When we have regrets, we’ve learned something. That means we can either fix what went wrong or see how not to repeat it. That’s progress…and progress is momentum. 

Turn regret into remedy 

Even though we don’t like to make mistakes or poor choices, we make them anyway. Some missteps have big consequences and others small. If you’re a raging perfectionist, errors turn you inside out. If you aren’t that invested in your work, errors may not bother you that much. 

The degree to which we punish ourselves for our missteps has a huge effect on our ability to move our careers forward. For some people, kicking themselves is almost an art form. They: 

  • Apologize for their error or choice every time they see the affected parties
  • Bring up the issue whenever a similar set of conditions is discussed
  • Become gun shy, not applying for new positions/promotions, saying they “aren’t ready”
  • Act awkwardly or clam up when topics related to their “past decision” come up 

Wearing our regrets on our sleeve is purposeless. When we move on, so does everyone else. (Sometimes they move on way before we do!) 

We live in a “what have you done for me lately” work world. So when you make a mess of something, clean it up, learn your lesson, and get past it. 

Employees in the customer service business know that there will be plenty of customers who, at one time or another, become dissatisfied, upset, or outraged with the company. These employees know that when their “recovery” initiatives (their remedies) are strong, not only will those customers be placated, they may also become more loyal. 

Implementing remedies is how you recover from your gaffs. It a simple process: 

  • Understand what you did and why it bombed
  • Determine what you need to do to right the ship
  • Act in a timely manner to implement the fix
  • Follow up to make sure the remedy has worked
  • Make sure you don’t do a repeat

Shake it off. Move on.

Wallowing in regret is not a success strategy. Demonstrating that you are self-aware, willing to accept responsibility for your actions, courageous enough to do what it takes to correct a misstep, and focused on doing good work for the company is your strong suit. You are always the driver of your career, using your business fitness as the vehicle for success. So take your foot off your backside when you goof up and put it squarely on the accelerator! Zoom zoom! 

What have you regretted in your career? How did you deal with it? It’s always great to hear from you!


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.

It Takes Heart to Fire a Poor Performer | The Measure of a Caring Supervisor

Ever fired anyone? Been fired? We assume it’s only the employee who suffers the sting of it. That would be wrong.

Firing someone who breaks the rules doesn’t cause the hard pain. It’s firing for poor performance that does.

Not to fire is to deny the truth. 

No company wants to admit they made a bad hire or that their training didn’t work. Too often, supervisors won’t admit to themselves that an employee can’t do the work.

Instead of addressing performance deficiencies head on, supervisors try to recalibrate the job. They:

  • Shift work around
  • Team the weak employee with a strong one
  • Send poor performers to endless training classes
  • Arrange a reassignment (This is the card game, Old Maid, corporate style.) 

What supervisors should do is:

  • Provide regular performance feedback from the get-go
  • Alert the employee when his/her performance trends downward
  • Withhold raises
  • State exactly when performance must be improved
  • Document discussions 

Most supervisors will do anything to avoid firing, even if  it reflects negatively on them.

Firing a non-performer is an act of kindness. 

Can you imagine what it must be like going to a job every day when you aren’t succeeding? And worse, how about if you don’t really understand why?

I fired a perfectly decent guy at 40 when he should have been fired at 26.

He’d worked for over 20 years at a field location that was autonomous and tightly knit. At the time, I managed the corporate management training group.

One day, my boss called to tell me that an employee from the field, who was finishing up a special assignment (there was a clue!) in the corporate PR department, was being transferred to me.

“Why?“I asked.

Answer: “It’s a better fit.” (Uh oh!)

The sequence of events was long and complicated, taking about two years. In summary, this fellow, now an internal training consultant reporting to me, alienated his clients, infuriated his colleagues who were carrying him, and demeaned the administrative staff.

For months I mentored, coached, documented, and gave feedback. Then I gave him no raise, three months to show change, and finally the bad news.

He fully understood what was happening and actually complimented me on how I’d handled everything.

He also said, “I just can’t believe this is happening to me.” After that, I helped him put his things in his car.

This whole ordeal was exhausting and emotionally draining for me. But there was more to come.

When the word got out, my phone started to ring. First, the manager who’d supervised my employee in the field called. Then his VP.

“Hey, why did you fire him, Dawn? He worked for the company for 20 years. Everyone out here is really upset.”

I explained the reasons. And they each said:

“Well, yes, he was like that here too. We actually had to defer his pay increase once. We thought maybe we’d have to let him go but hoped he’d do better in corporate.”

Yeah, I thought, “Why would that be? They’d gotten nowhere in 20 years.”

Before my employee left on his last day, I asked what he’d wanted as a career. Without hesitation he said, “Oh, I always wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but my father thought I should be a businessman.”

How about that! If those field executives had done the right thing and fired him early in his career, he would have had the chance to go back to school and become a teacher, fulfilling his dream. The waste of this still infuriates me.

Always do the right thing especially when it isn’t easy. 

Supervisors need to balance the needs of their companies, work groups, customers, and individual employees. Business fitness helps you keep things in perspective, weighed and balanced, so you feel confident in your decisions. That’s how you sleep well at night…zzzzzzz!

Do you have a “firing” experience to share? Not the happiest subject but a vital one. Your insights will help.