You’ve dealt with them before: unproductive people. But how do you deal with them as a manager? Here’s a start on what not to do.
It’s every manager’s nightmare: being stuck with team members who can’t seem to, or be bothered to, get their act together. To be fair, most people are professional. They’re at least somewhat competent and reliable. But every once in a while, we run into people who are a constant pain. They’re not punctual. They take longer than everyone else to finish their work. The work they do isn’t great. And they have an irresistible urge to check their phone every few minutes. You suspect they don’t put in 100 percent because if they did, it’d be reflected in their productivity. You’ve even spoken to them about it. They shared their sob story with you and promised to do better, but nothing’s changed. You wonder what’s up. Stop giving them the benefit of doubt. You have a slacker on your hands and you have to get tough with them. But first, let’s look at what not to do when dealing with them… (Click here to tweet this list.)
Don’t be hostile
They might be winding you up, but you shouldn’t snap. You shouldn’t be sarcastic or mean, either. And you certainly shouldn’t wish for them to resign and leave the company, especially if you have a lot of pending work to handle. If you wish them to go away, they will — and leave you with even more work to wade through. Hostility towards such a person is natural, but expressing it will only lead to you being branded an unhinged leader.
Don’t think they’ll get a conscience attack
Here’s the thing about unproductive people: They don’t really want to change. If anything, they’ll resist changing with all their might. If a team member of yours saunters in at 9:30 a.m. — when most people report at 9 a.m. sharp — whistles his way around the water cooler, spends 10 minutes choosing which tea he wants to have, doesn’t bother to log in to check his emails till 10 a.m., and only sits down to work around 10:30 a.m., you’ve got a problem. All the chronically unproductive people have one trait in common: They just don’t care. They have a tendency to waste time and an unwillingness to focus. They push the boss’s button as much as they can. They don’t want to lose their job either. They just want to earn their paycheck by investing as little of themselves as possible in their work. Motivational speeches aren’t going to work on them. Nor will your spiel on professionalism. But threats will. That is, pointed and timely reminders about what you want them to do and the consequences of them failing to do so. Spell it out clearly and follow up with strict action.
Don’t get friendly with them
This seems obvious, but it isn’t. Bosses are often friendly with their employees, and that leads to weird situations. The biggest problem with being friends with an unproductive subordinate is that it dilutes your authority. They don’t take you seriously. They tend to take liberties because they think they’re in your good books. The consideration for your friendship will stop you from being as strict as you should be. This will reflect badly on your team management and your team’s overall productivity. If you’re already friends with someone who works under you and is being useless, create boundaries.
Don’t be easily impressed
When faced with the prospect of being fired or demoted, people naturally tend to get their act together and appear focused. They might even come in on time for the next few days. But don’t fall for it yet. Don’t praise them for their efforts in the beginning. Let their professionalism and productivity become a norm, not a welcome change. If you praise too soon, they’ll relax in their efforts and revert to their lackadaisical ways, only to mend them when they sense another warning coming up.
Don’t be anyone’s fool
It’s not easy being a boss. If you’re too tough, people call you dictatorial. But if you’re soft, they’ll use it to their advantage. They say it’s best to walk the middle path: Be tough when needed and soft when the occasion demands. But this is easier said than done. For best results, judge people by the quality and amount of their work. Merit-based evaluations of your team members will stand you in good stead every time. It’ll also make it easier for you to spot a drop in productivity and trace the issues back to their real problems. If you’re not the autocratic type, you probably won’t like the idea of being tough on your subordinates. But unfortunately, you’ll have to if you’ve tried other ways and given them enough chances only to have them let you down each time. If it makes you feel better, think of this as a way to improve your company’s overall productivity. Keep in mind that an underperforming team will reflect badly on you.
Richard Cassidy serves as Director of Sales for Administrate, an online training administration system that helps training providers around the world save time and money. After three years as a Royal Marine Commando, Richard hung up his boots to launch Software as a Service (SaaS) products in the global healthcare and aviation sectors, before joining Administrate in 2011.