Graham Jones (Vancouver, President of VANTUG)

Recently I found myself contemplating accomplishments, failures ((:-) and past experiences with friends, superiors, peers and subordinates. This all ultimately defines who we become. As managers we largely accomplish “tasks” through others. Each year I usually take a little time to reflect on what I have learned over the past year. People are a constant learning process. The last year for me for example has seen me become involved with charities and that has been very enlightening.

Life is all about cultivating, establishing and maintaining “relationships”. Done well it is hard, time consuming but rewarding work. I found myself thinking about successes and failures with people that I have managed. What do I mean by successes and failures? If someone who has been a good performer suddenly shows a lack of interest in their job and their performance drops markedly what would you do? Would you call them into your office and tell them to “smarten up or pay the consequences” or seek a way of determining the root cause of their problems? I hope the latter. You likely won’t get very far unless you have established a good “relationship” with that person. They will probably either clam up or tell you that it is none of your business. Is it your business? Darned right it is! But it is not your personal business which is an important distinction. It is your responsibility to try and find a way to help that individual past their current difficulties without expecting them to reveal their innermost secrets.

People with “problems” can very quickly become ‘90 – 10’ people. They seem to occupy 90% of your time for what might seem like little gain. Remember these people were once good performers. Are we going to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”? I certainly hope not. Employees are a major company investment. My personal definition of success and failure in this case refers to the people that I “resurrected” versus the people that I “lost”. What about the role of the HR department? They can provide services to try and help (eg. counseling) but they cannot “support” in the same way that you can.

I can only tell you that I never gave up on anybody and I succeeded far more times than I failed, not because I consider that I had some “magic” formula but largely because I made the commitment to try and I had worked hard at the “relationships”. If you succeed you have won the individual’s ultimate respect and support. In the process you have likely won the respect and support of many of their peers. So what if you fail? At the end of the day the most important part is to try. You will still gain respect from their peers for that alone.

Unfortunately we don’t exist in isolation. Do you always tell your boss about the people who are now performing poorly before you have a chance to tackle their issues? He or she may or may not take a sympathetic stance. You must judge that one very carefully. The “relationship” with your boss is just as important. Did I always do what my boss asked when it came to dealing with people? Only if I thought that was going to give a positive result. Sure it’s risky but “no guts, no glory”. Everyone is different and you have to make a judgement call on how each individual will react. Did I ultimately have to let some people go? Sadly, yes. Unfortunately some problems are very difficult to fix. For example, drinking problems are a big challenge because the individual will almost never admit to it.

Lest we should ever forget, keeping employees in “top working order” pays dividends many times over. It benefits the individual, ourselves in accomplishing our “task” and the company bottom line. Are you spending enough time “maintaining” your employees? It can easily become one of those “I must get around to it things”. You may not always prevent a loss of performance but you may be able to mitigate the situation. There are well known management cliché’s when it comes to help in building “relationships” with employees but they wouldn’t exist but for the fact that they work. I will discuss a couple of the “old chestnuts” and some of my personal experiences in Part 2.