Dodging work assignments can be caused by the weather (or whatever else you are trying to avoid)

Grace was born in Puerto Rico where hot sun was more the norm than a foot of snow. She tolerates the cold but doesn't want to stay outside more than she has to. Do some of your team members avoid tasks that you enjoy?
Grace was born in Puerto Rico where hot sun was more prevalent than snow. She tolerates the cold (to some extent!) but doesn’t want to stay outside when it’s blustery with deep snow pack. Here she has returned to the path we’ve plowed from the door, ready to get back inside as soon as she can. It’s only natural that we avoid things that we don’t enjoy. How is that impacting your team?

Do you have an employee or colleague that has a tendency to dodge particular tasks? Or perhaps have lackluster outcomes from an assignment? Grace’s behavior during this week’s snowstorm gave a clear indication of why that could be happening in your workplace.

How a snowstorm can shed light on a common management problem

On Tuesday, we received about 18″ of heavy, wet snow accompanied with blustery high winds. This March blizzard was a bit extreme but not unprecedented here in New England. The storm moved through slowly, starting early so that when Grace and I went outside first thing in the morning, we faced a brisk breeze and several inches of snow already on the ground. As the day progressed, conditions worsened and Grace was well aware from the howling noises of the wind and the deepening blanket of white that kept squirrels out of sight. Normally, Grace is enthusiastically asking for a walk no later than mid-afternoon, but she had absolutely zero interest on this day.

The big change in her demeanor was completely understandable. In my mind, only the extreme outdoor adventurer would enjoy being out in those conditions and clearly Grace and I were aligned in our thinking. No sensible short-haired, sun-loving dog would want to subject herself to those elements!

It got me thinking how conditions, such as our own interests and temperament, impact the choices we make about our daily work assignments.

Grace doesn’t like a cold, deep snow and gets nervous in heavy wind: in the workplace, the equivalent would be an employee who lacks interest in the particular task or feels overwhelmed with an assignment (either because of a real or perceived skill deficient). As an example, perhaps you are more excited to start a new initiative than buckle down and wrap up the nitty-gritty details of a current one. Ignoring this piece of the project could jeopardize successful implementation but it’s off your radar because it’s boring to you.

Dreaded work assignments can develop into a larger issue

Those dreaded work assignments, if not dealt with, can develop into a much larger issue. A manager needs to be aware of the signals and work to address them. Start to notice when a person hesitates or avoids a task and look for trends. If you can shift or off-load those types of projects, great! But that is not always possible. Whenever possible, focus on the person’s strengths and tap into those as much as you can. But if something is not getting done, especially over time, this has a negative impact on everyone.

Find a balance when negotiating with your employee

Work with the individual to understand their tipping point and areas where you can find mutual ground. Even though Grace hated to go outside in the storm, she knew that she had to be out long enough to take care of business. No matter how much she wanted to stay cuddled in her plush blanket on the sofa all day, there was a point she had to go out. She knows the rules of the house regarding bathroom breaks but there was no reason for me to make her go for a long walk that day. Find the balance of what is required and what is necessary for job performance when negotiating with your employee.

Put into perspective whether the “blizzard” is happening for one day or a whole season. If someone puts off something occasionally, it’s probably not a big deal. But when there is a pattern of avoidance, especially for a key component of the position, that presents a problem not only for the outcomes of the position but for the entire team.

Grace can stay cuddled on the couch without impacting others but in the workplace, someone avoiding tasks for too long becomes a problem to the team. Your job as a manager is to ensure that individuals and teams succeed in all activities, and that means getting the important things done through wind and snow.

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