It doesn’t take much to think back to the iconic “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ethel are working on an assembly line at a chocolate factory. Neither of them was doing an excellent job keeping up with the speed of the conveyer belt. It just kept going faster and faster as Lucy did everything she could to keep up, including shoving the chocolates in her mouth and clothes.
Look around, and you likely have at least one co-worker or employee who often resembles this scene. The question that keeps coming to mind is: why?
There are a number of reasons why someone is challenged with getting the work done, handling the workload, or being effective at the work they do. As a manager, you know you need to do something, but the answer is not always clear. Most managers prefer to use the mantra of, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” but aren’t quite sure where to start when needing to improve the situation. You just don’t know whether it is you or them. Are you not providing the right support or are they just mismatched for the role?
Here are a few areas to consider when determining where the gaps exist.
One of the biggest pitfalls is employees not having absolute clarity on the following:
- What is their role in the organization?
- What are they are responsible for?
- What are they held accountable for?
- What they are being measured on (a.k.a. What does success look like)?
- How does what they do impact the rest of the organization?
As text book as this list is, too many employees are missing clarity on most of the above. The disconnect happens when the frustrated manager can answer each of them but the employee causing the frustration can’t. When you get the deer-in-the-headlight stare to any of the questions, it is time to take action.
Pull out that dusty job description that was used when you originally posted the job and start there. This will serve as the basis for everything else. Create columns next to each task and make it clear which they are responsible for versus accountable for. Which responsibilities include other employees or departments? This is where you will find the biggest gaps and can work to fill them.
Training can be very esoteric. Are your employees properly trained? Where are the training gaps? How to get them the training they need seems like a vicious never-ending loop. Few are brave enough to get the loop started. Rather than thinking of it as a long drawn-out process, something like a Six Sigma project, look at it as a single conversation that can turn the tides. This will help you take action sooner than later.
Start with the job description from above. Add another column that includes their comfort level with each area of responsibility. Are they struggling, competent, or experts at what they do? Explain the difference between each. The discussion is interactive and informative. It tends to bring out information that otherwise wouldn’t come out. It provides some common language to guide both of you to where some of the issues are. Start with the most impactful gap and put some action items and timelines to fixing it.
Processes and procedures
Are they reinventing the wheel each time something is done? Not knowing how to do something and needing to figure it out is one of the biggest time delays for an employee. Think of it as asking someone to put a puzzle together but you didn’t give them all of the pieces, and they don’t have the box with the picture on it.
Go back to the job description and the training conversation. For anything they said they were an expert on, they should be able to write up what they think the process should be. Most issues occur when they are part of a bigger process. Get everyone involved in the process together and have a process-building party. The group talks through the process. While doing this, they will likely find some gaps or time wasters. Have it recorded and transcribed. With a little clean-up, you have it documented and everyone on the same page.
In some cases, we are expecting the employee to have split personalities. Take a look at the job description and think through the types of skills and personality traits that are needed to accomplish everything on that list effectively. Are you looking at two different people? Though the workload may only require one full-time employee, the skills, personality traits, and other attributes may be more realistic for two different people.
One of the biggest challenges for companies to find a really good operations manager is the range of skills needed to be effective. The job involves a lot of focus and being detailed, as well as out-of-the-box thinking, creativity, and being personable. Think through most people you know. Few would be strong in each of those areas.
Building on everything discussed so far, it may make more sense to rework the job descriptions and reallocate responsibilities amongst the employees. If you are in the process of hiring, consider splitting the job description in half and hiring either two part-time employees or contracting the more challenging tasks to a specialist.
We are humans, not robots. When we are having issues personally, it often affects us professionally. There is not much you can do as a manager other than being aware of it. Many times, the employee thinks they are hiding it well and is not aware of how much work performance is being affected. Talk it through and keep the focus on the work product, not the personal areas that may be causing the work product issues.
The common theme throughout each of these is communication. The more everyone is informed and communicating the clearer the direction and end state will be.
DISCLAIMER: This article expresses my own ideas and opinions. Any information I have shared are from sources that I believe to be reliable and accurate. I did not receive any financial compensation in writing this post, nor do I own any shares in any company I’ve mentioned. I encourage any reader to do their own diligent research first before making any investment decisions.
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