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.

Persist.

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

A Controlling Mindset: The Bane of the Boss of Bosses | Smart Leaders–Smarter Teams

Schwarzbook9780787988739_p0_v2_s260x420Insights into leadership behaviors, ones that work and those that don’t, often come with personal epiphanies that are jarring at first and then helpful starting points. There was plenty of that in Roger Schwarz’s new book, Smart Leaders Smarter Teams: How You and Your Team GET UNSTUCK to GET RESULTS. Once again, I was pleased for the invitation to blog about the book and to share a bit of what I learned.

We’re always watching them–sometimes up close or from afar. We often shake our heads, wondering why they don’t get more done.

They’re the leadership team, the authority figures who run our companies–our hoped for role models.

But their approaches can sometimes seem petty, unhealthy or ineffective. Why is that?

It starts with mindset.

Leadership teams come in all shapes and sizes. The team members are bosses themselves who report to the same boss: first line supervisors reporting to the same  manager, functional managers to a senior manager, managers to an executive–you get the idea.

In his book, Smart Leaders Smarter Teams, Roger Schwarz describes the challenge of leading a leadership team:

Formal leaders…hold responsibility for how decisions will ultimately be made. But they also need to spread control around the team and redefine team leadership as the ability to share responsibility for the team’s functioning.

He then adds this:

Team members need to realize that they are part of a collective team mindset that defines the relationship between themselves and their formal leader.

According to Schwarz, the mindset adopted by the leader drives results:

By understanding your mindset, you’ll start to understand why you and your team are getting stuck, how you are unintentionally contributing to staying stuck, and how to get unstuck.

Most leaders are in the grip of a control conundrum: They feel comfortable wielding it and  team members expect it, even want it, even though they’ll use it as a point of resistance or complaint.

Leaders tend to be schooled in what Schwarz describes as a unilateral control mindset:Schwarz 8fd6ec4eb9b50ad8986c4b_L__V399985090_SX200_

When you use a unilateral control mindset, you are trying to achieve your goals by controlling the whole situation…You view leadership as power over others, so it’s important to hold on to it. With a unilateral control mindset, you think if you were to share power with others, you’d lose power. And that would be a bad thing.

Everything about getting promoted to leadership positions seems to scream the need for control over performance results, customers demands, employee behavior and, well, almost everything.

Schwarz identifies the behaviors showcased by leaders with a unilateral control mindset:

  • State my view without asking for others’ views, or vice versa.

  • Withhold relevant information.

  • Speak in general terms and don’t agree on what important words mean.

  • Keep my reasoning private; don’t ask others about their reasoning.

  • Focus on positions, not interests.

  • Act on untested assumptions and inferences as if they were true.

  • Control the conversation.

  • Avoid, ease into, or save face on difficult issues.

Sadly, these leadership behaviors will ultimately promote overt or covert resistance.

Schwarz’s remedy is to become a mutual learning mindset leader:

When you use a mutual learning mindset, you achieve your goals by learning from and with others. This means you’re open to being influenced by others at the same time you seek to influence others…You view leadership as power with others, not over others…

…the essence of your [mutual learning] mindset is simple: I understand some things. So do you. Let’s learn and move forward together.

The behaviors that bring leadership team members together to get better results are, as Schwarz states to:

  • State views and ask genuine questions.

  • Share all relevant information.

  • Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean.

  •  Explain reasoning and intent.

  •  Focus on interests, not positions.

  • Test assumptions and inferences.

  • Jointly design next steps.

  • Discuss undiscussable issues.

None of this is simple which is made clear in the book. There are specific values to be adopted, design issues and results to be defined. The shift starts with the team leader who often has a lot of personal work to take on. Then the team members need to make some changes in their mindsets too. It all takes practice and feedback from others. Schwarz covers a lot of that ground.

Lead smarter.

Schwarz understands the realities that underpin team leadership and the need to be a smart leader:

The mutual learning approach doesn’t say that you have to let the team decide or that you have to decide….

The mutual learning approach says that whatever decision-making rule you use…the process leading up to the decision needs to use the mutual learning core values, assumptions, and behaviors.

If you use [it]…then team members are likely to say that the process was fair, even if they disagree with the final decision.

The higher up you go in an organization, the more challenging your leadership task. If you like to feel your adrenaline pumping you through big changes, then you’re in the right place.

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

The Coveted Manager Job–Grappling with a 3-Headed Monster

Finally, you’re a manager. You are now responsible for bigger things. The way you lead and the performance of your employees are what determine your value.

Pretty heavy stuff, eh?

We often covet those “big” job titles without knowing what’s expected. That old line, “Be careful what you wish for,” is a legitimate warning.

