Grace went for a walk! Three days in a row!
That may not seem like earth-shattering news. But those of you who recall a recent post know that Grace put her foot down (so to speak) and refused walking down the road we had traveled for years. Recent target shooting by a neighbor had frightened her beyond any rational urging to be near the booming noises.
More than a month has lapsed since she has refused to go. It was almost starting to feel normal that we weren’t walking. Our routine had been broken, but not forgotten. So on this past Monday afternoon, I stood up wanting a break from sitting at my desk. I looked outside, a beautiful sunny day; in times past, Grace would have been pestering me to get out there. I looked at her, curled up in the wingback chair, eyes open, maybe thinking the same thing I was. A nice day for a walk.
So I grabbed her leash, said “let’s go” and off we went. She was nervous. She hesitated as we neared our property edge. I gently tugged, moving forward with authority. She obliged. In the next 100 yards or so, she tried to be casual about it, but she stopped multiple times to gnaw on the grass lining the street. Each time, I gave another gentle tug. If she had truly resisted, I would have turned around. But I felt some curiosity from within her to give it a try so I kept walking with purpose and talking as if all was fine. She continued along with me.
We neared the home where the target shooting had created the scary noises for her. She was hyper alert, but she kept going, even leading the way. Her ears were back, her stance lower to the ground than normal, walking fast, all senses alert, and ready for any sign of trouble. Onward she went.
I kept thinking how amazing it was that she was not coming unglued. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that she had been filled with fear. On one day when my husband and I tried to encourage her on this walk, she was wobbling so bad she looked drunk, panting and frantic, nearly working herself into a seizure. (We obviously stopped.) So it was not without a lot of hesitation and worry about whether I was doing the right thing.
Yet something told me that she could do it. Something told me that it was the right thing to do. Something told me not to give up.
And I think you should do the same thing as a manager.
Working with an employee to address a challenging performance issue can be hard work—for everyone. I find it common that both parties give up, often accepting the situation without continuing to seek answers to a better outcome.
Have you ever faced a situation where you feel so discouraged and disappointed because things are not progressing or changing the way you wanted them? Have you hit a roadblock that seems insurmountable?
Don’t give up. People need time and space for change. Allow them both.
- Talk about what they see as challenges.
- Find ways to help them address those issues.
- Try different approaches.
- Keep it as a focus area, but without the glaring spotlight. If the pressure is so high, the likelihood increases that the person will feel such overwhelming stress about it that they shut down.
- Think about ways to make the changes fun, or at least enjoyable. What are the chances of someone succeeding at something they dread doing?
Of course there are situations that won’t change no matter how much time you give it. (Grace will always be a fearful dog. I can’t change that. But we can work to find the things she can handle and the things she can’t.)
- As a manager, evaluate the depth of the changes needed by the employee and the amount of time you—and the organization—can afford to support that change.
- Discuss the level of awareness and motivation for the person to work on the issues. (If Grace hadn’t wanted to go on the walk, our results would have been very different.)
- Look at the big picture and make sure you understand the value of all the positive things that the individual contributes to the position. Put that into perspective against the areas that need development. Be fair in that review; sometimes it is easy to get carried away with the things that annoy you or are falling below your expectations.
As you reflect on all these points, does it still seem like the right thing to do? If the answer is yes, don’t give up.
Grab a leash. Go for a walk. Do what makes sense to get things moving!