“My employee is an idiot*.”
At every one of my management seminars, at least one leader, manager, or supervisor will come out and say, “My employees are idiots,” while most of the other leaders in the room are just thinking it. When I hear someone say that their employee is an idiot, I can’t help thinking, “Well, who is the idiot who hired them, or at least allows them to stay with the organization?”
I have heard it all. “My employees are incapable of doing their job; this generation doesn’t know how to work; I have to do this myself if I want it done right.”
Every organization has its share of under-performing employees. I know because I have worked with them, trained and coached them, and early in my career, I was one. Yet, we can’t blame our employees if our team isn’t performing well. It would be like a baker blaming the ingredients if their pastry failed. Sure, the yeast may not have adequately risen, but who was responsible for choosing the yeast?
As managers and supervisors, it is our responsibility to lead our employees, not for them to follow. Whether we are an organizational leader, divisional leader, department leader, or team leader, we are accountable for achieving long-term results for our organization through the work of our employees.
It’s easy to blame employees; after all, they are accountable for their behaviors and actions; what can a manager do? One manager told me, “It’s not my responsibility to do my employee’s job. They have to figure it out.” This is another version of the “sink or swim” mentality; shove the employee into the deep end, and see if they can handle the job or not. For a minority of employees, this works, and they thrive in this environment; however, for most employees, this doesn’t work. They will flounder, and their performance will suffer.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to help our employees reach their full potential by giving them the support they need to be successful.
What does that support look like? If we want to be effective leaders within our organizations, we must deliver what is expected of us by creating a working environment where our employees can thrive. The best workplaces have a sense of purpose, a sense of community, a sense of opportunity, and a sense of ownership. The best leaders provide the necessary support (resources, tools, systems, information, and training), and they remove obstacles (stress, frustration points, and poor performers) so their employees can be successful.
Let’s look at a few of these in more detail.
Developing an Effective Workplace
- A sense of purpose: An organization’s sense of purpose can often be seen in the vision statement; it is the reason the organization exists. For an individual to have a sense of purpose, they need to see how their role impacts the organization. A clear understanding of the “why” of our work motivates us to do our best work. Studies have found that both the millennial and baby boomer generations are looking for meaningful work.
As leaders, we can create a sense of purpose for our employees by creating and communicating our vision for our organization and the employee. When I worked for a manufacturing company, I knew we designed and built products, but I wasn’t clear to what end. The company didn’t help by sending mixed signals about quality level, employee engagement, and worker safety. I ended up becoming frustrated with my job.
- A sense of opportunity: Most employees are looking for a chance to develop themselves, expand their responsibilities, and become more valuable to the organization. As leaders, it is our responsibility to provide our employees with insight into how they can advance their careers within our organization.
We do this, first, by understanding where our employees see their careers going, and how their jobs support them to reach their goals. Working with our employees, we identify and list the knowledge, skills and abilities that they must master to be successful in their careers.
- A sense of ownership: As leaders, we must ensure that our employees are aware that they are accountable for the expected results and the behaviors they use to achieve them. When I talk to some managers, they tell me, “I tell my employees all the time that they are accountable for their actions. But still, they don’t get it.” In these cases, the manager is sending the employee mixed signals by micromanaging the employee, criticizing them for trying something or creating stringent processes for them to follow.
We need to give employees clear expectations of the results and behaviors we expect, and then hold them accountable. For instance, with one of my teams, we clearly defined the objectives for their position, and I provided guidance on how to achieve the targets but allowed them to figure out the best way to reach their goals. The results were fantastic because they took ownership.
- A sense of community: Employees work better when they feel connected to the organization and the people they work with. A sense of community comes from having shared values, a welcoming culture, and well-defined behaviors. In today’s workplace, we talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion, because these help people with various backgrounds to feel more welcome in the workplace. Unfortunately, in many cases this is all talk and no action. How does your organization make people feel welcome? Is your orientation designed to make people feel welcome, or is it purely for legal reasons? Are your staff meetings designed so that everyone’s opinion is valued and respected?
