After a recent broadcast of my tele-seminar, How To Be A Great Boss, I received some questions that I suspect have application to most managers. Here are those questions and my answers. If you have other ideas for responding to these questions, I would love to hear them in the comments section of this blog or by e-mailing me at [email protected]. If you’d like to hear this tele-seminar, I’ll be presenting it again on March 30. Go to https://larryjohnsonspeaker.com/great-boss-teleseminar.shtml to enroll.
QUESTION: For the best employees, how do you provide effective feedback specifically on a project recently completed by your best employee in order to help him/her grow when he/she is already exceeding your expectations? Beyond long-term efforts in understanding and tailoring projects to his/her career goals—for day-to-day projects, do you just stop giving feedback at some point if performance continues to exceed expectations?
ANSWER: I would suggest something like: “John, as usual, you’ve done a superb job. I really like the ….” Make it short & sweet but specific to what he did so he knows you noticed and appreciate it. And I wouldn’t worry about giving too much positive feedback to your best performers. I’ve never met anyone who suffered from receiving too many sincere compliments about their work. On the other hand, I’ve met plenty of good performers who feel like they don’t get the recognition, praise, or even “thanks” they think they deserve.
QUESTION: How do you keep interest and motivation in good employees?
ANSWER: Keep the words of appreciation coming, however, more importantly, make sure you get them what they need to do a good job, and create an environment that is fun to work in because it’s challenging, stimulating, and full of good humor.
QUESTION: How do you motivate people through positive interactions? What is the evidence supporting employees’ response when managers frame negative outcomes as opportunities? Is it good to be a positive energizer all the time? If not, when should you not be a positive energizer to staff?
ANSWER: I just watched a PBS documentary titled FDR, which described the difference between Hoover and Roosevelt during the 1932 presidential election. While Hoover’s speeches were full of doom, gloom and a sense of pessimism about the economy, Roosevelt talked about hope, recovery, and the strength of America to come back. We all know who won. Almost always, a positive approach to problems trumps a pessimistic one because it instills people with the will and courage to find solutions, overcome adversity, and triumph. On the other hand, you don’t want to come across as Pollyannaish to the point that you lose credibility with your followers. So sometimes, you have to say, “Yeah, I know this stinks, but it has to be done, so let’s do it and not whine about it.” If you’re taking that approach more than 5% of the time, however, you may want to ask yourself if your negative attitude might be rubbing off on others.
QUESTION: How do you address problem employees while still rewarding good employees? Is there any fair way to implement quality assurance policies that keep the problem performers in check while not requiring your good performers to do the unneeded extra work beyond existing quality assurance measures that seem to work for the good employees?
ANSWER: If someone has a quality issue, performance issue, or behavioral issue, you should talk with him directly and in private (and always document these conversations.) If this requires that you apply stricter quality standards, so be it. Just be sure you can justify the application of those standards on clearly documented problems. For example, if you manage a researcher whose basic calculations are often flawed, ask yourself these questions: “Can I document this problem? Have I talked to the person about the problem? (If not, you should.) Has the problem continued in spite of my bringing it to his attention?” If the answers to these questions is “yes,” then taking action to more closely monitor this person’s work is justified. He may not like it, and will probably complain that you are picking on him. (This will be stressful for you but that’s why managers get paid the big bucks.) Let him know that when the problem clears up, you’ll let up. On the other hand, if the problem continues, let him know that you’ll take further action.
QUESTION: How do you address problems with chronically poor performers while still maintaining a positive relationship?
ANSWER: The idea is to correct the problem, not necessarily to maintain a positive relationship. A gentle reminder, or pointing out where something needs to be corrected is usually enough for normal and outstanding performers. After all, how many times would your boss have to point out a problem to you before you corrected it? Probably, not more than once.
For the chronic poor performer, however, I’m wondering why you’re so worried about your “positive relationship” with her. She’s either choosing to not perform or is unable to perform. In either case, the bottom line is that she either gets the problem corrected or she leaves. I know that sounds harsh, but ask yourself: “If she NEVER corrects the problem, can we tolerate it until she retires?”
So if you haven’t had a firm conversation with her about the problem, I suggest you do so without delay and be sure to document it. If the problem continues, I suggest you talk to your HR department about pursuing termination. Again, I know this sounds harsh, but you ask what to do about a “chronically poor performer,” and I have to wonder why you, your team, or your organization would tolerate someone who deserves that kind of label.
QUESTION: How do you address issues identified by other managers or the employee’s peers? How do you address an issue without mentioning the sample situation brought up by someone else or individual sharing the complaint about the employee, especially for issues that are very important to address? Do you simply wait until you, personally, have made the observation when the mistake is made?
ANSWER: If possible, yes, try to observe the behavior or issue yourself. If not possible, or the situation requires immediate action, be direct in telling the employee this behavior has come to your attention and ask why it concerns you and how he plans to correct it. When he asks, “Who said I did this?” respond, “That doesn’t matter, my concern is that it won’t happen again.
QUESTION: How do you be a “great boss” when your boss plays favorites on policies and perspectives (only listens to those managers he likes more who happen to be bad managers), even trumping some of the tried and true ‘how to be a great boss’ ideas…when you are not one of his ‘favorites’ even though you do great work and a majority of the staff admires your dedication and positive mentorship?
ANSWER: Do the best you can, creating a pocket of excellence around you. Understand that the world is full of jerks, and sometimes, you end up working for one. In any case, you only have three healthy options in life when you are in a situation you don’t like. (For those of you who’ve attended one of my speeches, read my book Absolute Honesty: Building A Corporate Culture That Values Straight Talk and Rewards Integrity, or you’ve listened in on my tele-seminars, you’ll remember it as the PAL principle.) It stands for:
PROACTIVITY: Do something about it. Ask you boss to change her behavior to make life more tolerable. For example, “Jane, in the future, if we’re going to change direction on a project, could you let me know ahead of time so I can discuss it with my team?” Or, you could go over her head, and complain to her boss (high risk here, but sometimes called for. The role of the whistleblower is dangerous but highly needed in today’s world.)
ACCEPTANCE: Ask anyone who is married or in a long-term relationship. There are certain things you just accept about your mate if you want to stay married. If your boss is a jerk, you may have to accept it and figure out ways to circumvent her jerkiness to get your job done. Of course, what you choose to do may have risk associated with it too.
LEAVE: No one is forced to work for a jerk. Unless you’re in a concentration camp, you can always leave. Even then, there are options. I suggest you read Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl. He was in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII and couldn’t leave, so he figured out ways to keep his sanity and survive.
Non PAL responses are tend to be unhealthy, eg. whining, constant complaining, depression, drinking too much alcohol or going home and kicking your dog – and what did he ever do to deserve that?
Again, if you have other answers to these questions, I’d love to hear them.