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During a recent performance appraisal workshop one of the attendees offered up the following scenario and was asking for some advice:

I have an employee in my department who consistently turns work in late. I’ve told him what needs to be done. Why can’t he just do it? I have told him that I won’t tolerate the work being  late and yet he doesn’t listen.” He never seems to be able to follow the directives I lay out and when queried about “ why” the work is late, there is always a myriad of lengthy excuses. I have tried to motivate this employee and now I find that I take this lack of accountability personally.”

This is an all too common scenario and one that resonated with most of the attendees. In reacting to this performance issue, perhaps you probably didn’t think your own behavior could be partly to blame. And maybe you haven’t gone out of your way to look for situational factors that might in some sense excuse this shortcoming .Yes, of course there are legitimate reasons for missing deadlines, but what if time after time you are getting excuses rather than reasons?

An excuse is a type of reason that specifically justifies or defends a fault. Its primary purpose is tolessenresponsibility by getting you to overlook, excuse, or even forgive off the back of it. Excuses allow people to dodge conflict by avoiding, dodge accountability, and cast themselves in a better light.  A reason explains something, not to justify it and refers to a cause or explanation. When you are giving a reason you take accountability for your actions.

Your job as the Manager is to make certain that you make it easier for your employees to deliver on their ambitions and to be able to make their working lives easier all the while delivering effective outcomes. For you as the Manager it’s about how can you improve the performance of an employee who won’t take any responsibility for his actions?

And sometimes Managers can take employee performance issues personally. If you are faced with this situation, here is where your thinking gets sidetracked. Realize that not every employee will see things the way you do. Your employee is  not “doing” things to you or “against” you. They’re way too busy with their own life to be aware of how this may affect you. The very real issue may be that they don’t want to try

Your own thinking may be limiting both your chances of successfully motivating the employee and the options you consider for solving the problem. You will be more effective if you are willing to switch from your predetermined solution to an array of possible outcomes. To start with, “don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering”. Don Miguel Ruiz

So, let go and stop taking it personally and instead as much as possible, communicate why the work that you are asking them to do is important. Provide the “why”.

Understanding the”why” something is important leads to people doing a better job. Understanding why allows an employee to fill in the gaps on objectives and take initiative or ownership of decisions or situations where there is ambiguity. Employees may be more engaged in something they think is important. Provide your employees with a clear vision about why their work is important and where it fits in with the bigger picture. Clearly define accountability. Be really clear about what the person should be doing, the quality of the work that should be delivered and the time in which that should happen. Adopt a language of accountability. Describe the behaviors you won’t tolerate, and tell the employee firmly that those behaviors must stop. Make sure the employee understands why the behavior must end. Explain how it’s causing a problem.

Here are ten additional rules for Dealing with Attitudes:

  1. Put problem people in perspective. Don’t take their antics personally.
  2. Go somewhere to cool off. You can’t concentrate on constructive, creative alternatives while you’re clinging to anger.
  3. Learn to respond as well as listen. Be assertive. Don’t expect an employee to read your mind. Let him or her know when you’re annoyed, upset or disappointed.
  4. Give and request frequent feedback. Don’t stew over what an employee may be thinking. Ask.
  5. Look at policies first. No matter how angry someone’s behavior makes you, don’t say or do anything until making sure you’re on safe ground.
  6. Deal directly and discreetly. Choose face-to-face talks in private to discuss an employee’s attitude or behavior.
  7. Always document. Keep a record of all communications to prevent lies or faulty recollections from taking over later.
  8. Be straightforward. The more you remain matter-of-fact, the less you encourage an employee to play games.
  9. Be gracious. Someone’s rudeness doesn’t give you the right to respond in kind.
  10. Be prepared to fail. Some people with attitude problems can’t be saved, no matter how much counseling you provide.

I invite you to share your  experiences or thoughts, or comments. You can contact me for more information on soft skills/interpersonal skills workshops that can transform employees.