Tag Archives: tardiness

Finding the Right Bait

In her post last week, Daphne wrote about using the right bait — self interest — to motivate recalcitrant employees who just won’t seem to shape up.  Much as managers and supervisors wish they could say, “Because I said so!” that’s not the reality of the modern workplace (if it ever was). 

The trick is determining the appropriate bait. This is where coaching questions can be very helpful.  First, however, the manager wants to set the stage: after all, the task at hand is actually not optional.  So the manager wants to start with something like: “We’ve talked about your [extended breaks … chatting too much with co-workers … spending too much time on personal cell phone calls … not proofreading your work … ] several times and I am not seeing any changes.  I don’t want to have to escalate this.”

Having set the stage, the manager can now ask questions that hopefully will surface the bait and a plan:

  • What is going on?
  • So what is getting in the way of your doing [x]?
  • What are you saying when you don’t do [x]?
  • What would help you do [x]?
  • What would energize you in your job generally?

Other “what” questions can also work. The trick is to get the employee, not you, talking. And to come up with an enforceable action plan from there.  And to enforce it.

Any other ideas on how to find the right bait? ~Amy Stephson

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A Simple Change: Drop the “Should’s”

Imagine you are an employee whose work is careless and usually late.  How do you respond to each of the following messages from your supervisor?

Supervisor A:  “I want to discuss my expectations for your work.  First, you should start paying more attention to your work product: it’s full of typos, incorrect calculations, and unclear sentences.  You shouldn’t turn it in to me unless you have proofread it twice. Second, you also need to get it to me on time.  It’s not acceptable to get it to me two days late.  Am I being clear?”

Supervisor B:  “I want to discuss my expectations for your work.  First, it’s important that you pay more attention to your work product, which tends to have typos, incorrect calculations, and unclear sentences. Second, it’s also important that you get your work to me on time, not two days late.  What can we do to ensure that you are able to meet these expectations?  One suggestion I have is that you proofread your work twice before turning it in.  What else might work?”

Both supervisors are saying the same thing and neither is being inappropriate or abusive.  Yet, most people would far rather get the message from Supervisor B.  Why?  For two main reasons.  Rather than giving directives, Supervisor B is using coaching language , e.g., “What can we do . . .?”  A coaching approach often produces a less defensive employee and better results.  As noted in an earlier post, one component of effective coaching is to ask open ended “what” questions. 

Equally importantly, Supervisor B does not use terms such as “you should” “you have to” or “you need to.”  This is central,  because for better or for worse, these terms are psychologically loaded, often raising feelings of obligation, guilt, and right vs. wrong.  

Think of an obligation and couch it in terms of “I should do X every week” or “I have to do Y regularly.”  Now reframe it using more positive words such as “I want to do X every week” or “It’s important to do Y regularly.”  It can be transformative: instead of feeling like an obligation or burden, it feels like a positive choice. 

In the workplace setting, avoiding use of the word “should” (and its cousins “have to” and “need to”) can be similarly transformative.  When Supervisor B says “it’s important,” he or she is using a neutral word without negative connotations. It has the added benefit of communicating that there is a reason for the request.  It also, in some subtle way, communicates that the supervisor and the employee are a team working on matters of common interest. “It’s important …” is one way to reframe the message; many others work as well. 

Avoiding “should” is a simple change that can bring about significant improvements in workplace communication.  Do you have any other magic bullets ?   ~Amy Stephson

The Perpetually Tardy Employee

The problem: A common problem facing supervisors is the perpetually tardy employee.  Take Pedro, who had supervised Harvey for some time.  Harvey was often late to work, and Pedro tried everything to help him get to work on time.  He told Harvey to get an alarm clock (Harvey would forget to set it), to get a more reliable car (Harvey said he couldn’t afford it), ask his wife to wake him (she too would oversleep), etc. etc. Nothing worked. He also experimented with giving Harvey a later start time of 8:00, but he still came in late.  Pedro was at his wit’s end. 

What to do?  The problem here was that the solutions were Pedro’s, not Harvey’s.  Thus, if the solution failed, it was Pedro’s fault for providing a poor solution.  So Pedro changed his approach.  He told Harvey he was expected to be at work at 7:00, and told him to provide a plan outlining what he would do to arrive on time.  Though initially Harvey had a hard time developing the plan, once he did and it was HIS plan, his on-time arrival record improved dramatically. ~DS