Bad employee or bad manager?


I once had a manager who said, “This would be a great place to work if it wasn’t for all the bad employees in my department.”

If this person wasn’t my boss I might have asked several follow-up questions including: “Who hired all these bad employees?” “Is it an employee problem or a management problem?” and “Could it be a cultural issue?”

Oftentimes, “bad employees” are employees that lack the skillsets to be successful, are not motivated by their work and work in a toxic environment. It is at this point that a naive manager might say, “Wow, we have a lot of bad employees here.”

Stephen Covey talks about beginning with the end in mind. Nothing is truer than when hiring employees. Employees are the lifeblood of any organization. Hiring the right employee in the right spot is the first critical step, otherwise, nothing else matters. To hire the right employee, we have to understand what successful employees look like in our company (begin with the end in mind). Specifically, are they passionate about why we do what we do? Are their values in alignment with our values? What skills, experience, knowledge is necessary for success in their position.

Having a clear up-to-date job description will help ensure that you are hiring someone with the right skill sets, however, without looking at who they are as a person and how that fits into the current culture, you risk them not being a good fit.

We have an excited capable person that is ready to begin their career with us. The next step is making sure they understand how what they do leads to success. One of the biggest motivating factors for any employee in any organization is knowing that what they do makes a difference.

The janitors in the operating room understand that if they don’t properly clean a room before the next operation, it doesn’t matter what the surgeon does, the likelihood of success drops significantly as the increase of infection goes up. At the end of the day, everyone wants to know they make a difference.

The problem with toxic environments is they sneak up on you. What once was a great place to work has become a place where employees feel unappreciated, uninformed and unable to do their job.

Eventually your good employees will leave, which will continue the downward spiral. Great organizations understand that great employees will not always be great employees if leadership is not constantly working on the relationship. Encouraging employees to bring their own unique personality to work demonstrates the value that every employee brings to the company.

Have you ever been on a Southwest flight when the flight attendant adds their own flair to putting on seatbelts and putting on their oxygen mask in the event of an emergency? It becomes part comedy and part musical. That is often the highlight of the flight. It is important that we not only tell employees they are important but show them. Recognize them in public. Thank them with specific examples of how they are contributing to the success of the organization. Small rewards (Starbucks card, half a day off etc.) along with verbal appreciation goes a long way in creating a positive culture.

Finally, make sure that when employees share their concerns or ideas with management that the follow-up is communicated back to the employees.

Often, employees make suggestions and never get any feedback. Was the suggestion good or bad? Is anything being implemented? Did anyone even read it?

At the Stockton Police Department, they have an electronic suggestion box (you can also do it in a paper format). Employees are encouraged to go online and make suggestions. Regularly, a senior manager will go online and make sure that every action suggested has a feedback section as to the status of the suggestion. At any time, command staff can go online and see what suggestions (trends) are being added to the system and make sure that someone is following up on them. Great culture leads to loyalty, happiness, health and long-term success.

It is easy to look at a poor performing employee and blame their performance completely on them. Although there are some truly bad employees, most are just not the right fit, with lack of the right skills, that are not motivated and work in an environment that is not conducive to success. At the end of the day we have to ask ourselves: do we have a bad employee or a bad manager?


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