A good friend recently graduated from college after working in her position at her company for several years. And with her degree came…wait for it…a promotion! She has now risen to the ranks of management, and has an entirely new and different learning curve to overcome – managing people.
In a recent conversation, we spoke about some of the most frustrating moments of disrespect from subordinates. We lamented the times when an employee has wasted our time, or when they failed to submit a product on time, or worse, submitted it with major errors. It is one thing to come to work and see these infractions as a co-worker, but it is an entirely different challenge to encounter them as a manager.
Over years in multiple management roles, however, I’ve found six simple tips and tricks for managing pesky underperformers:
1. Address the issue head-on.
Too often, we respond to a minor infraction in one of two ways. We either blow it off with a roll of the eyes, or we seek to bring it to the attention of our boss in the hopes that they will address it. The first and simplest way to offer discipline to a peer or subordinate is to address the specific issue directly at the source.
If your employee is coming in ten minutes late every day, tell them that you noticed. This simple tactic allows them to offer an explanation if there is a valid reason for their infraction and gives them an opportunity to fix their behavior on their own.
2. Use nouns instead of verbs.
In one study, people were asked two versions of the same question: “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election? and “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” Participants in the “voter” condition were more likely to cast their ballots the next day, likely because people are driven by our need to belong, and using a noun reinforces our identity as a member of a specific group.
Reframe the issue that you have with your employee by first either stating that they are a leader, an asset, or a role model. People will typically live up or down to the expectations you set for them, so use positive nouns and allow them to opt in. Then explain what is expected of such a person.
3. Use metrics to quantify impact.
When they continue to surf on Facebook after you’ve addressed the issue with them, it is best to find a way to quantify how their behavior affects the company’s bottom line. Calculate the amount that you are paying this person, broken down by minutes. Add in the expense of overtime if they are earning it.
Then, show them that what may seem like a simple act actually costs the company $37 per week. Translating behavior to a metric, like cost, gives your employee a measuring stick with which to view their behavior. What gets measured typically gets addressed.
4. Focus on what they are gaining.
Research suggests you should emphasize to your employee what they will gain from working with you rather than what they will lose. For example, if you’re trying to get them to stay until 5 P.M., offer, “I’ll give you my word that I’ll have you out of the office at 5 P.M. every day,” instead of, “I need you to stay until 5.”
By reframing your request, you persuade your audience to see things from a different perspective, making them more likely to concede.
5. Give them options, and/or allow them craft their own solution to their infraction.
Consider negotiating with your employee by giving them more than one option: you will either dock their income by the amount the company is losing each week by their late attendance, or they can choose to show up on time.
Even better, place them in the position of being their own boss, and ask them to craft their own solution for you. This gives your employee ownership over their actions.
6. Help advance their goals.
Psychologist Robert Cialdini says one way to influence people is to invoke the reciprocity norm, where you help someone with something they need so they feel obliged to return the favor.
Offer your employee assistance on a project where they have a need. And when you’re thanked for helping out, Cialdini advises saying something like, “Of course, it’s what partners do for each other,” instead of “no problem,” so they understand that they are expected to do the same for you. When you offer an olive branch, you create an unspoken obligation for them to do the same.
Managing people is, in its simplest form, relating. Put yourself in their shoes. Try to truly understand their perspective. Listen to their needs. And then make your requests. A happier employee creates a happier boss.