What a manager’s job looks like on the surface isn’t always what it is in reality. The sad truth is that when it’s your turn to be the manager, no one really tells you what you’re getting into. So you’d better ask.

Go on high alert!

No one wants their long-desired manager promotion to become a living hell.

In Greek mythology, the three-headed dog, Cerberus, guarded the gates of the Underworld so that no one (specifically, the dead) could get in or out without permission from the god Hades.

The better plan was to avoid heading hell-bound in the first place. The same is true when taking on a job as manager.

When it comes to hiring or promoting you as a manager, management is keenly aware of three things–your:

  • Readiness and desire
  • Knowledge and skills
  • Fit with employees and peers

Management may or may not be right about you, but these are the criteria that they’re using to make the decision. In some cases management may or may not be effective themselves. So you need to be careful about how you hear and process their offer.

Demand to know.

All manager jobs are not created equal.

You need know what kind of work group, function, or cluster of departments you are to manage and whether you’re ready to grapple with the monster facing you.

Manager jobs essentially fall into three categories which means, to be effective, you need to know if you are cut out for the task.

1. Maintaining the status quo: When you take over a work group that works well together and consistently meets performance expectations, you need to be comfortable supporting the way things are being done. Your role is to keep the wheels turning, reinforcing what’s effective and collaborating with employees  on any fine-tuning.

If you’re one who is numbed by the warm hum of a well-oiled machine all day or can’t resist poking the sleeping beast just to get a rise out of it, then this manager role isn’t for you.

2. Fixing a mess: Work group dysfunction, poor output, and/or declining relevance are often reasons why you’ve been chosen as the new manager. In these situations, processes are often broken, performance management is lax, and innovation is dormant. Your role is to make big change, deal with resistance, and take risks.

If you hate conflict, lack internal political savvy, don’t know how to leverage relationships, and are unwilling to be personally accountable for your decisions, then you need to rethink this job. Fixing a mess is arduous and often slow, so you’ll need to do some soul searching and/or even defer this kind of challenge for a while.

3. Creating something new: The need to create a new department  spawns the need for a new manager. Sometimes a new product/service line is the reason or the need to expand or split an existing function. Your role is to organize, staff, and deliver results, dealing with doubters and managing expectations.

If you have a low tolerance for ambiguity, thin skin, fear of failure, and an inability to turn abstract ideas into concrete output, then starting from scratch may not be the best fit for you. When your manager job requires you to become an internal entrepreneur literally,  that role needs to be in your blood.

Tame the monster.

Managing a work group can be exciting and fulfilling, but, like every job, it needs to fit you. Every monster can be tamed so you have to be smart about the ones you grapple with.

So look hard at the manager job you covet and make sure you’re clear about what you’d be getting into. Then take on the challenge with all you’ve got!

Image from PEU Report

Leading Employees Who Don’t See Things Your Way | Handling Disagreement

Leadership is no cakewalk. It takes guts, resilience, clear-headedness, and sensitivity. Okay, it takes lots more too. But the real challenge for leaders is their employees. 

Each one has their own set of expectations. They want their leader to create a work environment that suits them by solving problems, removing obstacles, resolving conflicts, ensuring fairness, and minimizing disruptions. 

The harsh reality is: Every employee can’t have exactly what s/he wants. 

Disagreement triggers 

Like it or not, business needs trump employee wants. That can be hard to swallow if employees don’t understand the big picture their leaders see.  After all, a leader’s first responsibility is to keep the business going so we can keep our jobs. 

Savvy leaders anticipate decisions that trigger employee disagreement and are quick to defuse it. 

There are all kinds of causes for those disagreements: 

  • Someone else was promoted and they don’t understand why.
  • A work process was changed without their input.
  • Work was outsourced, threatening their job security. 

Even though, you, as the leader, didn’t necessarily create these situations, you are expected to own them. Remember: you are the company’s agent even while you’re an employee in your own right. (Hey, no one said this role was easy!) 

Leaders need to identify signs of employee disagreement before they become flashpoints by being alert to: 

  • Non-verbals: No eye contact, silence, avoidance, negative body language
  • Verbal barbs: “I don’t think that’s fair” or “That’s not my job”
  • Actions: Work slow-downs, huddled groups venting, non-compliance 

Resistance to new policies/processes, reorganizations, or increased performance expectations notoriously starts small and then takes on a life of its own. 

It’s tempting to ignore what might appear to be trivial employee disagreements. But they provide value insights that every leader needs to take seriously and reposition. 

When employees don’t see things your way, they act in either an overt or covert way. Some employees will be upfront and open about their disagreements; others will lie low and stoke the disenchantment of others. The leader needs to understand the root cause of these disagreements and tackle them head on. 

