Do you have employees on your staff that constantly repeat the same problem over and over?
It doesn’t matter what it is.
- Constant tardiness
- Disregard the rules
- Treat others badly
- Bad Attitude
- Fill in the blank with what irks you every day
It feels like you are constantly having the same conversation with them. “How many times have we talked about this?”
If you are tired of living in a workplace echo chamber, I have big news for you.
For starters, this is your fault. Not theirs.
The problem is that your tiger doesn’t have any teeth. Here’s where I get to use my favorite quote of all time. In his incredible book, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S Navy SEALS Lead and Win, ” Jocko Willink states, “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.”
As this is an article about change, let me state that again for those of you in the back of the room. “It’s not what you preach it’s what you tolerate.”
Why Talking or Yelling Doesn’t Work
When the same problems repeat, your words are meaningless. At any volume. So resist the need to increase the decibels of what you are saying.
All you are going to get is a new set of excuses. Excuses don’t solve the problem. It just kicks that can down the road. Rinse and repeat.
Also, I need to point out that yelling at employees is a reflection of your frustration and lack of control. It is further evidence that deep down you know the problem is with your inability to resolve the situation.
Lashing out makes you feel better. Yet, it doesn’t solve the problem and it could make it worse.
What To Do
Here’s one example.
So, let’s say that your employee Mary is constantly late. Overall, she’s a good worker. But, she’s part of a team and when she comes in fifteen or twenty minutes late a few times a week it affects their overall performance. They are frustrated too. Everyone else can get in by 7:00 am, why can’t Mary?
You’ve counseled Mary on your company’s attendance policy, and it isn’t looking good for her.
You seem to always be on her case about it. You feel that you need to drop the hammer and “make an example” out of this situation.
Find Out More
But let’s be honest here. As a leader, you haven’t really spent much time digging into this problem that keeps repeating. There are bigger fish to fry than Mary being late.
The tactics and words you’ve used so far have not resolved the situation. Stop repeating yourself. If you want different results, you have to do things differently.
One thing that hasn’t been discussed is Mary’s morning routine. What are her morning habits? Why is she repeatedly late every week? Here’s where some detective work can pay off.
What You Discover
That’s when the solution hits you. Let’s chart out Mary’s morning routine and see if we can find a possible way to handle the situation!
Remember, the goal is to get Mary clocked in before 7:00 am. What’s the hang-up here? Let’s find out.
4:45 am – The alarm goes off.
5:00 am – In the shower.
5:15 am – Dressed and ready to go.
5:45 am – Eats breakfast and heads out the door.
6:05 am – Pick up mother and take her to chemotherapy at the Cancer Center.
6:35 am – Arrive at Cancer Center and park. Helps mom in and gets her settled. Her older brother takes her home after each session. But Mary is the main driver in the mornings. She wants to be there for her mom and help.
6:45 am – Heads to work. Try to arrive by 7:00 am, but it is usually a fifteen-minute drive.
7:00 am – 7:15 am – Actually arrive at work. Anytime before 7:00 had the luck of all green lights or little traffic, or they got to the cancer center earlier.
You Feel Really Small
This is when you feel really small. You’ve been on Mary’s case for weeks about being late and she’s trying to keep her mother ALIVE.
Yes, Mary is repeatedly late. But in the scheme of things, those fifteen minutes don’t really matter, do they? She hasn’t said anything to you, because Mary is private and her mom’s health is really none of your business. Looking back, her attitude has been fairly positive. It is the tardiness that just gets under your skin.
But now, that seems puny to what she is facing every day.
By the way, this is a true story from my career. Mary wasn’t the employee’s name. And there was a different medical problem. But you get the idea.
As a leader, there are rules that need to be enforced, and then there are times when you need to lead with empathy.
Why This Story?
The reason why I wanted to share this story is that everyone that works at your company all are different people. True, some folks actually need some accountability and disciplinary measures. If you have employees that are repeatedly causing issues, there may be a story behind that. Or not.
Your job as a leader is to dig in and find out. “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate” is still in effect here. There still is a tardiness rule, but it was waived as more information was brought to bear.
We need to be more human sometimes. A worker with a parent they are supporting with cancer is that time.
Some Action Steps
If you are in a challenging situation that isn’t working out, try these:
- Stop repeating yourself. What you’ve tried isn’t working.
- Get more information if you can. There was a story behind Mary’s tardiness. That made all the difference.
- Ask more questions. Actively listen to the answers.
- Chart it out. Draw a picture. Make a video. You want to do something to connect the dots beyond a conversation. Charting out Mary’s morning routine uncovered why she was repeatedly late. If I hadn’t asked, I would have never known.
- Define the problem. In Mary’s case, the problem only occurred when her mom had chemotherapy appointments. After she beat cancer, Mary was usually a little early to work. What looked like a forever problem was only a few weeks.
- What could change? One possible solution was to have her team all come into work at 7:30 for a few weeks so they could operate as a team. It was decided that because Mary sometimes made it on time, everyone would accept that because it was temporary.
- Clarify the results. What we wanted more than anything was to keep a good worker. Nobody wants to get rid of a good employee because they are late. “Rules are rules” is one way to look at it. Except that you are in charge of writing the rules. Having a conversation with Mary about the situation and knowing that one-day things would return to normal made all the difference.
- Stick to your guns. If your policy is to do something, you better do it. This is why your policy can also have written exceptions to help mitigate real-world situations. In this case, other workers that were always late because they were apathetic slackers didn’t receive the same leniency as Mary.
Good leaders can make good decisions when they have all the facts. Make sure that you are getting the entire story.
What is the truth in the situation?
“Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your product or service, and that brings friends with them.” – W. Edwards Deming
“I do not like to repeat successes, I like to go onto other things.” – Walt Disney
“Learn from the past, but don’t live there. Build on what you know so that you don’t repeat mistakes. Resolve to learn something new every day. Because every 24 hours, you have the opportunity to have the best day of your company’s life.” – Harvey Mackay
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