Q: My question is how to deal with, from a management perspective, the issue of tardiness and absenteeism? I have to admit that this issue continues to be emotionally draining for me affecting both my attitude and that of those around me.
A: Many employers struggle with providing performance feedback to correct workplace issues, like tardiness and absenteeism.
What’s performance feedback all about? The word “performance” makes it seem as if we are on stage. Success at work is our applause, the managers and leaders of our organization are the directors and producers, and our successful performance run is obviously the bottom line. Very few actors walk away with a Tony or an Oscar for mediocre performances. That is also true in the work world. Survival as an organization rests on the quality of our work. Without stopping to playback our performance, we might find that our run will be much shorter than we anticipated.
As leaders, we need to get people on a positive course by helping them face and then manage weaknesses. How this is done is through the feedback process: honestly, respectfully, openly, thoughtfully and with a sense of purpose.
For example, as a team leader or manager you can begin to work on the tardiness and absenteeism situation by writing out your answers to the following two questions:
- How can you say that you are concerned about this weakness in a respectful and helpful way? (Be specific. "You aren't contributing to the team's effort" is a difficult statement for someone to hear. Reformat the weakness. "I am concerned when you don't get to the office on time" refocuses the concern as a problem.)
- How can you offer this person encouragement to change the way he or she has done things in the past?
Employees want to succeed in their work. Most accept that goal-directed feedback is an effective means of guiding their work activities to be in concert with team and organizational goals. By having a performance feedback conversation with the tardy employee (where you coach while doing more listening than talking), you can insist that he arrive on time, focus on his work and ask what he will do to make this happen. The impact on the tardy employee will make him responsible for his actions and sets clear expectations. The consequence is he has the opportunity to design a solution to the issue.
This situation is an opportunity for you, as the team leader, to build your leadership skills and style. Leadership development is not an event. It is a process of participating in respectful conversations where the leader recognizes his or her own feelings and those of others in building safe and trusting relationships. Leadership is an interactive conversation that pulls people toward becoming comfortable with the language of personal responsibility and commitment.
Here are five guiding principles for respectful conversations:
1. When peers connect change happens. Effective coaching can happen on the dance floor of conversation.
2. It's okay to begin a conversation by confronting the other person with questions that seem awkward but set the stage for a respectful exchange. Why waste time on small talk? Just ask to-the-point information-seeking questions, like: "What are you here for? How do you want to spend our time together?"
3. Conversations are not meant to be structured. Be open to conversations that
you are unprepared for and focused on the interests of the other person (not your purpose).
4. Don't get pulled into solving problems that may not matter to the other person.
Allow time for the person to get to what's really important. Provide spaces where they can express their doubts and fears by being a thoughtful listener--without
taking on the responsibility to fix or debate the issue. After all, you have invited
the person to talk about what matters to her or him, not you, so allow time for
the articulation of those thoughts and feelings.
5. Personal transformation happens when the right questions get asked--not by
providing answers. When you focus on the solution, you are trying to sell the person something. When you allow people to answer their own questions, they discover what they were not aware of---and what is needed to move forward.