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Are your people holding you to ransom? (short video)

Posted by Simon Thiessen on 23-Sep-2015 10:00:00

Have you noticed if your employees have coercive power over your decision making process?

Perhaps you have been in a situation where you held back from certain decisions because you were intimidated or fearful of the consequences [proposed] by your employees. 

In this video, we explore the ways in which employees might instill fear in managers, conciously or subconciously; and provide some suggestions on how to deal with them. (Transcipt follows the video). 




Today I have a really simple question for you: are your people holding you over a barrel? I’ve noticed this trend emerging amongst a number of organizations we’re working with. If you’ve got people in your team that you feel are holding you over a barrel, this short video should give you some suggestions on dealing with them. My name’s Simon Thiessen; I’m the CEO of the Real Learning Experience.

What do we mean when we say “hold you over a barrel”? Well, are you not addressing some of their poor behavior or poor performance for fear of the consequences of going through the process of addressing it? Are there things they’re getting away with because they seem to hold some power over you, some power that they shouldn’t have?

Of course, I don’t mean power as in that they’re blackmailing you in some way, they know something dark, secret about your past, although that could be an interesting topic for another video. I mean the power that they have to instill fear in managers about “What will happen if I deal with this person as they need to be dealt with?”

Five ways in which employees are creating this fear 

Firstly, employees suggest “Well, you know what, if I don’t like what you tell me, I’ll go work somewhere else. I’ll quit. And good staff are hard to find. So it’s up to you, but if you push me, I might just leave.” The second is: “Well, you know, if I don’t like what you tell me, I’ll just go and talk to your manager. And they’ll deal with you because what you’re asking me is not fair.” The third is: “Well, I’ll go off on stress leave.” The fourth and closely related to that is “I’ll just suddenly become sick.” And the fifth and the one that often causes the most fear but is often the least realistic is “Well, I’ll go and talk to Worksafe or someone like that because I think you’re bullying me.” 

Suggestions of possible solutions

My first suggestion is this: you’ve got to do things well because if you do things well, none of those options really have any value for them.

The rule I always work to is: “Are you asking people to do the right thing and are you asking them in the right way?”

If you’re adhering to those 2 principles, then really none of those other consequences that they hold over your head have any real weight. Of course, they’re still free to leave and frankly, that might be the best thing.

So let’s work through those one at a time. Let’s go back to the first one: “What if they leave if I ask them to do things that they don’t wanna do? If I hold them accountable, I then have to find someone new.” I know that’s inconvenient, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that having a body in a seat is the same as having your worthwhile employee. If the price of keeping someone is allowing them to behave or perform at a level that’s not acceptable to you, then the price is too high. Yes, it’s inconvenient to lose people, but it’s much more inconvenient to keep people who are destructive or not helpful. It’s the death by a thousand cuts. Instead of suffering the pain once or “Gee, I’ve gotta replace this person.” you let them undermine performance gradually every day in their actions.

The second one is all about going to see your manager. “I don’t like what you tell me, so I’ll go and see your manager.” One of the things I’m really strong on is if you know you need to have a strong performance management discussion with one of your team and you know that they are likely to run to your manager and complain about it, and particularly if you’re worried that your manager may undermine you, I would have a discussion with your manager first. I would go to them, outline the behavior, the performance that you’re concerned with, outline how that’s undermining the results or the team performance and outline what you plan to do about it, the discussion you’re going to have. Get by in from your manager before you even start that they’ll back you up on this. When we’re saying your manager that might be in fact your direct manager, but it may also mean talking to an external department such as HR.

The third consequence, could they go off on stress leave? Sure they could! And you know, sometimes the system allows people to do that. However, if you’ve got a well-documented process in which you can show that you held people accountable to their performance, you asked them to do the right thing and you asked them in the right way, then there’s gotta be a limited period typically in which they can go off on stress leave. If you think someone is a bit of a risk for this, I would outline your plan of action and talk to HR first.

The same principles really apply to someone who goes on sick leave because they’re being asked to perform at a reasonable level. We see this all the time. Someone has a discussion with their manager, they don’t like the outcome, the next day they call in sick. Once again, it doesn’t feel like a game at the time, but you’ve sort of gotta play the game. It’s the way people sometimes respond and the system allows them to do it. The other thing though is the system only gives them a certain amount of sick leave. If they find someone prepared to sign off on that sick leave for a period of time, that’s just a process you need to go through. Of course, that sick leave will run out and then they’ll need to either come back to work and be accountable or go and do something else.

Now the fifth one and the one that strikes terror into a lot of managers’ hearts is that whole one around bullying, around “I’ll talk to Fairwork or someone like that, because what you’re asking me to do is not fair, not reasonable.” Well, go back to the principles. Are you asking them to do something fair, something reasonable, and are you asking them in a reasonable way? If you are, you’re on strong ground. It’s OK to ask people to do their job. It’s OK to give them performance-related feedback as long as it’s given respectfully and appropriately. The authorities aren’t fools. They’re not going to allow someone to use them to help them avoid doing their job. So make sure you follow strong principles, make sure you follow a strong process and you’ll be fine.

Performance management is one of the biggest issues we see facing leaders today. When you have to hold people accountable for their performance or their behavior, it inevitably feels more uncomfortable, it inevitably involves more conflict. That’s one of the responsibilities of a leader and as soon as you decided to accept a position in which you manage one or more other people, then you became a leader. I hope this video has provided you with some reassurance and some strong pointers in dealing with these things. Thank you again for watching!

For ideas on how to optimize your team performance, check out our other blog articles such as 6 leadership style tips to manage people performance, another video on how to manage poor performance, or even ten reasons not to bother with performance appraisals.


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Topics: Leadership