Will your employee problems ever end?

Grace’s fearful disposition leads to a history of holding her body in a constant state of tension, which in turns leads to bad posture and back pain. One problem feeds the other and therefore a true solution requires dealing with both, not just one or the other. When we work with our employees, we need to think about the whole picture, not just one factor that could be creating issues.

Ever feel like the issues you face with employees are endless?

Just when you’ve made progress resolving an issue — and bam! — there it is again! Or maybe the problem has never gone away in the first place. Should your work as a manager require constant, ongoing, never-ending baby-sitting?


But I wouldn’t call it baby-sitting. I’d call it caring about the people on your team and working to understand what makes them tick (or not tick).

I was acutely reminded of this last Saturday morning, when I sat across from a dog trainer who agreed to help me work through the continual fear issues that plague Grace.

Regular readers will know that Grace had experienced back pain recently, preventing her from jumping and walking up stairs. A visit to the dog chiropractor made a huge difference, allowing her to get up stairs comfortably, but there still has been no jumping. Fixing the problem wasn’t going to be as easy as a simple adjustment. It would require looking at the problem more holistically, more deeply.

The chiropractor had suggested working with a trainer on what she called “Grace’s brain issues” which she felt were exasperating the physical problems. After years of Grace holding her body tense in her frequent frightened state, it was taking a toll on her.

So I reached out to a talented veterinarian that specializes in animal behavior issues to dig deeper. Grace and I have been on this journey together for seven years, and many of the same problems exist today as the day I brought her home. Some of it (ok, most of it) is related to the way I interact with her and part of it is related to how she is wired.

Sure, it would have nice to ignore the bigger picture and my role in the situation. Getting Grace’s mobility to return to normal, on the surface, seems like out of my control. However, the chiropractor and the vet knew differently. They understood that it’s not just the dog’s problem. And great managers recognize that it’s not just the employee’s problem.

In the workplace, we have choices about how much time and effort we can devote to an issue. But in my opinion, it’s much too frequent that we give up early, or accept lesser performance without working to change the situation.

As managers, we think that one conversation will end the cause of our frustration. Or maybe two conversations. We expect miracles even though we probably haven’t provided necessary training or established changes in the environment to support different outcomes.

It’s also important to remember that a manager has the most significant impact on an employee’s performance. There is no better proof that when you compare satisfaction and performance of a person under two different managers — one that she works well with and one where the relationship is filled with friction. In the scenario with friction, the employee’s loyalty, commitment, and quality will suffer even if the performance remains at a level that doesn’t precipitate disciplinary measures.

Yes, employees must be accountable for their own performance. If they are struggling with a situation or task, they need to reach out and find answers. But it requires the reception from a manager who is open and will genuinely allow the employee to work through it.

The effort to help Grace can be tiring. There are moments when I long for an “easy” dog—one that doesn’t challenge some of my own limitations. But most of the time, I realize that helping her also helps me.

It’s another good lesson for great managers. What story can you share that teaches us to do a better job at managing people for the long haul?

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  1. Kathy on November 30, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Great post. I have a question though…….do you find that understanding what makes a person tick (or not!) sometimes causes us to excuse the behavior? I think I fall into this trap…as a result I am patient far longer than is good for anyone!


  2. Robin on November 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Excellent question — and in a nutshell is exactly what I’ve been doing with Grace (pitying her disposition and then pampering her in fearful situations which has perpetuated the problem instead of minimizing it). My intentions were good — as are yours when you exhibit your patience — but as you acknowledge, it’s not helping anyone. So yes, it definitely is a risk, but the greater risk is not successfully solving the issue. The only way we can do that is when we work together to understand what is causing the problem. Many managers rush for a quick fix and others don’t broach the tough conversation at all. Falling in the middle to hold individuals accountable, but doing so with fairness and compassion, will work every time. Thanks for your comment, Kathy!

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