Are you really blissful being ignorant?

According to George Bernard Shaw, “success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.”  To be truly successful in resolving persistent personnel issues within your organization stop repeating the mistakes of the past.

I recently had a conversation with a mentor, Jay Block (best-selling author and motivational career coach) about the clichéd definition of insanity that has been making the rounds for a number of years.  You know the one – I even made reference to it in an earlier blog.  In our conversation Jay pointed out that continuing the same behavior while hoping for a different outcome is probably not insanity for us sane folks.  Rather, it is ignorance.  As we continued the conversation I had my “aha” moment and I agree.  Repeating unsuccessful problem resolution behaviors in the corporate world is ignorance but not in the nasty sense of that word.  Do you lack training or skills?  Are you perhaps being stubborn?   How much is your bottom line improved by continuing to stubbornly use approaches which have failed?   How many in corporate leadership positions have taken the time to obtain extensive training in problem resolution?  Isn’t that what you hire people to do?  In this case, being a leader includes having the grace and courage to admit that your skill set or your mind set may not encompass a wide variety of creative and innovative problem solving skills.  Those within your organization who are supposed to address such key issues may not be comfortable making the necessary decisions because of their commitment to the organization.  Isn’t it worth your time to consult with a professional problem solver?  Are you truly seeking to be successful or are you satisfied with your current blissful state?

Performance Appraisals for Difficult Employees – Part II

We talked in Part I about preparing for the performance appraisal meeting.  In Part II, let’s look at a couple of strategies you might consider for the actual meeting.

It’s hard not to think in some situations that the performance appraisal review with a difficult employee won’t deteriorate to a confrontation.  If the employee weren’t having or displaying problem behaviors there wouldn’t be a need to prepare for a difficult meeting, right?  Even though you prepare for a confrontation, your tone of voice and body language need to be as neutral as possible. If you go into the meeting loaded for bear that message will come through clearly and nothing will be accomplished.  Before the meeting take a couple of moments to take a deep breath and calm yourself.  It really does work.

When the meeting begins, clearly state the purpose of the meeting. This is a performance appraisal meeting and it is about the employee, not about you. Also remember that this is not a negotiation meeting.  As the supervisor you have observed good things and areas where improvements could be made. Start out with a positive comment, if possible. For example, if the employee has shown improvement in an area that was discussed during the last review period, make note of that.

In as even a tone of voice as possible, describe the areas where improvements are needed. Again, if progress has been made, reiterate that. But if there are areas which were brought to the employee’s attention and which did not show improvement during the recent review period that needs to be discussed.  Keep your focus on the facts. Whenever possible, give specifics as to dates and times when tasks were not completed or submitted late.  Detail the problems areas with as much specificity as possible.  You’re never going to be voted as supervisor of the year but you’ll  have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done the best job you can under difficult circumstances.

End the discussion of the performance on as positive a note as possible. Compliment a positive skill. Next, set an interim review date to monitor the progress. Work with the employee to set a time that will allow the employee to make the required changes in performance and to establish a positive track record.

You Think You’ve Got Problems?

I had a different idea for a blog article this week but – I made the mistake of watching a couple of talking heads tell the world how the federal government should fix the fiscal mess they’ve created and why the other side was completely wrong.  If DC doesn’t do what they want the resulting fiscal crisis will be entirely the fault of the other party and people playing politics with the country’s future, etc., etc., etc.  Fill in the name of any politician, it doesn’t matter.  I’m a problem solver and if you’ve talked with me or visited my website you know that I truly believe that when reasonable people come together and act reasonably, there is no problem that can’t be solved.  Well, I think I just found one.  Your problems will probably pale in comparison when you think of the mess both political parties have created and now they’re acting like six year olds unwilling to admit that someone else’s idea may have merit.  No one is exempt from this mess.  So folks in DC, here’s the solution – put the shovels down.  Do what every other business person in the country is trying to do – get the best common sense solutions identified and implement the one selected by consensus.  Stop the politics until the problem is rectified.  If you can’t be part of the solution at least stop being the problem.  Get the heck out of the way and let the American people do what they do best – tackle the problem head on, find the solution and implement it.

Playground or Office?

As a supervisor, leader, or manager, are there times when you feel like you’re more of a playground monitor than a supervisor?  Do you get the feeling that you’re spending 90% of your time on 5% of your staff?  Is most of your time is spent refereeing employee disputes, almost to the point where you’re working overtime just to get your own work done?  And the worst of it is that this isn’t the first time this has happened. Despite your best efforts, it keeps happening time and time again – same stuff, different faces.

We’ve talked before about this issue and the drastic solution of termination.  But what if the termination doesn’t have the effect you thought it would?  What will it take to solve this problem once and for all so you can go about doing your job?

When the situation gets to this point, it’s time to call in a professional problem solver.  He or she brings a fresh perspective to the situation and has no other agenda than working with all the parties to find a realistic and lasting solution.  The problem solver can facilitate effective communication that aids the correct identification of the problem, the root causes and viable solutions.  You’ve tried everything you and the rest of the management team can think of.  Why not try something different?  What do you have to lose other than that chronic case of heartburn, bad morale, and Aunt Nellie’s nagging?

What do you mean I can’t fire you?

Have you ever had to work with someone who was a charter member of the Office Jerk Hall of Fame?  Did you go home at the end of the day, gnashing your teeth, pulling your hair out or thinking dark thoughts?  I think it’s an unfortunate fact of professional life that we all, at some point in our career, will have to deal with a complete and total jerk.  As much as you’d like to tell that jerk off you really can’t, especially if you’re the boss.  And if that jerk happens to be Aunt Nellie’s favorite nephew, is it worth committing professional suicide to call him every name in the book just before you fire him?

