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Don’t make the group pay for individual sins

One of the biggest short comings of ineffective managers is taking performance or conduct issues that they have with one or two individuals and making them a group or team issue. You know what I am talking about – a manager has a team of 10, of which 1 or 2 seem to have a problem coming to work on time. The next thing you know, there are memos and emails being issued about the need to arrive to work on time and it then becomes an agenda item in team meetings. Everyone is regularly lectured and threatened about the need for punctuality. The end result is that for the eight people that this doesn’t apply to, they become frustrated, resentful and angry about hearing this message (when everyone knows who it applies to) and the for the two people it does apply to – well, it goes right over their head.

SinThis is a common issue in many workplaces and with many managers. If individuals aren’t meeting their performance targets or goals, you have to have this coaching conversation with them 1:1. Making individual problems into group issues causes resentment, creates division and results in alienation of staff members. For the manager, it will cause them to lose the respect of their team, erodes trust and breaks down communication. Ultimately, people don’t feel appreciated and then they start to look at all the other areas in the workplace that irritate them and find ways to voice/express their displeasure. People who previously weren’t unhappy at work now become dissatisfied. This basically results in the proverbial Pandora’s Box being opened.

Case in point, a personal friend of mine recently relayed a story to me that supports this (information). She has been with her company for over 3 years now and for the most part is pretty happy, motivated and generally engaged in her job (which is a sales job). However, over the past two quarters, her local office has been under tremendous organizational pressure to meet sales targets for which they have been falling short. Primarily this has been due to turnover and the new(er) staff is just not experienced enough to make up the sales shortfall (and in some cases, are already disengaged themselves). Regardless, the problem exists and the Sales Manager (my friend’s boss) is feeling the heat. So, what does he do? As part of his regular staff meetings, he openly throws down to the group about how they are not meeting their targets, how they need to do more and for each week they are not meeting targets, everyone needs to come in on weekends to try and sell more so that the targets can be met. Pretty bad huh?

Of course my friend, along with over half the team who are meeting/exceeding their targets, is pretty P.O.’d about this message and treatment. She felt she was treated with disrespect and is now being “punished” along with everyone else, regardless of what her performance has been like. The second mistake the manager made was to have the top performer in the group get up and basically lecture the rest of the team on how she meets her targets and how if they did what she did, they would meet them too. This employee went on, without the manager stopping her, to lecture about how as a team there was no reason they couldn’t meet their targets and they all need to step up, blah blah blah. The manager concluded the meeting by basically telling the team, “You all need to copy/model what ‘Janie’ does so that you can all deliver higher sales volume.

Just when you think this story couldn’t get any worse it does and I will now show you the danger of making the group pay for individual sins. Unbeknownst to the manager, this “top” performer was actually manipulating the sales recording system to make herself look better. Yes, she is a great salesperson, but she found a way to record/bundle sales activity to make her hours sold look better than everyone else’s. Her peer group all knew it because she wasn’t very discreet about it and, up until this point, no one wanted to “rat out” a member of the team. The problem now is that because everyone was scolded and embarrassed and held up to false comparison, people came out swinging. The resulting fall out hasn’t been pretty. “Janie’s” methods have now been brought to the manager’s attention who now needs to figure out:

  1. How he is going to deal with this issue before it gets escalated above his position
  2. How he can repair the damage done to the team’s morale and his own credibility after he basically told the team they needed to model the behaviour of a cheater!

So you can now see the danger, as a manager, in making the entire team pay for the individual’s sins. Performance and conduct issues should be dealt with in private, 1:1, between manager and employee. You go to the group to solicit their help in solving a problem that is affecting everyone. Ask the group for solutions, input or support in something…don’t scold or lecture the group. If you do, the end result will never be what you are looking for. If in doubt, read this post again about what can happen if you take the wrong approach to the group! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of April/Flickr.com

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