Q & A

Q&A 01

Q: I’m a supervisor in manufacturing and my problem is I have a good guy who works for me but his attendance is not the greatest. It’s not that he always calls in sick but he’s late coming back from lunches and brakes. He’s a good worker, does things without always being told, and he gets along with everybody. I count on him a lot. He’s like my eyes and ears in the department. I talked to him about a month ago about this and it got better for a couple of weeks but now it’s starting again. I’m really not sure what to do. My boss says to write him up and if things don’t change I should fire him but I don’t want to write him up because I don’t want his performance to go down, and I really need this guy on my team. Can you help me? Any suggestions on how I can save this? Thanks. Steve

A: Hi Steve. These types of situations come up often in our training sessions. First, I commend you on discussing the lateness problem with him. Many supervisors avoid dealing with these types of conflicts because they don’t want to be seen as the “bad guy”, in the hopes the situation will solve itself or, as you mentioned, not wanting to risk retaliation in the form of a reduction in performance value and involvement in the department. So well done!

Secondly, you mentioned that this employee is a good worker, takes initiative, gets along well with other team members, and seems to have a good attitude about his work. Those are real positives that need to be taken into account and communicated during the second chat you now need to have with him. Steve, what you are dealing with here is an attitudinal/behavioural issue, which is considerably more challenging than attempting to resolve a situation that is performance based or “job specifics”. Performance is concrete and objective while behaviour is more subjective or up to one’s interpretation of what appropriate behaviour is, but what we are dealing with here is an attendance/lateness issue, a breach of corporate policy, which surely impacts on this employee’s performance as well.

My suggestion is as follows; speak with this employee a second time about his lateness and attendance. Although you may be annoyed, disappointed, or even angry, it’s important that you don’t allow those negative emotions interfere or guide the way you will be communicating with him. Remain calm, listen attentively, and focus your energy on reaching your objective, which is “to have this employee come in on time from now on”.

You can begin your conversation in the following way; “Do you remember us having a talk about your attendance and lateness a couple of weeks ago?” (Wait for, and listen to an answer.) “After we spoke about it, I noticed that it got much better, and that’s great. It’s exactly what I was expecting, but now I noticed that the problem is back and seems to be getting worse. Do you understand the impact that your lack of attendance and lateness coming back from brakes and lunch is having on the team, the department, and myself?” (Wait for, and listen to an answer.) If he doesn’t know the consequences, then tell him!

Steve, I’m sure this employee knows he’s a good performer so in his mind, what’s the big deal? It is also possible that he is not aware of the consequences of his actions. Focus your attention on helping this employee understand the big picture because only understanding promotes people to process genuine change. It is your responsibility as his supervisor to make him aware of the negative fall-out from all of this as well as the consequences should he choose to continue in this direction, which is progressive discipline. It’s also really important to communicate his strengths, as you see them. This is called positive recognition and when used properly, in the right context, can prove to be an extremely powerful motivator.

Adding something like; “Look, you’re a good worker, you get along with everybody on the team, you take initiative, and you know that I count on you to help out in the department, so it’s baffling to me how you can be late and absent so many times. I don’t want all that talent to be wasted by an absenteeism and lateness issue that can be solved in an instant”. The last question should be; “Can I count on you to do what is needed for you to be here on time from now on?” (Wait for, and listen to an answer, which should be positive.) In these situations, it is important to always ask for the individual’s commitment to mitigate or fix the issue so that a third and less comfortable discussion is avoided. Also, remember to communicate the consequences (fall-out) should he chose to continue going against company policies. Steve, I am curious to know the result of your discussion with this employee so please keep in touch and I hope you are comfortable using the strategy I propose. Good luck!


Q&A 02

Q: A few weeks ago, I started a new job as accounting manager. When the old manager left, it was rumored that one of the senior employees in the department was going to get the job. I understand that as a rule, the company first looks to promote from within but for whatever reason, they decided to conduct an outside search. The problem I have now is dealing with this particular employee. His attitude towards me is really negative. He’s argumentative, curt, confrontational, defiant, and I also noticed that the quality of his work suffers, which puts more on the plate of his co-workers, including myself. It’s affecting the department and I just don’t know how to resolve this and put it to bed once and for all so, I hope you can help me with a few suggestions. All I want is for everyone to do their jobs and do it well, that’s all!! Robert, thank you for your time and consideration. Marianne

A: Hello Marianne. Before you speak with this employee, may I suggest that you conduct some form of research or investigation about him? First, focus on identifying potential reason(s) for his negativity and inappropriate communication. Take a step back and look for potential root cause(s). Contact Human Resources and ask to review past performance appraisals as well as any documentation that may be in his file. The objective here is to find out whether his negative demeanor and performance issues have been recorded or documented by your predecessor(s). If so, your presence in the department may have exacerbated the situation, but is not likely the cause. Perhaps that is the reason why he wasn’t ultimately considered and chosen to fill the vacancy and a decision was made to recruit from outside; food for thought! If through your investigation you see no indication of a pattern, then it is safe to presume that you being there may have a lot to do with what you are experiencing.

