“Just do your job!”

My friend Jennifer wrote to me with an interesting, though not uncommon, conundrum. She was asking for help with an employee who is very “defensive” and won’t acknowledge the defensive behavior.  She wrote, “the employee continues to interrupt me when I’m providing feedback, and says she has, ‘a right to substantiate’ her perspective.  I have tried to tell her that, yes she can explain her point of view but she also needs to listen actively to ensure she understand what I am saying. I’ve suggested that while she is listening she is actually building her case to ‘substantiate’ or defend and therefore not really ‘actively listening’, nor willing to ever acknowledge what I am asking her to change. I’m feel like I’m not getting through to her and am getting frustrated. She is at a director level, not a newbie, and I want to just scream at her, ‘Just do your job!’ but I know this would not be effective.  Any suggestions?”

Now, I’ve known Jennifer a long time, I’ve worked with her and I know she’s a terrific manager. But we’ve all run up against people like her current employee. And the good news is, there’s lots she can do.

First off, she needs to stop telling the employee to listen, or listen actively. The employee in question thinks she is listening actively. So pointing out that she may not be (IMHO, she isn’t) won’t do and hasn’t done any good.

Second, Jennifer needs to find a neutral way to talk with the employee about her shortcomings or what she’s doing wrong. But she cannot use the word “wrong” with her or she will likely feel attacked and respond with a “fight or flight” reaction. And we know this employee will dig in her 3-inch heels and fight! I’m sure Jennifer is not attacking her employee but that is certainly how she’s being perceived.

Finally, use this three step behavioral feedback model.
So what.
Now what.

Describe specifically what the employee is doing that is not acceptable. That’s the “what.” Then describe why it’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed. That’s the “so what.” So named because of times when I’ve described a problem or shortcoming to an employee and they responded with, “So what?” Then finally the “now what.” This is the change you expect to see and when. If the unacceptable performance is a deficit of knowledge, then the person needs time and training to rectify it. But if it’s a deficit of performance due to attitude, then when you finish describing the performance you expect to see, you will often end with, “and now!”

Using this three step approach may actually get through to Jennifer’s employee, who by the way, is entitled to “substantiate,” which is her way of saying contradict. But remember, as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” So long as Jennifer keeps her feedback fact-based, behavioral and neutral in tone, I think she’ll succeed with this employee.

Something stronger than Kryptonite: Workplace burnout

It’s finally happened. It seems that the pressures of the recession, the economy and the relentless business cycle have gotten to the one person we thought was invulnerable to all this, Superman.


It seems that Superman is considering leaving, may have already left, the Daily Planet to become a blogger! He just can’t take the pressure of today’s workplace. Is this the right career move for the Man of Steel? What will he do for health care? Is he eligible for unemployment? How many Twitter followers does he have? Has he effectively branded himself to go out on his own?

And what about your organization? Are you taking care of your superheroes, the employees who give everything they can and then some, or are you wearing them out? Is burnout destroying morale, exhausting your staff and accelerating turnover? What would you do if your ace reporter, I mean, employee decided to bag it?


Employees, you may have daydreamed about quitting your job and striking out on your own. No boss, the freedom to say what you want, the liberty to pursue what you want to do. But before you hit the “Send” button on your “seeya” e-mail (did you remember to “cc:” the entire company?) think about what the reality might be like. Ask yourself the questions above.

And managers, take a look around your workplace. You may have more to fear than Kryptonite.



Is your manager providing Cover?

A question crossed my desk recently. What do employees really want from their managers?  What employees want most from their managers is COVER. No, I don’t mean they want their managers to cover for them, or to cover up their mistakes (that’s how we learn).

Employees want COVER, as in:
Clarity: defined, achievable objectives
Opportunity: to grow and develop their skills
Variety: don’t ask them to do the same rote tasks forever
Empowerment: allow them to do their jobs and don’t micro-manage
Resources: to get the job done whether that means time, money or people

When managers provide COVER to their employees, they’re freed to do their best work in a positive environment. Employees want to know that managers have their backs. They don’t want to feel like they have to watch their back.
The bottom line is this: people work a lot harder if they feel they are working with someone rather than just for them.
So managers, do you provide cover for your employees?