Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vacation is Over, Time to Start Dealing With Challenges

So Labor Day and Summer '08 is over...I know, I know.

For procrastinators holidays and key dates are important. We (yep, I'm including myself in the group) often say, "I'll start losing weight right after New Year's." or "I'm going to do something about that difficult person in the office when I get back from vacation."

OK, so vacation is over. Fall is here, it's time to do something. Let's look at problem people.

What is the difference between a person being a “problem” and simply being an “annoyance?”

First, it isn’t the person who is the issue. The issue is their behavior, performance of the job or their attendance. I didn’t say that. The United States Supreme Court said that. The court has said that as humans in the workplace we all have our little annoyances; those things we and others say and do that get on each others' nerves.

But, true problems in the workplace are issues that are quantifiable, and behavior, performance and attendance can be quantified. You can document that someone missed five days of work or was late 10 times this month. You can rate their performance on a scale of one to ten. You can document that they were abusive to coworkers.

The best way to determine if someone is a problem is to ask a few simple questions:
- Is what the person is doing affecting their work in a negative way?
- Is what the person is doing affecting the work of others in a negative way?
- Is what the person is doing affecting the image or reputation of the organization in a negative way?

If the answer to any of these questions is, “Yes,” then you have a problem.

Remember, though, that it is the behavior, performance or attendance that is the problem, not the person. That's a difficult distinction for a lot of managers to make. The person is human (you're right, that can be questionable sometimes), they have loved ones just like you, they love Christmas just like you. But, the problem is the issue.

The more you can be Hard on the Problem and Soft on the Person the more effective and compassionate you will be in dealing with the issue. A wonderfully Southern and very effective manager I know starts conversations with problem employees by saying, "I love you, but......"

Be very careful about pointing out that someone has “a bad attitude.” Attitudes can not be quantified. Attitude is something that happens in our minds and the court has essentially said that employers are not supposed to be “messing with people’s heads” as a ‘70’s saying goes.

However, you will probably agree that the behavior, performance and attendance issues are manifestations of an attitude or feeling about work and/or life. If you can discover the source of the attitude or feeling you have probably discovered the source of the problem.

Problem people are like viruses. They will infect the people around them. They will infect YOU. Would you knowingly let a sick person infect you and your team (and if you are not a manager your team is the group you work and/or live with)?

Vacation is over. Time to make some decisions and start to take action.

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