If this is the case, it is important to empathise with the employee. Try to imagine how you would feel if the table was turned. Put yourself in his shoes and try to understand where he is coming from. I think it’s fair to say that most of us would certainly feel disappointed, even resentful of the new manager. Marianne, your willingness to identify and understand the reason(s) for this employee’s feelings about this situation will undoubtedly be of great assistance to you both, when speaking with him. What you have to contend with here is a behavioural/attitudinal issue, which has permeated to his performance. It is important to note and understand that whether his issue(s) began when you started the job or is identified as a pattern, your objective remains the same;

You want this employee to conduct himself in a professional and appropriate manner and perform to expectation.

Let us assume that your presence is the cause;

His attitude towards you and his work is likely a projection of his feelings about the company. For all you know, he may have been promised the job. In any case, I sense that it’s not you he’s retaliating against, it’s your mutual employer; you just happen to be in the line of fire, as unpleasant as it may be. It is essential that you communicate this observation to him as this is incredibly powerful leverage. This will help him understand that you had nothing to do with the company’s decision and that you do not want to suffer the brunt of his anger anymore, it simply isn’t fair and equitable treatment. You may also wish to suggest that he contact the individual(s) or hiring committee involved in the selection process so he can understand the basis for the decision.

The second issue is the quality of his work. Again, focus on helping him understand that not performing to expectations is adding to his co-worker’s work load, including your own. In a nutshell, it’s affecting the operation of the department. You MUST use concrete, real-time examples so he can relate. Not many; two or three will do. Speak with him about the specific issues you need to be changed. Perhaps some training or coaching on your part could solve the performance piece of this puzzle.

Lastly, look at what he’s doing right and let him know what you observed in that respect since you have been the manager. This is called positive recognition and is used as a powerful motivator for both change and consistency of delivery, whether behavioural or performance.

This is not an easy situation to deal with and ultimately resolve. Remain calm, listen attentively, and focus on reaching your objective which is;

You want this employee to conduct himself in a professional and appropriate manner and perform to expectation.

Remember to demonstrate empathy when speaking with him. It will go a long way!!

In my training programs, one of many communication strategies I teach is how to formulate and ask open-ended and probing questions. In this way, we engage others to communicate and respond appropriately by answering our question(s). As such, limit the use of simple questions – or those that require a simple “yes” or “no answer, as they seriously impact levels of engagement. The use of open-ended questions ensures that communication is shared, so as to have both parties participate in the resolution of ANY conflict. 5WH Questions are terrific to use; Questions starting with What, Where, When, Who, and How as well as “Are you aware that…of…?” and “Do you realize that….?” Are another couple of examples of strong open-ended/probing questions.

The majority of us has a tendency to make statements when communicating with others, particularly in conflict situations, where emotions surface and corrupt our initial intent and subsequent communication style. I’m not suggesting not to use statements but do so wisely; avoid accusatory and intimidating tones at all cost. I suggest roughly 70% questions, and the remaining 30% statements but above all, remain calm, cool, and collected.

I hope my suggestions help you in resolving this issue. I would love to read from you again once you have dealt with this unfortunate situation. Remember Marianne, I am here to help…good luck!


Q&A 03

Q: A little over 3 months ago, I got promoted to supervisor in my department. Been with the company for over a year and I’m now supervising the people I used to work with. I’m having a hard time dealing with a few of them because they are also my friends. My boss told me that I have to forget about the past and get on with the job; supervision is not a popularity contest she told me, more than once. I know she’s right but I’m not sure how to tackle that. I don’t want to piss them off and at the same time I want them to take me more seriously. I’m their boss now!! I wonder if you could give me some pointers on how I can deal with this. I hope you can help. Thanks! Derek

A: This situation has come up a few times in my training sessions over the years. It’s a challenging one to deal with because it seems that a wedge is driven between your responsibilities as a supervisor and your loyalty to your friends, who are now your direct reports. Here’s what I suggest you do;

First, you should not forget the past. The relationships you created over the past year are to be valued and will be of great benefit to everyone concerned, including the company; it all depends how you look at it!

The knowledge you gained about individual team members is now a wealth of information you can use in your new role. You know their likes and dislikes, what makes them tick, and what motivates them. Work colleagues who get together outside of working hours tend to talk a lot about work and work related situations – I assume you socialize outside of work as you mentioned your employees are also friends. Co-workers often complain about or disagree with changes that are taking place. They criticize management’s approach in dealing with a multitude of issues and are often disgruntled because their suggestions for improvements were not adopted, or even listened to…and the list goes on!

It’s important for you to understand how powerful that knowledge is. Why not use it to make positive changes in your department and get all involved in the decision and the execution of those very changes? Too often, managers and supervisors discount the collective intelligence and skills base of their employees when making decisions, particularly about change. Don’t make that mistake because you’ll be perceived as another “who sold his soul” to corporate. The more you involve your people, the less resistant they will be!

Secondly, communicate the specific difficulties you have with specific individuals. Have a one-one sit-down conversation. Let them know how challenging it is for you to separate personal feelings from business issues and that you need to be taken more seriously. Make sure to give concrete examples to support your need to be respected and accepted as their supervisor. I suspect you might be surprised as to how receptive your people will be. Remain calm, listen attentively, and focus your energy on reaching your individual objectives.

I once heard that there are three kinds of people on this earth; there are those who wait for things to happen, those who talk about what happened, and those who make things happen. Derek, I think the choice of the person you aim to be is the latter; be pro-active.

I hope my tips help you deal with this situation. Remember, I am here to help you so if you wish, let me know in a month or two, how things are shaping up. Meantime, good luck…