When employees fall off track

May 7, 2012 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

It’s something that happens slowly over time and is often barely perceptible as a growing problem. You hire or promote someone into a specific job in your company. It’s a suitable fit, and you feel good that a key position in your company is producing the intended results. But as time passes, subtle changes occur. Certain areas where the employee once paid close attention appear to be less of a priority. Work patterns are showing telltale signs of inconsistency. Projects or responsibilities that the employee once sought out are now avoided. Finally, that little voice in your head asks, “What happened? How did this person’s job turn into this?”

Everything in business is perpetually evolving into something new. As leaders, we’re supposed to lead the charge for change and inspire individuals to achieve their full potential. We’re also supposed to be ever vigilant to what’s going on around us and respond appropriately to opportunities and threats to our companies. But as glaciers can reshape the earth moving just a few feet per year, employees can morph their jobs into something different that may or may not be what the company needs. Time, an individual’s shifting priorities and plain old human behavior can create issues if you’re not paying attention.

Here are some no-compromise strategies to prevent jobs from morphing into something that’s unacceptable:

  • Think “down range”: The minute that little voice in your head asks, “What’s this all about?”, it’s time to assess how shifts in an individual’s work and behavior impact his or her effectiveness and the company moving forward. Thinking “down range” essentially means troubleshooting how current performance will affect the individual’s job and the company six months, a year or more down the road. Essentially you’re asking, “Do I want more of this new behavior or what the job was originally designed to deliver?” In most cases, thinking “down range” will bring clarity to what you want and don’t want.
  • Eliminate ambiguity now: The worst mistake a leader can make is to ignore or tolerate what has become a concern or is unacceptable. These situations don’t fix themselves; the more time that passes, the more difficult the conversation. The best strategy is to schedule a formal meeting with the employee to revisit the initial deliverables and responsibilities of the job versus current reality. Use the trusted “T” chart where together you list what’s going well on the left side and what needs to be addressed on the right. This approach keeps a difficult conversation balanced between areas of praise and accomplishment and issues that need to be resolved.
  • Keep it business: Developing personal relationships in business are inevitable. Heck, you spend most of your day interacting with key staff and especially your inner circle. Developing close bonds with those with whom you work is part of what teamwork is all about. One of the toughest aspects of leadership is when you have to communicate as the leader and not as a friend. It’s easy to say, “This is business, not personal,” but that line only goes so far. To keep it business, you must communicate with intent, respect and compassion with “doing what’s best for the company” as the final outcome.
  • Conditionally flex: In the preceding bullet, I intentionally slipped in the word “compassion.” I always stress that no-compromise leadership is not about being dictatorial and inflexible, it’s about being compassionate and responsive to the needs of those you lead. That being said, you may find situations where the best strategy is to be a little flexible when addressing the needs, performance and behaviors of an employee. But when you do flex, do so conditionally. That means to clearly define the expectations, parameters, outcomes and timelines of whatever you’re flexing on. Otherwise, you may find yourself with bigger issues to deal with. Again, it’s that think “down range” approach that keeps you from agreeing to something that you may end up regretting.
  • Maybe it’s a good thing: Guess what, maybe what the job morphed into is a good thing for the employee and the company. Maybe the new version of the job plays to the employee’s strengths better than the original version. Maybe the new version of the job will allow the employee to achieve his or her full potential and it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to support and encourage it – even if it means reassigning some portions of the job to someone else.

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Categories: Monday Morning Wake-Up , Staff Retention , Teamwork

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