Providing the Necessary Support
One of the best questions we can ask our employees is, “What can I do to support your success within the organization?” This is a challenging question to ask, as it may lead to the employee challenging your leadership and the organizational values. However, when asked and answered well, this question can help you to become a stronger leader.
- Hire the right person: Yes, I know this isn’t necessarily direct support; however, hiring the right people to work in your organization is critical to the success of your existing staff. Hiring the right person is the leader’s job and sets the tone for the team. To hire effectively, you need to know what is expected of the employee, what skills and abilities are necessary for them to be successful, and the attitude that works best in our organization.
- Set clear expectations: We should be able to clearly communicate to each employee what we expect of them, what results we want them to achieve, how we want them to behave, and what tasks and responsibilities they are to handle. Poor communication of expectations is the primary reason relationships fail, both at work and home. Do your employees know what is expected of them? And are you holding them accountable for achieving those expectations?
- Resources and support: An employee cannot be successful in their job if they do not have the resources needed to do that job well. Resources can be tools, supplies and funds they need to do their job. Don’t think you know what they need, even if you had the responsibilities in the past. Jobs change and requirements change. Ask your employees what resources and support they need to do their job, and then listen carefully.
- Training: For employees to be successful, they need the necessary knowledge and abilities to perform their jobs. Even if you hire the right people, consistent learning is required in all jobs. During your coaching conversations, understand what knowledge, skills and abilities your employees need to improve their performance at work.
There are three types of training that employees need. 1) Specific task training; for example, if you have a cook that works for you, training them on the best way to cut an onion. 2) Specific organizational training; for instance, how an employee should follow a particular organizational process or procedure. 3) Interpersonal skills training; for example, how to resolve conflict and work effectively with teammates.
- Take care of their wellbeing: Excessive stress impacts our employee’s performance. What can you do to reduce that stress? Are you offering them courses, such as stress management, practicing mindfulness, fitness, healthy eating, and time management? By giving them ways to take care of themselves and their families, their productivity will increase, and your organization will profit.
It may seem counterintuitive, but one of a leader’s primary responsibilities is to get out of our employees’ way and remove any obstacles that arise. We spend time building procedures, processes, and standards, only to cause frustration at the employee level. What we see as guidance, they may see as a hindrance.
Below is a list of the major roadblocks that impact employees. As you read these, you will notice that I address most of the barriers mentioned above. I also mention other roadblocks and I expound on ways to remove these.
- Lack of resources and support: As I noted above, it is our responsibility to make sure our employees have the necessary resources to do their job.
- Inefficient knowledge or training: Addressed above.
- Processes and procedures: Processes and procedures are necessary for an organization to operate efficiently, however, at times we implement or retain existing processes that are more damaging than they are helpful. As a leader, we need to review and discard any policy or procedure that is getting in the way of people being successful.
- Ineffective workplace environment: I addressed this above, but I will expound on it here. The way employees work together is critical to the success of any organization. Each day we read in newspapers about organizations where employees were harassed, treated illegally, or not respected. We have to value our employees, not just for what they do for us, but also for who they are.
- Managers: One of the roadblocks that hinder most of us is ourselves and our behaviors. Maybe we are not good at active listening; maybe we blame others for our failures; maybe we speak angrily or with frustration; maybe we cling to the past, or maybe we are socially awkward. One of the best ways we can counteract our employee’s behaviors is to discuss our own behaviors, how we work on these, and how we struggle to improve every day.
As leaders, it is our responsibility to help our employees to be successful in the workplace. It is easy to blame them for their poor performance, but when I work with organizations, what I see most of the time is that the leader is not giving staff the tools they need to be successful. When we provide them with the tools to be successful, the organization will reap the rewards. According to a study by EvoLLLution, ninety-six percent of employers who provided skill-building to employees saw a boost in performance.
Stop Blaming Your Employees and Start Working Towards Their Success.
Oh, Shut Up and Stop Blaming Your Employees is now an interactive workshop to teach your supervisors and managers how to improve their employee’s performance. Contact John at John@johnthalheimer to bring this fun and interactive workshop to your organization.