Telling Behavior

If you look for the good in people, you will find it.

When a normally-good employee changes behavior, it’s not without cause. It’s a symptom, an effect, of something that has changed in the employee’s life. Your diagnosis of the root cause for this change is critical. Don’t react to the symptom. Take time to diagnose the underlying cause CAREfully before filling out the prescription.

The best managers, like the best doctors, don’t treat symptoms. They search for, recognize, and deal with the root cause. Sometimes this cause is beyond your reach. Such as a death in the employee’s family, a marriage break up, or an illness. But you can show empathy. You can show consideration for the employee’s feelings, and show your trust that the employee will be able to work through the stress. Often, the solution is easier than you think.


Stop the clock. Take time for your employees.


Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Recognize and deal with behavior changes early. Don’t wait until the new behavior has become a routine.
  2. Ask event-focused questions. Focus on the behavior, not the person. For example, don’t say, “Why are you always late?” Say, “Recently, I’ve noticed a change in your attendance. For example, this morning you arrived 15 minutes late. Normally you’re on time. What has caused this change in attendance?”
  3. You have just asked an open-ended question–a question that elicits more than a yes or no answer. CAREfully ask more open-ended questions about the employee’s behaviors to probe for more information.
  4. It is also critical that you frame the new behavior as ‘unusual’. In step 2, I suggested using the “… normally you’re …” phrase. This gives the employee a chance to say that this new behavior will be brief, because it is not “normal.” It’s a proactive way to encourage positive change.
  5. You may want to think about your “prescription” and discuss it with your manager or with the HR people before offering it to the employee. I’ve noticed often, that after conducting a caring, diagnosis-style interview, employees will get back to me and tell me that after discussing the problem with me, they have figured out a way to solve it. (As you may know: if people come up with their own solutions, they are more likely to succeed then if you force your solutions upon them. But that’s a new topic–for a different TIP.)
  6. Many times, you will find that the root cause of a new performance problem is closely related to the employee feeling a lack of attention. It’s a healthy workplace practice to regularly recognize people doing the right things and praise them for it.

Be a good observer. Pay attention to good performance. It shows that you care.

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