In a Nutshell
What's the best way to handle an employee with an attitude or motivation problem? Managerial counseling is normally the best first step.
When a valued employee is having problems with his or her attitude, motivation or personal affairs, managers can often help them make the necessary changes through counseling. This is not to say that managerial counseling always solves employees' problems. Nor do I mean to suggest that managers are always the best ones to provide the counseling. However, even when managerial counseling is not sufficient for dealing with the problem, it is a good precursor to (a) referral to professional counseling or (b) termination.
In This Issue
You Have to Really Care and Really Listen
I don't think you can counsel your employees effectively if you don't truly care about them, because effective counseling can be hard work. A major way in which human resources differ from the other resources you control as a manager is that humans have emotions. We profit from the positive emotions like excitement and inspiration, but we also have to accept and manage effectively the negative emotions such as anger and frustration. It takes work to deal with the negative side of employees' emotions. Managerial counseling requires listening effectively and supportive communication. It's a lot easier to just be a hard-nosed, "my way or the highway" manager. But, managers who can counsel their employees get the most out of them in difficult circumstances.
Doesn't Mean Lowering Standards!
Whether you are counseling or coaching in response to poor performance, the goal is the same--to get that poorly performing employee's performance back up to standards (or back into conformance with the rules). I know that every now and then you may come across a subordinate who is manipulative or full of malarkey. I still think that unless those employees have done something that justifies immediate termination, the best way to deal with them is to listen to their story at least once. Listening to their story and validating their feelings doesn't mean that you accept their poor performance. After you've listened to their story and empathized, come up with a plan for improving performance. That's always the goal.
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Managers Aren't Therapists
I strongly recommend that you avoid asking pointed questions or making assumptions about your employees' personal lives. Legally and ethically, employees have a variety of privacy rights. When counseling, focus on the work-related problem. The work-related problem is often (perhaps usually) the symptom of a personal problem, but only discuss the personal issues if the employee you're counseling raises them, and refer the employee to professional counseling for anything of a serious nature. For example, here's what I'm suggesting.
You seem distracted at work and your productivity has fallen
off. I really need you to be more productive. Is there anything
I can help you with?
Are you having marital problems?
I think your drinking in the evenings is interfering
with your job performance.
You can only comment on what you observe employees actually doing or the actual results they achieve. Making assumptions about personal problems is very risky and sometimes unfair. For instance, diabetics have occasionally been mistaken for alcoholics. You wouldn't want to make a mistake like that!
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Practicing This Management Skill
Prior to meeting with the employee Ö
Minter, R. L. & Thomas, E. G. (2000). Employee development through coaching, mentoring and counseling: A multidimensional approach. Review of Business, 21(1/2): 43-47.
Salters, L. (1997). Coaching and counseling for peak performance. Business and Economic Review, 44(1): 26-28.
Stone, F. M. (1999). Coaching, counseling & mentoring: How to choose & use the right technique to boost employee performance. New York: AMACOM.
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About the Newsletter
The LeaderLetter is written by Dr. Scott Williams, Department of Management, Raj Soin College of Business, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. It is a supplement to my MBA 751 - Managing People in Organizations class. It is intended to reinforce the course concepts and maintain communication among my former MBA 751 students, but anyone is welcome to subscribe. In addition, subscribers are welcome to forward this newsletter to anyone who they believe would have an interest in it. To subscribe, simply send an e-mail message to me requesting subscription. Of course, subscriptions to the newsletter are free. To unsubscribe, e-mail a reply indicating that you would like to unsubscribe.
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E-mail Your Comments
Whether you are one of my former students or not, I invite you to share any insights or concerns you have regarding the topic of this newsletter or any other topic relating to management skills. Please e-mail them to me. Our interactions have been invaluable. Let's keep the conversation going.
Good, Clean Joke (or, at least a clean one)
Instructions for giving a cat a pill.