Monday, 23 January 2012

Taking Action - Embrace or Avoid It?

On my travels I come across many situations where managers seem torn between doing the right thing and dealing with a potential conflict, and simply overlooking/avoiding the situation and taking no action.

For example, we have all encountered an employee who really frustrates us and drains the life and energy out of the team through inhibiting behaviour. I am sure you agree that when you are in this situation with someone, you know it in your heart that you should act, particularly when they really annoy you or impact upon the work you are doing. Some managers prefer to avoid taking action due to a fear of creating conflict (but conflict is often categorised as a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one, when in fact conflict begins as an interaction that simply needs a desired outcome) .

 Why some managers don't act!
I have found over the years that a manager won't deal with poor performance or inhibiting behaviour, as it could lead to conflict or lead to complications that require more than they want to take on. This decision not to act right away could also be because the manager will have second thoughts, perhaps thinking, “they really do some things very well — sometimes…”

Other reasons often are:
  • The employee has flashes of true brilliance, interspersed with being a drain, so the manager keep changing their mind about his/her value to the team.
  • The manager is afraid to the lose the employee doing some work even if they’re not the best.
  • The employee is doing work that the manager doesn't know how to cover without them.
  • The employee has political support from elsewhere that may be hard to manage.
  • There is a “no replacement” rule and the manager doesn't to lose the headcount.
  • Conflict is hard. On any given day, it’s easier to ignore the problem.
  • It takes time away from “real business.”
  • It’s legally complicated.

But behaviour is contagious

As you know I am a fascinated by people's emotions and thinking, which drives a raft of wierd behaviour in workplace and home environments. Recently I came across a great piece of research from the US called  This American Life prologue, A bad apple, at least at work, can spoil the whole barrel. And there's research to prove it. Host Ira Glass talks to Will Felps, a professor at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, who designed an experiment to see what happens when a bad worker joins a team. Felps divided people into small groups and gave them a task. One member of the group would be an actor, acting either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. And within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple. Really fascinating stuff and also don’t miss the second act, the Mike Birbiglia segment, showing a comedy routine gone horribly wrong. It’s wonderful.

Rewards for taking action
So where a “Won’t” employee is operating in a team  (this is someone who may be capable but is working against the flow at every turn, annoying other employees, being negative, working against the objective or target) then a manager taking action and dealing with the behaviour displayed gives a payoff far beyond that expected.

In my experience, confronting and turning around or removing a “Won’t” employee has a remarkably positive impact:
  • The manager will be more productive, they will no longer waste time dealing with the variety of annoying, draining, damaging, needing to be corrected or re-worked, “not good enough,”  behaviour.
  • Teame motivation and productivity increases dramatically, even if they have to cover the work.
  • People actually feel the positive impact when negative energy is eradicated.
  • Top performers stay motivated to keep performing.
  • Trust increases with a team, from showing that good performance counts for something.
  • If removing the person, managers can lobby that the action is a critical skill replacement, they will often get their replacement headcount, even if the rules say no.
Taking action
Here are a 3 things a manager should always consider:
  • They need to be honest with themselves and not shy away from taking action, hoping it will simply improve - face it head-on!
  • Behaviour impacts upon many aspects of relationships, innovation, stability and results!
  • Addressing a "won't" employee gives a manager confidence, they begin to understand that people dynamics are a critical team and performance element!
  • Setting the behaviour and culture standards is not unlike parenting and you reep what you sow - being consistant and measured means that the people dynamics are being managed and they are not 

Finally... remember that everyone is watching

It’s also important to realise that the stand-off between a manager and a "won't" employee is not just between them both. The whole team sees it and are watching and waiting to see what will be done about it. The longer it is left un-resolved, the more the manager degrades their credibility and the trust from the rest of the team, and maybe, even with any peers and the boss. This is the least fun part of management, but when leading a team of employees, it is important to face poor and inhibiting behaviour.

To read more about People Dynamics (the People Factor) why not visit my Resources pages at

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