The Problem. The other day I was meeting with a client, Sue, who was lamenting about one of her employees, Henry. Henry had seemed so full of promise when he was first hired last year, but had turned out to be, as she put it, “a dud.” When I asked what had happened, she told me that after about 6 months his attitude began to get worse and worse, he seemed to lose all initiative and his commitment to the work seemed to disappear. I asked whether she had ever discussed these concerns with him, and she said that she had. She also said that, although she really hated performance reviews, she had actually marked him down on these three areas. But, neither informal discussions nor formal evaluations seemed to make any difference. His attitude, initiative and commitment did not improve. I asked to meet with Henry.
Henry told me that he loved his job when he started, but that Sue’s lack of clear direction made it really hard for him to know when he was doing things right and when not. He said he kept trying to guess correctly, but seemed never to get the guidance he needed to figure out what was expected. As a result, both he and Sue got frustrated, and he stopped trying to come up with new ideas. Then she began making passing comments about his attitude. Finally, when it came time for the annual evaluation, she had marked him down on attitude, initiative and commitment. He was at a loss as to what she wanted.
What to do: Both Sue and Henry are well intentioned. It is Sue’s job to give Henry clear feedback as to her expectations – which she has not done. Simply saying, “Your attitude needs to improve” is useless, as is telling him he lacks commitment and is not taking sufficient initiative. Sue needs to turn these generalities into very specific behavioral statements so that Henry knows exactly what she expects. She could use some of the following statements to provide clarity:
- Henry, when I say I want you to take initiative what I mean is that I want you to figure out what needs to be done and do it without waiting for direction from me. And, if there’s something you don’t know how to do, you need to come ask me and not just wait for me to tell you. If you run out of things to do, I want you to ask for more work – not sit at your desk and wait for me to notice you don’t have enough to do.
- When I talk about wanting you to have a good attitude, what I mean is that I want you to go up to the counter when you see a customer approach and greet them in a friendly and welcoming manner before they even have a chance to say anything. I want you to communicate that you’re here to help, and that you’ll do whatever it takes to fix their problem to their satisfaction. And, I want you to let them know that it’s no bother, that that’s your job, and that you enjoy doing it. They need to know they are the most important person in the world to you right then, and to understand that your whole focus is on their satisfaction.
- Finally, when I talk about demonstrating commitment to this job, what I mean is that I need to hear your good ideas about improving the work, improving processes, and improving customer service. I want lots of ideas from you about doing these things, and I want them frequently – several times a week. You should always be thinking about how to make things better, and talking with me about ideas as they come to you. That way I’ll know that you are committed to this job, and to doing it well.
So – when you find yourself frustrated with the Henrys on your staff, ask yourself whether you have given them enough specific information about the behavior you expect that they understand what you want from them. Doing that will GREATLY decrease your frustration and increase your change of turning a “dud” into a “star”! ~DS
Have you tried this approach? Let us know how it went!