Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Advice From My Mentor – Bad Employees

Throughout my career I have had lots of people give me words of advice on how to enhance my career and how to be a better manager. Some of it has gone in one ear and out the other but a lot of the advice has been beneficial and helped my career and management development. Here is one of those great words of wisdom that has stuck with me over the years.

“There is no such thing as a bad employee, only bad supervisors!”

In the 1970’s I was working for Kraft Foods and starting my career in management as a first line supervisor. The plant manager for that facility, Tony, was one of my mentors that I still find myself quoting all the time. This was one of his favorite Tonyism’s, my term for his sayings, that he would tell the supervisors every time they brought up an employee issue.

I remember getting so mad when he said this to me because I had come to him looking for a solution, not to hear how bad of a supervisor I was. Fortunately he was very understanding and would sit and talk me through the issue. I soon came to realize this was his whole point in making the statement, to get me to think and work through the issue.

Over the years I began to understand the deep meaning of the statement and began applying it to my management skill set. There are two broad lessons that can be learned from this statement.

The first is that new employees do not come to work on their first day with the preconceived notion that “I am here to goof-off and cause trouble.” They come to work with high hopes and optimism of doing a fair days work for a fair days wage. They are taught, on the job, how to be a bad employee. No, this is not part of their orientation or part of the supervisor’s training program, but it is there. They learn it from the attitude of other employees and the general work ethic of the facility.

How does this apply to management? When management allows a negative environment to foster in a work place then they are responsible for the outcome, thus it is not due to bad employees but to bad supervision. Address issues and do not let them grow and take root in your organization and you will find you have fewer “bad employees.”

The second lesson to be learned, from this Tonyism, is associated with the first and that is to take action. If an employee starts to have performance issues it is up to the supervisor to address the issue with the employee and not let it continue to grow worse. Most performance issues have a root-cause that may or may not be associated with the job. By addressing the issue early and helping the employee see the problems that are occurring; you may be able to uncover the root-cause and to turn the performance issue around with minimal intervention. One thing I have learned over the years is ignoring issues will not cause them to go away.

Our job as managers is to develop employees and help them achieve their work related goals. By working with our employees we can develop a positive and productive work relationship that will be beneficial to both the employee and the organization. Also, remember it is hard to achieve your goals without the willing and positive support of your staff; they can make or break you.

Throughout the years I have found myself using the same statements that my mentors would say to me in various business situations. Now I have an advantage in that I know they work and have benefits in all areas of business life.