One of the most frustrating things an employee can experience is bad assumptions being made about them without a chance to share their side of the story. Over the last 24 years, I have seen hundreds of managers assume the worst about their people without having a coaching conversation at all. When an employee does something that is outside the boundaries of what the manager wants, the manager has only three perspectives to choose from. How they choose to approach the situation will have a profound impact on whether they engage and retain their people.
Perspective 1 (Neutral): The employee was carrying out their job. With this perspective, the manager would have a conversation with the employee to uncover whether or not the employee was aware of the expectations the manager held. Very often, employees are attempting to do their job with no malice or ill intent. When a manager keeps their own emotions under control, a simple conversation can correct the situation. These misunderstandings are generally the result of managers assuming employees have the same perspective as them without ever setting clear expectations.
Perspective 2 (Negative): The employee meant to cause harm, distress, or upset to the manager. They took deliberate action for the purpose of making the manager look bad. This does happen but it is so rare that it should never be assumed. When a manager takes this approach, it is generally the result of either insecurity on the part of the manager or a lack of understanding of management principles. Even if the employee was deliberate in their actions, managers should be held to a higher standard and should keep their behaviors on that higher standard. This perspective is very often the root cause of low performance and high turnover in organizations. If the employee did actually mean harm, using a framework for confronting the employee that avoids name-calling, labeling, or judgment will be critical in correcting the behavior. The confrontation should have three primary components, which include non-judgmental behavior, the feeling of the manager related to the behavior, and the measurable outcome caused by the behavior. Then, the manager should listen before passing any judgment on the person or the situation.
Perspective 3 (Positive): The employee was genuinely attempting to do the best they could to carry out the mission of the organization and serve its customers. This is the most common. This perspective requires the manager to be confident in themselves and to be intentional in building their team. When a manager takes this perspective, they create more positive outcomes with their people. This takes discipline because so many managers suffer from imposter syndrome. They were promoted but have doubts as to whether they actually deserve the position. This internal conflict leads to behaviors such as micromanagement and rushes to judgment. When a manager is fully trained in the skills of managing and leading, they are more calm in their approach and stay more focused on bringing out the best in their people. When a situation arises, the assumption is that the employee did their best and acted with positive intentions. A simple conversation asking for a new process, or new actions in future situations solves the problem. This perspective creates the highest employee performance and the lowest employee turnover. It results in the development of discretionary effort on the part of the employee which accounts for two-thirds of the work output available by an employee.
We have to get away from believing that the employees we are hiring are bad and want to only do bad things. I discussed this in the four stages of the leader section of my book, Leadership Evo. The Neanderthal yells at people, attempts to control them, and generally creates chaos to protect themselves. The cave-man/person surrounds themselves with a protective layer of people but uses them only until they can get their next promotion, then they get a new cave of protection. The executive leaders live by rules and regulations, creating compliance with a set of standards. But, the super-leader understands that positive expectations and intentionally positive relationships create the highest levels of performance every time.
When we step back and really look at what we are doing as managers and leaders, we begin to realize it is our responsibility to engage employees. It isn’t the responsibility of the employee to cower to the manager. The culture of any organization, of any department, is rooted in the approach of its managers and leaders. What are you doing to create a positive work environment? Are there things within you that you should focus on that will make your workplace better? Take action to be intentionally positive with your teams!
You’ve got this!
Jody N Holland, M.S. Psychology