Jerks come in a variety of forms and no listing here will ever be complete.  So let’s look at one type.  How many of us have gone to a staff or management meeting hoping to get something constructive done only to have the office jerk take control of the meeting?  The agenda goes out the window and beating a dead horse becomes the only accomplishment of the meeting.  You can see that your other staff or managers are frustrated, bored and looking for any excuse to leave.  Today’s meeting is going the same route as the last two.  What to do?

It’s time to become creative.  Robert Detman, writing for Yahoo! HotJobs suggests that if it’s possible, have a meeting where everyone is standing.  This change will likely throw the jerk off his/her game and stop the unproductive dominance.  Good idea for a small informal group meeting but what if it’s a large gathering for an all day training?  Any thoughts?  What’s worked for you?

It’s Still One of Those Days

You still have to resolve the problem with the two employees who can’t seem to be mature professionals.  You know their behavior is causing additional problems with productivity, morale, and your ever present case of heartburn.  You also know that ignoring this and thinking it will go away is not an option.  That’s like trying to ignore a toothache thinking that the missing filling will somehow heal itself.  Not going to happen.
This might be a good time to consult with a professional problem solver.  Why? It’s simple really.  You’ve tried everything you can think of and the personnel issue has continued.  It’s not getting any better and it just may be getting worse.  What can the problem solver do that you can’t?  The most obvious thing is that the problem solver will be able to see things from a fresh perspective.  That fresh approach can validate the identification of the actual problems.  Since the problem solver has no agenda other than to facilitate the resolution of the problems, the communications will likely be more honest and constructive.  After all, the problem solver doesn’t have the authority to fire anyone or cause any other kinds of grief.  The goal is to focus on the issue, behavior or situation and get a resolution in place that is effective and long lasting.  With that sort of agenda, having it remain one of those stays becomes less and less likely.  Wouldn’t you agree?

One of those days

Did you ever wake up and know the moment your feet hit the floor it was going to be one of those days?  Your suspicions are confirmed the moment your assistant comes into your office with the comment, “You’re not going to believe this.”  She’s right.  You don’t.  How is it that  supposedly adult professionals can behave like a bunch of five year olds?  What didn’t they get the first time you talked with them?

Does this describe some of the moments you’ve had recently?  As we’ve discussed, when the parties involved don’t buy into the solution the problem may persist and worsen.  So now what do you do?  Look at the options you have.  Have you correctly identified all of them?  The range of options could help frame the approach you may want to take.  You can choose to ignore the issue and hope it goes away or – –

Today, we’re going to look at one extreme option.  Obviously, the quickest and harshest solution is to fire one, both or all of the players.  Before giving this option serious consideration you need to look at all the consequences, intended and unintended.  Are you acting out of frustration or in the best interests of your organization?  Can the organization afford to lose one or more of the individuals?  Do you have the personnel in place to immediately take over the duties and responsibilities?  Or will you have to go through the hiring process?  How will that affect productivity?  How will firing these individuals affect the morale of the specific work unit and the overall organization?  What message do you want to send?  What message will be received?  As you contemplate this extreme solution you can’t help thinking that the day can’t get any worse.  Want to bet?

Magic and Problem Solving?

Wouldn’t life be a whole lot simpler if we could snap our fingers, wiggle our nose, or blink our eyes and make all our problems disappear?  Why do the seemingly easy problems always cause the greatest heartburn?  The last question is the easier one to answer.  Whenever human beings are involved problems are almost always going to get complicated.  If there’s a problem with your car, you take it to a qualified mechanic, spend some money and the problem goes away.  Having a problem with your computer at work?  Call in the IT folks and again, the problem disappears.  Having a problem with two employees who can’t or won’t get along?  Why won’t that problem go away?  As a facilitator and problem solver I’d caution you about letting the egos and emotions rule.  When the problem involves humans it becomes crucial that the focus remain on the behavior or the issue – not the individuals.  It’s hard – sometimes seemingly impossible – but the egos have to stay out of the resolution.  That caution also includes you as the leader or manager.  Your ego and emotions need to be checked at the door as well.  If that ground rule isn’t followed the chances of reaching a consensus and resoluion will be greatly diminished.  Keeping your emotions in check can be easier with the help of a professional problem solver.  Save your ego for the verbal beating Aunt Nellie wants to unload on you about last month’s dividend check.

Performance Appraisals for Difficult Employees – Part I

There may be nothing more a supervisor dreads that having to do a performance appraisal for a difficult employee. You can’t stick your head in the sand, that’s for sure.  But there are some key actions you may consider taking to prepare for the meeting.

The most important thing to remember in dealing with any employee, difficult or not, is that as the supervisor you must focus on the issue or the behavior. Be sure that you’ve taken notes during the review period to recall good job performances and problem issues. If meetings were held to discuss the issues, use your notes to discuss performance issues. Those notes should include the date and time of the meeting, who was present and what was discussed.  If memos were sent to the employee addressing a specific issue, have a copy of those memos available during the review meeting.

Call the meeting for a time that will allow both you and the employee to engage in conversation without distractions. If you can’t get away from the telephone or interruptions in your office, move the meeting to a neutral location such as a conference room. The key here is to insure that both you and the employee can devote full attention to the performance appraisal without having an audience.

Provide a copy of the written performance appraisal to the employee in time to allow the employee to review it before the meeting. Remember when writing the review that your focus must be on specific issues or behaviors. For example, if the employee’s job requires the production of reports within a specific time period, make sure you’ve checked the disclosure rate to determine whether the employee has met the standard. Check the submission dates and times and note the number which were on time and the number which were late.

Stay tuned for Part II – Holding the actual meeting.