Manager Question: I have a person who has been a solid contributor for a number of years. Over the past few months, he has been checked-out at work. There is no work-related event I can think of that would have caused this person to slide. I need to address the change in his review. How should I communicate with him?
Anyone who manages human beings will run in to a situation like this at some point. There are many reasons someone can be disengaged at work – passed over for a promotion, not challenged in their job, outside of work issues, etc. If a person has:
1. demonstrated that they have been a solid contributor in the past
2. you don’t believe there is a work related cause behind the person’s slide
Then your goal as a manager should definitely be to bring them back to where they were before. Don’t ignore the root of the problem and let frustration continue to build. Try framing your part of the discussion in this way.
#1 Ask The Person What’s Changed
Don’t focus on the negative. Start with some questions. You may have ideas from things you have heard, but don’t assume you already understand the problem.
Acknowledge the change and ask the person about what has been going on: “I’ve noticed things have changed during _______ time. Is there something I have done as a manager or something the company has done to cause the change?”
#2 Recognize Their Value and Contribution
Let the person know how important they are to your team and the company. Tell them that you have seen them do an excellent job before and how their contribution is needed for the rest of the team to be successful.
#3 We Need You Back
Let them know that they aren’t in the doghouse and that stuff like this happens in life, but also that they are too important to the team to have things continue the way they have been recently. Ask them, “Is there is anything I can do to help you get back to where you need to be?”
#4 Recognize Their Change
Things outside of work may or may not change quickly for the person, but they can rebound at work.
The person has demonstrated their ability before, so most of the time this kind of conversation will bring the person back. As the person address the issues, let them know, both inside and outside of Threads, that you have noticed their effort and the positive changes as a result.
Managers who follow through in situations like this build culture and become a leader in the eyes of their team.
If you don’t say anything the person doesn’t believe that you care.
The other people that work in your area are counting on you to act.
Taking the time to have this discussion will earn the respect of the person in question and from your team.
I was conducting some training at a professional services firm a couple of months ago and a manager had a great question during the training. The question was really about a specific employee. It was an employee who was solidly in the green box on the Threads graph and had been that way for about 3 years.
Over the last six or eight months things had been starting to fall apart for the employee. The attendance, he had been struggling with attendance, struggling with being on time for work, missed deadlines, and missed communications with co-workers.
The manager was obviously concerned, but in the past had never really involved himself in the communications. Typically when an employee got to a spot like this, that duty if you will, was handed off to human resources. He felt with Threads that he wanted to find a better way to communicate with the employee.
What I told him was this: First and foremost, what has happened with the employee? What do you know for sure? He said he had some things he suspected. He suspected that the employee was having some problems at home and that there were some issues going on that he had heard about through the grapevine, but there was nothing really definitive.
What I encouraged him to do was to sit down with the employee and ask that question. Then to tell the employee how important he is to the team, how important he is to the company and most importantly that he has seen him do an excellent job in the past and that he wants to know what he can do to help him get back to that spot going forward.
From that point the manager takes the information we talked about that day and he conducts the meeting, all by himself. He took a chance, he took a risk to do something that maybe he wasn’t completely comfortable doing.
He sat down with the employee and he asked him what was going on. He told him he noticed that things had changed. The manager had seen so much good in their performance for a number of years, but something seems to have been different recently. Was it something that he had done? Was it something maybe the company had done? Was it something maybe they had left undone?
What the employee told him was that he was having problems at home. That he and his wife were in the process of a divorce and that his attendance and his focus on work had completely lapsed. And this was the important part: The employee said that, “I feel like my performance has lapsed so far that I’m in the dog house, that I’m on my way out and that there is no way for me to make my way back in.” He has just sort of resolved that that was the case. He had given up.
What the manager told him when confronted with that was that’s not the case at all. The manager said we need you here and we have a lot invested in you. We’ve seen the good in you and that the reality is that human beings can’t just dismiss or completely disconnect work from home. That people are going to have ups and downs, but he wanted to know, he wanted the employee to know how important he was to the organization and to his coworkers and to the company. And that they needed him back. They needed him there on time and that you are not in the dog house. This is part of what happens in life.
From there the employee started to relax a little bit and the conversation he was maybe nervous about having to begin with, became a conversation that was really between two human beings. The manager said at the end of the day it was pretty powerful.
About two weeks later the employee’s performance was back to where it needed to be. The issues he was facing at home hadn’t completely resolved themselves. But the important part was that the employee knew that the company understood and that the company appreciated his situation and cared about him.
His manager took the time to talk with him and care, to make sure that he knew that they needed him back to where he was and what he was doing.
The most important part for you to take away from this whole discussion, from this whole situation is really this: At what point as a manager to you involve yourself? Are you willing to use Threads as the tool it is to help you communicate, to change the way you engage with the employees that you manage or the employees that you supervise?
If you take a risk like that, if you ask those kind of questions and if you do those things and follow through, not only will that employee respect you, but the employees that this person works within your department or area will respect you as well.
So, it is important for you to take that step and it is important for you to start changing that communication and moving in that direction.