A bug and a wish

Departments - Learn to Lead | Managing your business relationships

Take action when problems arise before the situation gets worse.

October 13, 2016


You’re driving your car, minding your own business when suddenly your brakes begin to shimmy and squeak each time you stop. What do you do? Ignore the problem and hope that your brakes will magically repair themselves? Tell yourself your brakes need attention, but keep on driving, only to be repeatedly reminded the problem hasn’t gone away? Or, schedule an appointment and get things taken care of immediately?

As you might have guessed, I recently experienced car trouble. Each time I hit the brakes, my car told me something was wrong. While I ignored its pleas for a couple of weeks, I wasn’t willing to jeopardize my safety, so I bit the bullet and finally made the repairs. What a difference. Although it’s been several months, I still notice how delightfully smooth things are when I stop. My only question is, “Why didn’t I take care of it sooner?”

What is your natural tendency when problems arise? Do you nip bad behaviors in the bud? Or, do you put off tough conversations and avoid taking action until things reach a critical point? Do you bury your head in the sand?

Like cars in need of repair, problem employees provide warning signals. Are you tolerating a Late Lucy, Caustic Clay, Lying Lizzy, Defensive Dan, Lazy Lynette, Snippy Sal or Explosive Erin? If so, I encourage you to consider the impact their behavior has on you, the rest of your staff and on your customers. Make no mistake, bad behaviors impact bottom lines.

Here are five quick tips for taking care of business.

1. Tell yourself the truth. Anything that happens twice is a pattern. The question is no longer if, but when, it will happen again.

2. Understand employees engage in “trial behaviors.” You are constantly training people how to treat you and others by how you respond to what they do. Tolerance and silence imply acceptability.

3. Remember that others are watching and waiting to see what you will do. When you fail to address problems and bad behaviors, you send a loud, crystal clear message to everyone else. They will either know that the environment is unsafe and they must self-protect, or they will decide, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” Unfortunately, both responses hamper productivity and profitability.

4. Refrain from making excuses and allowances for bad behavior. Telling yourself or others things like, “That’s just Sherene” or “Alex is going through a difficult time” is never helpful. Add, “But it’s not ok to engage in XYZ behavior” to the end of the sentence, and you are well on your way to resolving the problem.

5. See it, say it. The most effective formula for addressing problems is “A Bug and A Wish.” “It bugs me when [insert problem behavior,] and I wish you would [insert desired behavior.]” As a leader, instead of “bugs,” you’ll use more descriptive words like concerns or frustrates. You’ll also want to replace “I wish” (which is peer to peer and an option) with “I need,” which is a directive. For example, “It concerns and frustrates me when you don’t greet customers with a smile. I need for you to ensure they know they are welcome and wanted here.”

As you step up and speak, you will encounter resistance from your problem employees. Everyone else will thank you for leading with integrity. Drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

Sherene works with organizations that want to boost their Leadership IQ so they can enhance effectiveness, increase employee engagement and raise productivity. Learn more at sherenemchenry.com.