Every Friday, I"ll answer two or three management questions submitted through the "Ask Lisa"?? link found on my blog and on my website. This week I will address two questions submitted by Alan and Walker. If you would like to submit a management question for future Friday posts, click here.
QUESTION: I’ve got a situation with one of my staff, who is well known for organizational skills and who helps my department run smoothly day to day. Â It is apparent, however, that one of the executives in our organization has “issues” with this person. Recently, the executive came to me with another allegation that my staff member does not perform certain tasks in a timely fashion, yet I never see evidence of that and, when I have investigated the specific situations, I have typically found that the problem lay in the executive’s area (requests and expectations often being unclear). Â How would you suggest approaching this potentially sticky situation?
ANSWER: This is a sticky situation, but not uncommon. Managers often have different criteria for what good work looks like and when speed and quality is acceptable. And unfortunately, personality differences can exasperate this problem. If I were in your shoes, here is what I would do. First, I would make sure I have all the facts: I would make sure I understand the internal customer´s expectations and perceptions about what is going well and not going well. I would ask a couple different internal customers to get a good view. I would also ask a trusted manager and colleague to provide a "gut check"?? about whether I am assessing this person´s abilities objectively. Perhaps you have done this already. If the facts do not support the executive´s perceptions of that person, I would have a heart to heart with him or her and say something like, "I appreciate the feedback and have looked into the matter. It appears that the problem is primarily caused by process problems such as unclear expectations, handoffs, and communication lags between our departments. How about I get my employee together with yours and we let them work through how to improve the process?"?? If he or she continues to suggest that the problem is your employee I would say, "That´s not what I have discovered. You want me to manage this situation, right? Well, that will involve working with your department to improve the process."??
If you find that there is SOME truth to the complaint (there often is a tad of truth) but that the employee´s other contributions far outweigh these concerns, take steps to improve the process so that the problem is improved.
There are a few poor employees out there, but most speed and quality problems are really process problems. This is good news, because the process can be easily addressed. Don´t let executives bully you – they have hired you to run a portion of the business and you need to do this to your best abilities. As long as you do your homework, do your best to look at the situation objectively, and solve the problem quickly, you should not go wrong. If their expectations are unrealistic, give them a simple choice of negotiating expectations or adding resources.
QUESTION: I continue to hear how important it is that we make a difference. However, my observations have been that every time a position change occurs the organization adjusts to compensate for the new level of ability (good and bad). Therefore my question is do we really make a difference at all in the long run?Â
ANSWER:I sense a bit of frustration and anger in your question. It can be discouraging when you bust your butt to do great work and see colleagues get away with less (or even be lauded for mediocre performance). The only person you can control is you. If you are making a difference, enjoying your work, and feeling satisfied, then this is what matters. Managers either make a difference or don´t and those who do are in the minority. If you are one of those managers, I am betting that you know this and you know your managers and colleagues know this. Focus there.
Do you really make a difference in the long run? YES! You have to do your thing and play your own game. It is better when your colleagues and managers are equally or more effective, but you do not need this to be the case to make a difference.
Modifying jobs to meet someone´s capabilities may make sense sometimes, but not too often. Each situation needs to be assessed individually. And yes, it is often the case that expectations are lowered to meet mediocre performers and raised for exceptional performers – which seems backwards, right?
I know it is frustrating, but take solace in the fact that our strengths and weaknesses are known by everyone. If you are contributing and if others are not, it´s all known. Some organizations tolerate this more than others, but it is hard to tell this from an interview process (everyone will say they hold people to high performance standards, when few really do).
Are you able to do great work? Are you enjoying your work? Are your team members able to grow and do great work? The answers to these questions are what matters (until you get promoted and are in a position to change things!). If you answer "no,"?? you might need to think about moving on.