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Are you a counselor, coach or enabler?

Diana Albiniano

We have all been in a situation in our personal and professional lives where it is easier to just ignore a problem and hope that the problem will just go away. What if that “problem” is one of your employees? They are not producing. They are showing up late for work. They are far from complying with the company’s dress code. You begin to count the mistakes instead of the successes. Very few people like confrontation. However, you also don’t like to think that you are paying this person top dollar and they aren’t performing the job to the company’s standards. What plan can you do to positively influence that employee? Avoiding the issue or essentially enabling the behavior has far reaching effects, from morale issues, lost quality employees, lost productivity to lost customers and ultimately lost revenue.

Let’s start from the top and review the options that are available from the day you hire an employee to the day the first problem occurs.

You will want to provide the employee with their job description on day one. Presenting the job description is an excellent opportunity to outline the expectations for the position and discuss the company’s goals and objectives. This is the perfect time to simply ask, “Do you understand your role in our company and what we expect of you? Is there anything I might be able to provide you with to ensure that you meet your goals and objectives?”

You will not only explain to the new employee what isn’t acceptable but more importantly what is expected and what tools are available in order to meet those expectations including any training and review processes.

Sharing your company’s policy and processes as they relate to disciplinary actions is also important. Most companies provide this information in an employee handbook. If you do not currently have a handbook you certainly should discuss these topics with your employees. The key is that you are consistent with the delivery and execution of the disciplinary policy. Include any other issues you want to highlight that could have an impact on performance in this conversation such as customer relations protocol, dress code, phone etiquette, etc.

Be sure to have a question-and-answer period with your new employee about a week into the job. This will allow you to discuss anything the new employee doesn’t know or doesn’t understand. This is also a great time to review the employee’s responsibilities and expectations, paying close attention to those areas that you think may be an issue for that employee. For instance, if they have already been a couple of minutes late for work a couple of the days during their first week, that’s a red flag and you will want to have a very clear and specific conversation with them about your attendance policy and how the company addresses those issues.

Constant feedback for your employees is so critical. It’s an easy way to appreciate valued work, and also offer critical feedback for improvement. Remember that positive feedback is always the greatest motivator, so when addressing issues with an employee it’s always best to couple the critical feedback with some positive feedback. This will keep the employee from feeling defensive and will help them feel like they have management support.

Let’s assume you have a new employee who is not showing up for work on time. You simply can’t believe that the employee is showing up late for work. We just talked about the rules so they should know this is not OK, right? At this point you have the opportunity to either be an Enabler, Coach or Counselor. The Enabler will wait to see if it happens again, hoping the problem will take care of itself and essentially start avoiding the employee or the situation so that they don’t have to deal with the problem. The Counselor will be more inclined to get wrapped up in why the employee is late, problems at home, medical issues, and etc. The Counselor’s role is a slippery slope in which you can put your company on the hook legally for situations or conditions that you should have otherwise not known about had you decided to pursue the situation as a Coach. A Coach wants the best outcome for the entire team and each of its players. As a Coach you are going to address the issue and handle it head on, clearly communicate the company’s policy and expectations, clearly communicate the course of action the company will take if the behavior continues and finally insure the employee has the tools and skills they need to meet the expectations. Be sure you are documenting this communication in the employee’s personnel file to create backup for the employees review or in the event you need to terminate the employee.

Now let’s say this was a longtime employee, the head of their department, who was always on time and suddenly they are showing up to work late. You let it go because they are a valuable employee that you always rely on and you want to give them a break. Soon it is no longer a rare occurrence; it is now their standard pattern of behavior. Eventually employees that work with this department head feel like management gets special treatment and they in turn start modeling the same behavior. “Who cares?” they think as their boss behaves this way so it must be ok. This continues and morale and productivity goes down. Soon this behavior is affecting other employees. As we discussed before it is key to have the same expectations of all employees and it is important to act quickly to discuss unwanted behavior before it escalates.

It’s important to remember that the choice we make will have an impact on the entire team. Enabling sets a bad precedent and sends the message to the rest of your staff that unwanted behavior is OK, or it may not be OK but we don’t do anything about it. A Counselor can end up being ineffective in getting the actual work and performance issues resolved because they get too wrapped up in the personal issues of the employee. A Coach is both an encourager and a disciplinarian. A staff that’s well coached is productive and in general happier about coming to work!

Diana Albiniano is the director of HR operations at Solutions At Work, an HR consulting firm in Reno. Contact her at Diana@mysolutionsatwork.com or 775-827-9675.