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Previous Issue's Dilemma:
How can I instill the 'old-school' work ethic?
Since I have only six employees, even one who is not productive creates a problem. I hired "Chris" right out of college. It bothers me to see the lack of commitment he seems to have. He is often late, misses days and seems to feel that's okay. His work gets behind, and it doesn't seem to faze him. Taking shortcuts and missing details that generate extra work on my part seem to be the norm.
I have trained him and explained his importance to our success. We pay fair salaries and have tried positive motivation. Nothing seems to work. Perhaps I'm dating myself, but it seems that he just doesn't understand the "old-school work ethic" -- that a successful career doesn't happen without hard work and dedication. I could replace him, but I already have a big investment in him. I could "crack the whip," but that's not my style. Would you ask your readers how they would instill that old-school ethic in him?
-- Old-school A/P director, company withheld
Time for a wake-up call
"Old-school," the dilemma you face struck a chord with many readers, most of whom agree that, especially in these tough economic times, it's vital to stay productive and meet expectations. That takes teamwork, and when someone doesn't pull his or her weight, everyone suffers. Readers who have grappled with this issue give the following advice:
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An anonymous A/P manager says, "Maybe 'Chris' and a lot of others out there need a dose of reality. 'Old-school' works -- and you didn't get where you are by being soft. The time you have invested will be a complete waste if you do not set the bar high. I truly believe that people live up or down to your expectations. Take your power back. Let him make the choice. It will help you both in the long run."
An anonymous consultant agrees. "Carrots are fine, but sometimes sticks are necessary as well. The fact that no one 'cracks the whip' creates a consequence-free environment, which undermines your old-school work ethic."
He suspects that your new hire is not the only offender, just the most blatant. The consultant adds, "He is probably adapting himself to a lax office culture and simply choosing to live up to what he sees as the minimum standard." The solution lies with you as manager, to not put up with a "slackadaisical" work environment. "Reward success, and punish sub-par performance in a consistent way."
"He is probably costing you a lot more than you think," says an anonymous director. "You will lose a lot more than just his workload if you continue to coddle him -- you'll lose productivity and respect from the other people in your area (and possibly good workers, too). You are probably spending more time trying to get this guy up to speed than supporting the rest of the team."
Set clear performance expectations
"Expecting the same level of basic performance from all your team members isn't cracking the whip; it's being a fair manager," says another anonymous reader. While "positive motivation" may work with your other staff, she thinks Chris may need more specific structure. "Tell him exactly what you expect and that he has a specific length of time to improve his performance."
An anonymous CFO seconds that. "Just telling him his work is important is obviously not enough. For some people, positive motivation isn't enough. If you want an old-school work ethic, sometimes that means old-school discipline -- not a ruler across the knuckles, but real, progressive discipline."
He recommends making one last attempt at appealing to the employee by demonstrating how his behavior affects the team's performance. "If you still don't get the result you want, then an oral warning and two written warnings before termination will force your -- or his -- hand."
Cut your losses sooner, rather than later
More direction, clearer expectations, a second chance -- all are viable options. But in the final analysis, most readers feel that unless you see a marked improvement in behavior, it's time to cut the cord.
"I believe an employee either has this work ethic or doesn't," says an anonymous manager. "Cracking the whip on this employee will not only antagonize the employee but create tension throughout the team. I think it's best to cut your losses and replace him with someone who has the work ethic you want. You will do yourself and the entire team a favor."
As one anonymous manager puts it, "Give him 60 days, and if you don't see improvement, move on. He's just not that into the job, and your energy is too precious to waste."