Dear Crucial Skills,
One of my employees keeps complaining about her high workload. I have done everything I can to reduce her workload—hired additional staff, cut back her projects, and so on. Despite all this, she still logs overtime hours. She must give 120% when 80% would be sufficient, from my point of view. From her point of view, others are to blame for her situation, namely me, her colleagues, and circumstances. She seems unwilling to take responsibility and change things. I have the impression that she feels quite comfortable telling herself the story that she is the victim. She says she would like things to be different, but she doesn’t do anything about it. What can I do?
Dear Wit’s End
I’m sorry you’re in this situation. Usually managers wait too long to address gaps in performance, so I want to commend you for addressing this gap early and often.
Here are five tips to consider.
Consider ALL Sources of Influence
I’m guessing one big contributor to your conundrum is an insufficient diagnosis. It seems like you’ve tried a lot of things, but I’m wondering whether you’ve addressed the RIGHT reasons this person continues to struggle. Do a diagnosis exercise to identify ALL the things that might be contributing to the lackluster performance. Behavior is affected by Six Sources of Influence:
- Personal desires, wants, and values
- Personal skill and knowledge
- Peer pressure from others
- Help or hindrance from others
- Incentives and punishments
- Tools, space, systems, processes
My colleague Cricket Buchler gave a fifteen-minute keynote talk on these sources of influence a few years back. Once you have scanned the larger landscape, you might better understand what’s a barrier versus what’s a small annoyance.
Make The Invisible Visible
One of the best ways to influence someone is to point out undesirable natural consequences of their behavior. For example, if you want to discourage someone from lying, you might point out the effects of others not trusting them. If you want to encourage someone to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, you might point out mortality rates in helmetless motorcycle crashes. I want you to consider the following: Who is suffering because of your employee’s performance? Is she suffering because of her own performance? Help her make the connection between her own suffering and her own performance.
Change the Conversation
It seems like you’ve had several conversations about performance, but that may no longer be the real issue. The real issue is that when you try to address performance, your employee blames others and won’t own her role or responsibilities. The issue has shifted from poor performance to not taking responsibility. So, change the conversation. Address and resolve the issue of taking responsibility so you can begin to talk meaningfully about performance.
Develop the Skill to Take Ownership and Action
Most people don’t think of responsibility as a skill, but it’s one of the most important you can cultivate in your life (It’s not simply a mindset you either have or don’t have). One way to help others get out of the helpless mindset and into taking ownership and solving problems is to ask some key questions. The first is this: “What am I pretending not to notice about my role in this situation?” The second question is explained well by my friend David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: “The next time someone moans about something, try asking, ‘So what’s the next action?’ People will complain only about something that they assume could be better than it currently is… [this] question forces the issue. If it can be changed, there’s some action that will change it. If it can’t, it must be considered part of the landscape to be incorporated in strategy and tactics.” Ask these questions of your employee. Invite her to reflect on them and discuss them. For good measure, ask these questions of yourself.
Don’t Continue to Lower the Standard
You have already shifted a lot to try to make work easier for your team member, but if she continues to struggle and refuse to take responsibility, then the role either requires too much or she isn’t right for it. Everyone deserves to hear honest feedback so they have the chance to develop and improve, but it won’t do you or her any good to keep her in that role if things don’t change. Nobody deserves “one strike and you’re out,” but no organization should be required to give someone endless chances when they aren’t able to meet expectations.