No one will ever care about your business as much as you do. Those people who show up to your office or jobsite everyday to work for you…they’re ten times more concerned about their own interests than yours. For as long as your goals and their goals are two separate things, your employees and their performance are going to frustrate you. But in order to establish employee discipline among your staff, you must first show some discipline of your own.
The Boss’ Self-Deception
It’s easy to fall into the assumption that employees care about your vision for the business. After all, they dressed up for the interview, looked you in the eye, nodded with approval when you spoke about your goals and then shook your hand. It was all so perfect.
But that was months ago or even years ago. The guy who meticulously ironed his shirt and used mouthwash for the interview doesn’t even bother to wear his uniform or show up on time anymore. He’s texting on his phone half the time. And when he’s actually working, he’s often doing the minimal amount of work that will keep you off his back. Meeting your expectations is not his goal, but rather, a dreadful burden.
You’ve explained a simple process to an employee who just can’t seem to understand it or do it correctly. So you explain it to her over and over again and wonder why she isn’t getting it. The truth is…she just doesn’t want to. She certainly has the intelligence to grasp the concepts of the task. After all, she uses that intelligence every day, but just not for the tasks you want her to do.
Nothing Will Change Until You Change
You can give these employees another lecture if you wish. Perhaps you can threaten them or “light a fire under them,” as they say. You can declare (again) that “things are going to be different around here from now on.” You can have more meetings. You can huff and puff and just keep on doing what you’ve always done.
But if none of these tactics ever worked for you before, what makes you think they’re going to work for you now? Things may change for a little while. But as soon as you revert back to your habits, they’ll revert right back to theirs. And then you’ll repeat this unpleasant routine all over again. And nothing will ever change.
Also, you can be sure of one thing, Mr. Boss Who Lacks Self-Awareness…these problematic workers of yours are improving every day at one particular skill; making you think they’re working when they’re actually not. They’re practically experts at it. Of course they are…you would also become an expert at something you did every day for 8 hours a day. When you’re gone and when you’re not looking, they’re doing something else. You suspect it. I’m confirming it. So what’s the solution?
That’s right, stop looking at them. Just leave them alone. Don’t check on them. Don’t ask them for updates. Just clearly tell them what’s expected. Give them a deadline and leave it at that. On the day of the deadline, if your expectations aren’t met, don’t get upset. Don’t threaten them and don’t ask the kinds of questions to which they’ll reply with an excuse.
Here’s what you do. Set a new expectation and a new deadline. It can be the same task as before if necessary. But instead of just giving the task to the same employee who failed the first time, give him and another employee the joint task of getting it done together. This changes everything.
Instead of putting on the occasional show for the few times you come around, Mr. Lazybones Employee is now under the constant supervision of a peer…and that peer expects him to contribute to the assignment. He may be able to fool you, but he will not fool a coworker. Let the two of them figure out the division of labor by themselves.
You have now created a competitive dynamic in your staff that’s going to generate more productivity than your nagging lectures ever could. Your lazy employee is now worried about being embarrassed. His pride is now activated. He’s now worried about looking bad. He’s already proven that he’s willing to disappoint you, the boss. But making the job harder for his coworkers will make him very unpopular and he knows it.
On the day of the deadline, have an informal conversation with both employees, but separately. Have them give an account of who did what. Don’t let either worker feel like it’s an interrogation or that you want them to snitch. Just get the facts. These chats should paint a clear picture of how the assignment was handled.
Cool, Calm & Rational
This is the point where your boss instincts need to take over. And if you don’t have the instincts of a boss, these are the situations that will help you to develop them. If the performance of the lazy employee did not improve, you must begin to squeeze him out of his role. Begin to relieve him of his tasks, his responsibilities and even his work hours.
If and when he objects, simply mention in a matter-of-fact tone that you got a better result when another worker had that role. You should also mention your real constraints of time and money to get the job done. The most important thing of all is to not make this personal or emotional. Again, don’t give the slightest impression of anger or retaliation. Don’t allow these cuts to sound like a punishment. Just clearly state the details of the new arrangement and leave it at that.
If you don’t think you’ll be able to do this, it’s likely due to one of two reasons…or perhaps both. The first reason is because you might be a passive person who prefers to avoid conflict. And that’s ok. That’s just who you are. You may not be a “command the room” type of person, but you’re nonetheless entitled to have a business and a staff that meets your expectations. It may be a real challenge for you to stand your ground and not be intimidated by your employees, but you simply must rise to this challenge for the sake of your business and for the benefit of your other employees who do their job well.
There’s another reason why you may not want to cut an employee’s work or his hours…and this situation is far more problematic. The employees who are the most difficult to discipline…the workers who are hardest to cut back…are the ones who have become your buddies. This never should have happened, but it’s a mistake that bosses often make.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be friendly with employees. It’s awesome to work in a place where everyone likes each other and even hangs out with each other. But this casual boss/employee relationship of chummy banter and happy hours should never happen until the employee demonstrates professionalism at his job. Otherwise, when it’s time to discipline him or get rid of him, it’s going to be hard to do because of hurt feelings and other nonsense.
Make no mistake; this is a conditional relationship. Everyone comes together for 8-10 hours a day to make the business successful. Those who don’t contribute to that mission shouldn’t be there. An employee needs discipline to stay at his tasks and get his job done. The boss needs discipline to manage his employees so they’ll get the job done.
The employee feels like he can slack off and text his friends all day. The boss feels like his employees are his friends and he wants them to like him. Both employee and boss must resist these urges. As the leader of the company, you must set the example. Maybe they’ll like you and maybe they won’t, but they’ll have no choice but to respect you.
And if they don’t…well, you’re the boss. Do something about it.