Ever feel like you need to give the guy at the next desk a push to take action?
The pace in which we work creates one of the most important impressions to our co-workers about our abilities — and sometimes unfairly. Employees who are always ‘on-the-go’ often seem the most productive; in comparison, those that have a methodical, structured approach to tasks can appear less able. And while those characteristics are commonly held, they aren’t always accurate.
There are jobs that require a person to navigate constant turmoil and there are other positions that necessitate an individual who possesses calm, steady, stable attributes.
My advice to you is to make sure you understand the difference, and then act accordingly.
In today’s typical corporate environment, employees are asked to do more with less. The pace is often fast, with multiple projects and demands occurring all the time. And there are times when no matter where you fall on the continuum of work pace — from focused to frantic — you need to do the opposite. (So the turtle needs to move faster and the roadrunner needs to slow down.)
But pushing a person outside their natural speed for too long is asking for a train wreck.
Just within the past week, I’ve had two separate conversations with managers on this topic. In one case, the employee continuously misses deadlines, but even more frustrating to the manager, the person doesn’t show the effort to resolve the issue. In the other situation, the employee is getting stressed with too many interruptions and changing priorities, resulting in a host of mistakes even after taking longer than expected to complete the job.
So what should a manager do you do if your employee isn’t keeping pace with the required work?
Many factors should go into how you troubleshoot this, including tenure in the role (assessing how long it’s been a problem), whether the organizational culture has set up unrealistic expectations, and how much has already been done to fix the problem. I’d like to stress that organizations do need to be realistic about what they put on a person’s plate. There are many situations I can think of that where it’s not even remotely possible for the person to accomplish what they are being asked to do. So make sure you aren’t part of the problem, with what you’re heaping on the plate.
Here are steps I recommend to get you started:
- Does the person understand the task? Observe as much as you can, looking for signs and signals that would indicate clarity of the assignment. Allow the person to recite back to you what they plan to do, and by when it will be completed. Listening clearly will provide insights to where holes may exist, and you can help fill them in. Remember, just because they don’t ask questions isn’t a sign of comprehension. They may be nervous or scared to admit they don’t know.
- Be clear about the natural pace of the individual. Talk this through and learn how the individual prefers to work. Use an objective assessment that measures this. Many people describe themselves as a good multi-tasker, but are they really? We can help you find out.
- Insist on the employee creating an action plan that addresses the issue. If the person needs more uninterrupted time, perhaps putting a sign on the door or cubicle entrance to alert anyone dropping by: “Working on a project until 10:00, thanks for helping me stay focused on it!” It’s best if the employee can identify the solution, but the manager has the right to ensure it is compatible with the overall work environment.
- Put into context the importance of the change. In other words, how important is this segment of the work to the overall success of the particular job? If all designs being created by a graphic artist are taking 50% longer than usual, that’s a problem. However, if an administrative assistant is taking longer to re-create a complex Excel spreadsheet that she only does on rare occasions, it’s not worth making a huge deal over it.
- Don’t expect changes to happen overnight. Support and monitor for a realistic amount of time, recognizing that change is difficult.
- You, as the manager, are ultimately responsible for addressing this. If after these steps have been considered and addressed over a reasonable amount of time, and nothing has improved, it’s most likely not a good fit and never will be, no matter how hard you may want it to be. And remember, the employee is suffering, too, from being in a job that isn’t right.
In all cases, it is your job as the manager to set the expectation for the outcomes, and do what you can to support that success. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the individual to meet those expectations. If there is a gap, you must enforce accountability to the expectations. Nothing harms a culture faster than consistently accepting work below standards.
So ask for what you need, but remember everyone can benefit from a break now and then. Just ask Dodger.