Defusing pushback 

Leaders tend to look at disagreements as pushback against their authority, which often isn’t the case. Too often, they are tempted to push back harder, using their organizational clout to make sure employees keep doing things “their” way. That only works for a short while and often makes matters worse.  

There’s real risk in failing to address employee disagreements like: 

  • Declining morale and motivation
  • Reduction in productivity and quality
  • Inability to enact change successfully 

Leaders of all stripes need to moderate employee disagreements, resolve legitimate issues, build understanding, and keep lines of communication open. 

When employees disagree, they want to be heard. Sometimes this is all they need, an opportunity to go on record with their point of view. Other times, it’s the starting point for ongoing dialogue, helping the employee and the leader to resolve the disagreement. 

Here are basic steps for conversations with employees who don’t see things the leader’s way: 

  • Understand the employee’s issue and its source
  • Ask what the employee wants changed
  • Be clear about your position and what you are able to give (if anything)
  • Be prepared to explain your/the company’s rationale in words the employee will understand
  • Confront the employee about their resistance (if any), its impacts and consequences
  • Summarize what’s been discussed and state the next steps each will take 

The leader is not always right and the employee wrong. Effective leaders get important insights when employees disagree. 

Take the high road 

Disagreements are important for business growth; they constitute feedback. It’s the way disagreements are handled that separates great leaders from mediocre ones. 

Opening yourself to employee viewpoints and inviting them is key. Not every point of employee disagreement is valid or doable, but each should be heard and considered. 

Photo from stuant63 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

10 Wake-up Call Questions for Employees in Denial

Employees just tune it out. They stop hearing the company’s messages about sagging profits, increased competition, and high operating costs.   

Even as supervisors, we start to believe it’s probably just a scare tactic to get employees to work harder.  So we tune out the implications when our employees need us to lead. 

Look reality in the eye 

No one wants to be caught at work with their proverbial pants down. That means, as supervisors, we need to pay attention to what management is saying. 

As the supervisor, you’re the one expected to communicate what’s going on to your employees. You’re the messenger and sometimes the message isn’t very palatable, even to you. 

Even if your employees act skeptical, push back, or become dismissive, communicating what you can (some things may be proprietary) is a must.  

As a supervisor, your job is to get and keep the attention of your employees. You need to make sure they understand the realities of the marketplace and how they might be affected. 

You are their teacher and guide to their future success. So when they are at risk, you need to focus them on ways they can influence their future. 

Some work groups become particularly vulnerable when a business is feeling the financial squeeze—human resources, marketing, IT, customer service, finance—because some of their services can be subcontracted. 

These employees often feel the need to justify their cost-benefit to the company. Their tendency is to become defensive rather than to take the offense. 

Smart supervisors refocus their employees what their collective value to the company can/will be going forward. They help them self-assess and then reinvent themselves with their eyes wide open. 

Promote inquiry and vigilance. 

Here are ten questions every supervisor should work through routinely with his/her employees to wake up awareness and excite new ideas as part of planning and goal setting, no matter what conditions the company faces. 

In a working session or as part of routinely scheduled meetings, resolve each question through open discussion: 

1. What business are we in? For example, is it… 

  • Delivering training programs or promoting more effective performance?
  • Trouble-shooting software or building a tech savvy workforce?
  • Answering customer questions or building a loyal customer following? 

2. If our work group no longer existed, who would notice or care?  

       Employees in other work groups, customers, regulators, suppliers, no one

3. How are we perceived within and outside the company? What’s our brand? Are we… 

  • Sought-after specialists or just an after-thought
  • Customer-oriented or internally focused
  • Innovative leaders or status quo protectors 

4. Whose support do we need?

       Executive leadership, other department managers, internal clients, key customers,   regulators, media, each other 

5. How do we expand our influence?  

     Increased visibility, relationship building, collaborative activities, high quality work 

6. What do we need to do better?  

     Improve skills, output, processes, communication, trustworthiness, service  

7.  What’s at stake if we don’t retool/reposition ourselves?  

     Dissolution, downsizing, absorption into another department, loss of funding and/or   influence 

8. How much time do we have to get it together?  

     A year, six months, a quarter, asap! 

9. What do we need to do now?  

     Answer our unanswered questions, gather more data, generate more ideas, build a plan, distribute assignments, engage others, implement actions, debrief results, continue to improve

10. Who’s accountable for what? Make assignments.

     You as supervisor, individual employee team members—everyone has a part to play 

Work together—as a team! 

It’s been documented frequently, through workplace studies, that most employees trust what their immediate supervisors say over anyone else in the company. So what and how you tell them make a big difference. 

The more successful you are showing your employees how conditions in the company are likely to impact them, the more engaged and willing they’ll be to follow your lead. Do this and you’ll see resistance decline and teamwork increase.   

Try asking your employees these ten questions. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.

Photo from Minarae via Flickr