You have tried everything you can think of. You have encouraged, corrected, and taught, and, still, they keep doing that annoying thing. What do you do next?
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Hi. This is Guy Harris. Welcome to Talk Like a Leader. This week's episode is titled How to Discipline an Employee After You've Tried Everything Else.
This question comes specifically as the result of a question I got recently in a training class. I was leading and a version of this question or a question that basically becomes this question when you dig far enough has been asked in a long list a long set of circumstances I have seen as I've worked with new and frontline supervisors and I don't know exactly what your situation is or what you're bringing to the table.
As you're listening to this podcast episode, I can share with you what I've seen in most of the situations where I've either seen it personally and been involved in the situation or attempted to help a frontline leader navigate the situation. They're working with an employee that for the most part is doing an OK job. And there is one thing or a short list of things that are annoying.
Frustrating, not ideal or not perfect could be better described lots of different ways. But basically we're talking about an employee who mostly is OK, kind of mid-level to acceptable though not awesome performance. And there is something or maybe a set of some things about their performance or their approach to work or the results they get or their timeliness or something like that.
That is at least mildly frustrating or annoying. And as we start talking about this and how to deal with it, a couple of questions come to my mind, questions that I think we have to really understand and answer honestly if we're going to figure out how to deal with this situation. And a couple of the questions that are in my mind are things like, is the thing that you see that's not ideal?
Is it mission critical or is it just annoying if they're doing most everything OK does the thing or set of things, they're not doing OK overwhelm everything else so that that one issue makes their net performance unacceptable? Or is this a relatively minor thing compared to everything else they do? Another question to think about is if they don't change this thing, would you be willing to fire them over it or maybe less harsh?
If they don't change it, would would you refuse to give them an opportunity for advancement, a raise, a new position or a new opportunity, that kind of thing? These are the kind of questions I think you really have to wrestle with because it's easy to let the thing about a person's performance or behavior that is annoying on a personal basis start to be viewed and because you view it this way, dealt with as if it were a mission critical thing because it's annoying to you you really work hard to get rid of it, and if it is mission critical, harming the business, you'd be willing to fire them over it.
It has serious implications meaning like they are not going to get an opportunity for advancement or new opportunities because of this behavior. And I think you probably need to be honest with them and let them know that if it's simply at the annoying and frustrating level, then I think you need to proceed very, very carefully because you see, I think it's important to recognize that as a leader my job your job is not to eliminate every annoying behavior.
Your job is to achieve the business mission, to get the results necessary. For the business to satisfy customer needs, those kind of things. In the process of doing that, we're going to have to work with people who are less than perfect. And frankly, we are all less than perfect. So the truth is that all of us have something we do that is annoying to other people, and we probably wouldn't want that minor annoyance thing to be viewed as a business issue or a business critical thing.
Sometimes it truly is. Often it's not so you have to first separate whether this issue you're concerned about is a business issue or a personal issue. If it's hurting business, results, if it's limiting business performance, if it's hurting quality or safety or something like that, well then it's business critical. If it's just annoying to you, if it just could be better if it's OK and not perfect, that's probably more on the it's personally annoying range, and you have to remember that annoying to you is not a business problem.
It is just annoying to you. OK, so if it's just a thing that's annoying well I think you need to be careful about is asking the question or framing the question or thinking about the question in terms of disciplining the person to eliminate this annoying thing. Here's the reason why discipline, which usually has a negative connotation, meaning what am I going to do to a person or what negative consequence am I going to expose them to or give to them if they don't fix this thing?
Attempts to motivate by eliminating a thing that's frustrating through use of force or discipline or coercive power. And I'm not going to argue that it doesn't work, that it never changes behavior what I'm going to suggest is if it's not truly a discipline issue, meaning a do it or else scenario, then the use of, quote, disciplinary or negative motivators, negative strategies tends to disengage people, cause them to check out, cause them to pull away and feel less committed and engaged in the work of the business.
So when I think about mildly annoying behaviors or OK and not perfect behaviors, if I think about those in terms of how to correct or improve them from a disciplinary or negative motivation strategy, I'm really going to position my interaction with the employee or you're going to position the interaction with your employee in the negative context.
And if as soon as you position it in the negative context, it's likely to have negative consequences, such as you might fix the one thing that's annoying to you and damage your relationship with the person you might get them to change their behavior in a begrudging way, which means they no longer bring an energy and enthusiasm to work, and they do things just enough to keep you off your off their back so a disciplinary approach for a thing that is not really business critical probably has more negative impact than positive impact.
And I would suggest be very careful with thinking about approaching the situation that way. What I would encourage is rather than thinking about how to discipline this person, I would think about what is this person's motivations, what would inspire them to want to change his behavior?
