Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart
A hand accusingly pointing at a confused lady

A real-life example of unintentional demotivation

I recently wrote about how we can demotivate a potentially good employee by being critical of them without ensuring they understand our expectations.

Just such a situation came my way this past week.

A senior manager was concerned about a junior manager who reported to her. The specific concern was that the junior manager did not plan his time well. The senior manager was finding herself constantly reminding him what to do and when to do it. This was really getting under the skin of the senior manager.  She considered him a “problem employee” and asked me what she should do to correct his behaviour.

I asked her if she had spoken to him to make sure that he understood her expectations that he plan his time better and become self-reliant with task management. She said she had and wanted to know what to do next. I asked how the talks on this issue had been going. She said that he told her often that he preferred to have her help him manage his time since he was not very organized. When I asked if she had made it clear to him this did not work for her and that she expected something else, she admitted she hadn’t.

The solution to this one was simple for me. Right away, the senior manager needs to apologize for not making her expectations clear and for the negative feedback she gave to the junior manager. She needs to communicate that she will no longer be managing his time for him and that she expects him to do this for himself. She needs to hear him repeat back that he will set up and manage an effective system for his tasks and his calendar. And she needs to support him with tools and training in the process. Only after a sincere effort at helping him meet the now fully understood expectations does the senior manager have the green light to call his performance into question and take further steps if he falters.

Criticizing someone for not meeting vague expectations is a path to disengagement for the employee and poor results for the organization. Making expectations clear and helping someone meet them is the path to engagement and good performance.  If junior succeeds, senior can feel good about being a strong leader and helping junior with some important personal growth. The rush you get helping someone grow is what leadership it is all about.