This week I created a post for The Student Affairs Collaborative blog entitled “10 Secrets to Managing an Inherited Staff.” As many of us in leadership positions have changed positions a number of times in our career, supervising an “inherited staff” can be either a rewarding or especially challenging experience. However, there are a few secrets that you can use in order to gain the respect and trust of your new staff and have an easier job transition. Please take a look at the article, and feel free to post comments and questions.
A funny AT&T commercial shows some white-collar employees socializing during an office taco party (click HERE to see a YouTube video of it). During the party, an employee who thought he didn’t get an invite makes some negative comments and criticisms (e.g., “You invited Eric? I thought he gave you the creeps?”) to his colleagues. He ultimately receives a text message shortly after seeing that he was indeed invited to the party. A classic example of “enter foot-in-mouth.”
Even though this was a funny cell phone commercial, I thought there was a great leadership lesson within it: seek understanding before taking action. As was the case in the commercial, many times we can respond quickly to a situation with a knee-jerk reaction without actually having all of the proper information surrounding the issue. These knee-jerk reactions can cause team member conflicts, the unnecessary waste of money and / or resources, and potentially creating dangerous conditions in some instances (particularly if health & life safety issues are a part of your team’s work). As leaders and supervisors, we can be in a hurry to solve a problem or quickly move in to prevent further problems, but we can fail to slow down to examine the situation as carefully as we should before responding.
Tips for success:
1. Fully communicate expectations, instructions, and consequences among everyone on the team. Don’t assume that all of your team members know what it is that they are supposed to be doing, by what time, and with what expected / intended result(s). Team meetings and supervisory one-on-one’s can clear up a lot of issues ahead of time. Make sure that everyone has the same understanding.
2. Train your staff members and teammates how to fully assess problemmatic situations. Not every situation can be approached in the same manner. Team members should be able to assess and diagnose a situation based upon asking some simple questions: What facts do I know? What could this be an example of? And, what more do I need to know (or should ask) in order to make a better informed decision? Answering these simple questions often can take a few minutes and can bypass a lot of heartache overall.
3. Role play and / or work through case studies relevant to your organization. Following up on #2, developing an assessment & diagnostic culture in your organization can be easily accomplished through the inclusion of role playing and / or practicing case studies. Not only is this an opportunity for everyone to work together in a team format, but helps you to think more analytically on how your team can solve problems. Use examples from the past and make them into case studies using the questions suggested above as discussion points (i.e., What facts do I know? What could this be an example of? And, what more do I need to know (or should ask) in order to make a better informed decision?)
4. Share various video examples of communication mishaps during staff meetings to spark discussion. There are many examples of organization miscommunication in sports, movies, and television shows. Take time to find these types of examples and show them during training sessions or staff meetings. Work-related reality shows are rife with examples of miscommunication leading to conflict and unintended expenses and losses. Another great example (in addition to the taco party commercial video) of “seek understanding before taking action” I’ve seen occurs on the HBO detective drama “The Wire.” Click HERE to see the YouTube video (***WARNING – there is some profane language in this video clip.***)
What are some examples of video clips from TV shows or movies that you can suggest related to this topic?
We’re all supposed to pull our own weight. That’s how organizations are set up. Whether it’s for a paycheck or a grade, we’re supposed to do the work. Some do and some don’t. The “don’ts” create a problem for us. “Slackers’ are people who know they could be much more productive but make a conscious decision not to be,” writes by Adrienne Fox, in her HR Magazine article, “Taking Up Slack.”
It’s frustrating when we see capable coworkers and fellow students not delivering. We’re quick to call them lazy and chalk it up to poor family values. It’s never as simple as that. “Slackers are made, not born…,” says Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University in the Fox article. Her research found that: “People who grow up being rewarded solely for natural intelligence are more susceptible to slacker behavior because they give up when things get hard…And organizations that reward smarts and natural talent more than commitment breed ‘slackism.’”
Are you smarter than a slacker?
Slackers show up everywhere—as classmates, teammates, colleagues, instructors, and even bosses!
They “slack” because they are often unsure how to “win” at their work. They want to know how to advance, get interesting assignments with people they enjoy, and be rewarded. But when their expectations aren’t met, they decide to “fake it” rather than make a committed effort.
Ducking work is only successful when no one can tell. Organizations often create perfect playing fields for slackers by:
- Team assignments that reward group results rather than individual contributions
- Performance goals without metrics or academic assignments without rigorous grading
- Vague job descriptions or unstated course participation standards
- Lack of controls to ensure quality results, achieved deadlines, and ethics
Slackers can be crafty by:
- making it look like they’re working long hours by scheduling documents to be emailed late at night
- getting appointed to important sounding teams, appearing more important than they really are
- making straight-forward assignments appear to be complex by the way they report on them
“Slackers become really good at manipulating their bosses or team members to keep up the impression that something takes longer than it should or invent barriers where none exist,” says Meagan Brock, HR specialist at the University of Oklahoma in Fox’s article. I guess so!
Slackers can’t win if someone’s really watching.
Slacking is a consequence of weak oversight by a supervisor, advisor, or instructor. Employees and students under-perform when they believe it won’t be noticed or really matter.
So here’s how to foil slacking:
- Pay attention to outcomes you see and don’t see; ask piercing questions and expect specific answers about work progress. Don’t accept excuses.
- Make sure your expectations are clear by validating them with coworkers and/or students
- Give clear direction and hold everyone accountable for their part
- Require status reports on specific assignments
- Understand the technology being used, how, and to what effect
- Ensure that access to needed resources and support is available
- Require feedback on the contributions of team members
- Use coaching to build awareness and reinforce expected behaviors
If a coworker or student doesn’t have to work hard to maintain employment and some reward, they are at risk to become a slacker. We owe it to them and our organizations not to let that happen.
Make hard work the measure
“The worst course of action is to do nothing, allowing slackers to fly under the radar,” Brock warns.
When your performance system rewards results achieved through hard work over the appearance of busyness, “slackerism” will decline. This means we all need to be vigilant, recognizing that by helping to turn the slacker around we help ourselves and our organizations. It’s not the bells and whistles that matter in life and at work; it’s our grit and commitment to push ahead, tackle the difficult, and turn things around on schedule. That’s how we build the self-confidence and self-esteem we need to achieve the success we want.
Dawn Lennon has a Master’s degree from Lehigh University. She is the author of the book Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way and the Business Fitness blog. She spent over 20 years in senior manager positions in consumer programs, HR, customer service, and change management at a Fortune 500 energy company. She is currently president of her career & small business coaching/consulting practice, Big Picture Consulting. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.