Because ultimately they're not going to change the behavior or get a different result until they want to. And you really big picture have two ways to do that. You can make it so painful to not get rid of the result that they choose to get, the result to get rid of the pain, which means they do it bare minimum, may not repeat it in the future, maybe causes other problems because you damage the relationship or you can find a way to incentivize them.
And that doesn't necessarily mean more money or rewards. It could be as little as thank you or the satisfaction they feel for having completed the project or seeing the thing that needs to be done in a different light.
For example, if I have a member of my team using the disc model as a way to talk about this, if I have a member of my team who has a lot of supportive traits and I'm coaching that person trying to get them to get better results that may or may not land with them, what might be better is to coach them in terms of how they can help the team, how they can make things better for their team.
Maybe a relational approach rather than the task accomplishment approach would sound better to that person. Now, I can't make blanket statements to say this will always be true. I'm offering that as an example, and I've often used the example of a mentor of mine who was trying to talk to me about the importance of learning how to smile in business interactions and to be friendly with people, which I have learned to do.
And I now, at this point in my career, see the value in doing it. At one point in time, though, it just made no sense to me, like, why couldn't we just get work done? Because we need to get work done. What's this smiling and being friendly thing got to do with anything? This mentor of mine said, Hey, guy, you're going to need to learn to smile, or people are going to feel like you like them.
Well, the problem with that statement at the particular time this was made to me was I didn't really care if people liked me yet. And so he attempted to inspire me with a need I didn't have. So I kind of looked at him with a blank face and stared. Now, the good news is that this particular mentor was wise.
He understood how to reframe things in a way that mattered to me. And he said, Let me try again. I think I didn't say that in a way that landed exactly the way I wanted it. Land Guy, would you like to have better results in your interactions with people in terms of getting better business results? And my answer was, Well, of course I like to get better business results.
He reminded me then he said, You know, we've talked about the DISC model. You know, that there's a good chunk of people that probably aren't going to want to do business with you, hire you, work with you unless they feel like you like them. Now, see how he phrased the issue in terms that mattered to me? Get better business results.
And then he tied it to people feeling like I liked them. He tied the two issues together for a person. He did not yet see that connection. Well, once I understood that smiling together, getting better business results, and it wasn't really an issue of whether I cared if people like me or not, it's whether they would do business with me.
Then I was willing to change my behaviors. Then I was on to learn how to smile and put effort into it might even sound like a silly issue. And maybe to you, from where you sit, you're thinking, What do you mean you didn't understand? You need to smile, Guy. That's just that's just a base level thing. You know the truth is now now that I understand it, I see it that way, too.
The point is, at the point in time we had the conversation, I didn't yet see it. And that employee on your team who you've tried everything you can think of to try to motivate them to change a behavior or get a different result might be in the same place. It might be not that they don't care so much is that you haven't given them a thing to care about.
You haven't tied the issue that you're trying to achieve or the result you're trying to achieve or the or the behavior they're using or not using to something that matters to them. You have attempted to sell it to them based on something that matters to you. And that's probably where the disconnect comes from. And as long as you continue to try to sell people on things for your reasons, they're probably not going to buy and you're going to be frustrated.
So how do you discipline an employee after you tried everything else? Well, the first step is to break it down and decide, is this really mission critical? Would I fire them when I limit their opportunity because of it? Is it really that big a deal or is it just annoying most of the time? Again, not all the time.
Most of the time, what I find is these are really annoying behaviors, not business critical behaviors. And if they're just annoying, then I would say stay engaged. Keep looking for ways to engage with the person. Be careful that you don't let the frustration turn into anger, keep encouraging them and keep looking for ways that connect with them. What is important to them for making this change or making this improvement or making this adjustment to their behavior?
When you can find the hook that works for them, they will probably find their own reasons to change it, and then you won't be frustrated. Now, the Disney model is a great place to start. It's not the only place, and we have a number of episodes in this podcast about the Disney model. We have several on change and on coaching, and I want to look back at those.
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Or you can go to DISCPersonalityTesting.com take a look at the resources we have there, and hopefully that will give you some perspective on how to engage with the person who sees who sees things differently from you so that maybe you can find the hook that for them encourages them to change the behavior that's annoying to you.
If you can make that change, if you can find the hook, if you can shift from trying to discipline the behavior way to encouraging and coaching the behavior away or coaching into a better behavior, you can talk like a leader this has been the Talk Like The Leader podcast. You can listen to this show every week wherever you get your podcast if you have it, be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.
I'm Guy Harris and thanks for listening.
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