December 10, 2007

News & Opinion: Ask 8cr! - Growing Great Employees

By: Aaron Schleicher @ 8:25 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Ask 8cr! is a section of our blog used as a forum to address the kinds of issues and challenges people are having in the workplace. We take these issues and apply a business book we feel offers a viable solution. Others then chime in via the comments section. The person with the selected challenge gets a free copy of the book, but everyone who reads these posts, wins. What's your challenge at work? Send it to me at jon(a)800ceoread(dot)com.
Today's challenge deals with keeping employees from slipping into mediocrity, or worse. Here's what one of our readers is dealing with:
"Long time associate is 7 out of 10 on best days, 4 out of 10 on worst days, but never the worst at any time. Every time a corner is turned, she slips and falls and reverts back to her old ways soon thereafter. Firm embraces longevity and diversity. Suggestions on how to fire her up or fire her outright?" - Phil
The good news with this challenge is that things are never at their worst, implying there's hope for the situation. From the outside, it appears that the employee generally does a good job, but then something happens. What causes that change? Something personal? Frustration with her responsibilities? Concern with management? Her co-workers? It could be anything, really, and not knowing that causes a great challenge for managers, but also puts them in a position to help their employees and become stronger leaders in the process.

Erika Andersen has written a great book (that we've talked about lots here) called Growing Great Employees: Turning Ordinary People into Extraordinary Performers. In it, she levels the playing field to start with the fundamentals:
"Your employees are, like you and I, flawed and hopeful human beings whose success is at least partly dependent on your skill as a manager: human beings who will thrive with skillful and consistent attention and wither without it. Kind of like plants."

Like plants, one cannot expect employees to grow without creating the right scenario to facilitate growth. Andersen follows the plant metaphor throughout the book (preparing the soil, planning, picking your plants, weeding, spreading, etc.) and reveals methods to truly grow great employees. However, like plants, not all employees are going to be great, and so some must go. But, before that happens, particularly in a scenario like Phil's, where things are potentially hopeful, a manager can find out what causes poor results from the employee (ie, what causes her to "revert to her old ways") to help create a situation where that becomes a less desired path for the employee. Those who've nurtured a sick plant back to health can clearly see how true the metaphor is.
As Andersen notes, social styles play a big role, and the first step is to define these - for both the employees and the manager. By doing so, an understanding develops; one that puts the focus on communication and participation, rather than demands and passive aggressive behavior. From there, the real issues come to the surface, and the initial questions can be addressed: Something personal? Frustration with her responsibilities? Concern with management? Her co-workers? With these answers, the manager can either grow a great employee, by working with her on a path toward greater fulfillment and productivity, or, know that it's time to start the weeding process. With these tools, managers can become what Andersen refers to as "Master Gardeners." Pick up this book and get to work on your 'garden.'

About Aaron Schleicher

Aaron Schleicher has been the author services specialist at 800-CEO-READ since 2004. You can usually find him hidden under a baseball cap, feet kicked up on his desk, talking with authors, publishers, and businesses. Outside the office you can find him crafting candles, listening to records, and making music with friends and family.