One foot out the door

If you know me or have read my blog for any period of time, you know that I am a glass half-full kind of person. Recently, I’ve also been pondering about another way that we sometimes view our employees- are they one foot in, or one foot out?

It was an episode of Tabatha Takes Over that brought this out. (If you have never seen the show because you don’t have an interest in the ups and downs of the hair salon world, I understand.) However, Tabatha usually has some pretty good “tough love” lessons for ineffective managers. Worth checking out!)

Back to our story…. In this episode, an employee admitted that she was on the verge of quitting the salon because of how he was treated by her manager.  She said she already had “one foot out the door” and that it was only a matter of time before she left. (For an example of how her manager, Brian, treated her, click here). That got me thinking about how we view our employees, and how that might impact how we treat them.

If we think they are on their way out anyway, will we provide the guidance, feedback, care and compassion that we would if we felt someone was going to be with us for the long haul?

In my experience, the answer is no. Worse, is that we could likely treat them in a way that pushes them out the door faster – which is exactly what the ineffective manager did on this episode.

The big question for us is: in our environment of short employment seasons and high turnover, how many of us feel like many of our employees have one foot out the door?  And if we feel that way, are we treating them in a way that would push them out faster – even without knowing it?

Here are a few thoughts that might help us get out this pattern:

  • Don’t assume they are unhappy – employees sometimes have trouble expressing what they are truly upset about to their bosses (especially if it’s their boss that they are upset about!). If they are complaining (just like a guest) they are looking for you to fix something so they can feel good about working for you.
  • Don’t assume they are happy – employees can sometimes have a hard time expressing gratitude to their bosses. Take the time to talk to your employees individually to find out what’s really going on.
  • Just don’t assume!  Refrain from assuming someone is already one foot out the door. The real problem with assumptions is not that they are usually wrong, it’s that when we believe them they typically lead to the wrong behavior.

About the author: Matt Heller has never met a bag, box or bowl of Peanut M&M’s that he didn’t like.

What are you going to do about it?

We’ve all either seen or been a part of an altercation where this challenge is thrown down:

“Oh yeah?  What are you going to do about it?”

Siblings are famous for this (especially in the back seat of the family truckster on a long trip). You hear it on the playground when one kid tells another to stop picking on them. And your employees think it when you tell them they shouldn’t be doing something.

It’s natural for us to wonder about the consequences of an action we haven’t taken, but were told we shouldn’t.  Sometimes it’s about curiosity, other times it’s about testing the boundaries.  Either way, you need an answer.

So, what are you going to do about it?

If the answer is nothing, then it’s going to be very difficult to build trust and structure among your teams.

Now, I don’t know many leaders who have a policy to ignore bad behavior, but in practice that happens all the time. We shy away from coaching or providing feedback for one reason or another, and the employee starts to see that nothing will really happen if they don’t meet your standards. Once the consequence of not performing is gone, so is the motivation TO perform.

There is a popular story in Hollywood about film director Orsen Welles. On the first day of filming, he would always fire someone, just to show everyone else that there are real consequences to not performing, and those consequences will be carried out.

Now while I don’t condone firing someone just to prove a point, I do endorse enforcing the standards and rules you have in place and if that leads to disciplinary action or termination, so be it.

At the core of all of this is the human’s desire for structure. Some require more than others, but everyone needs at least a little. Your employees have to know that the rules you outlined in training and that appear in the company handbook mean something. That if they don’t follow the rules, there is an undesirable outcome. And, that if another employee does the same, the undesirable outcome will happen to them, too.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Be clear – Clear rules are easier to enforce than arbitrary ones.  Be clear YOURSELF on what the rule is and why it’s there, and it will be easier to enforce with others.
  • Be consistent – If there is one thing that people pick up on quickly, it’s inconsistency.  Consistency builds pattern and structure that people can count on and trust.  They can then, by the way, trust you.
  • Be conscience – Being aware of WHY or WHEN you might shy away from coaching is as important as actually doing it.  Is it a particular person or maybe a certain situation?  Figure that out and work backwards to find out why you are doing it.

Without structure, people start to lose direction and focus. That’s chaos, and not a fun place to be.

What do you think?

About the author: Matt Heller wrote this post (it is his blog, after all).  He is a firm believer in the concept of less is more, although he is quick to point out that sometimes less is less, and occasionally, less just isn’t as much.

When poor communication happens to good employees

I am sure I am not alone in the realization that most of our management and leadership woes can be traced back to poor communication. The worst part is when a leaders’ poor (or lack of) communication has a negative impact on the front line employees (which is probably a lot!).

Jay Salazar is one of the maintenance guys at a place my wife rents to hold meetings. He’s consistently pleasant, easy going, and responsive to any requests we might have. He checks on us and remembers what we need from our last visit. We know that when Jay is there, things will be taken care of.

Except last week.

As she always does, my wife called the day before to ensure everything was ready to go. The person she normally talks to, Barbara, was not there, and she actually spoke to Barbara’s boss, Julie. Julie assured us she would pass the note to Barbara and we’d be all set.

That didn’t happen.

Julie didn’t pass the note to Barbara, who in turn did not pass the information to Jay.  Barbara was completely surprised when we walked in the door the next day. When we got to the room, Jay was there, however he was in the middle of replacing all of the light bulbs. He had no idea we were coming, either. Of course he was gracious and apologetic and helped us turn the room around in record time. Jay is a rock star.

Unfortunately, the all-to-often response in these situations is to take our frustration out on the person who is right in front of us… Maybe that’s why they are called the front line (of defense!)?

But that’s not right. Neither Jay nor Barbara had fault in this situation. The problem goes higher than that. In fact, there were multiple “dropped balls” concerning communication, and not passing along the note to Barbara was just the tip of the iceberg.

Turns out, the schedule that my wife set up of dates for the entire year had not been communicated to the staff. Not to Barbara and not to Jay. In addition, the room set-up diagram was out of date. (Jay was only getting right each month because he knew what it was supposed to be from working with us so often.). If we trace each of these missteps to their origin, we end up in the same place.

Julie. The boss.

When confronted, Julie placed the blame anywhere and everywhere except for her. It was kind of insulting.

If we didn’t know the back story, we would have simply shown up that day, assuming that Barbara and Jay were dummies who didn’t deserve to be employed, and we would weep in the face of poor customer service.  That’s not fair to Jay and Barbara.

Your job as a leader is to set people up for success, and in this case (and I’m guessing many) the lack of success was a direct result of simply not giving the employees the information they need to do their jobs correctly. Passing one note to one person would have saved at least 5 people a whole lot of undue stress, plus would have negated the topic for this post.

Here are few lessons I think we can take from this to avoid similar situations of our own.

  • Pass along information – Often you are the conduit to bring information to your employees.  Don’t clog the pipes!  Give people the information they need so they can be successful.
  • Know who needs to know – Nothing worse that being caught off guard or out of the loop. Think about everyone who might be impacted by the information you have… then tell them!
  • Take responsibility – We all mess up. The unfortunate reality is that Julie will not see that this is her fault, and will likely keep spreading the blame (and poor communication) among her staff.  Only when you realize that you are part of the problem can you become part of the solution.

Thanks for reading!

About the author: Matt Heller lives in Orlando, FL with his wife, Linda.  When not helping leaders lead, Matt enjoys Geocaching, playing drums and reading Carl Hiaasen novels.