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How to support not sabotage employee performance - by TimC

Many managers and executives sabotage employee performance systematically and regularly.  Why would they consciously or unconsciously sabotage organization success with this destructive management style?  Change can be either a curse or a blessing. Most people fear, dislike and resist any change that they perceive threatens their security, future success or well being.


Regardless of the best corporate intentions or agendas surrounding any change in policy, procedure, re-organization or expansion, employees from the boardroom to the lunchroom tend to think the worst when change appears on the scene.  Regardless of its purpose, need or  anticipated outcome change is often a saboteur of individual performance and organization productivity and profits.


In order to maintain and or increase market share, competitive posture, or long term financial stability, while keeping customer satisfaction high and turnover to a minimum, it is essential that the perceptions, attitudes, values and expectations of your human resources be taken seriously into  account. In my thirty plus years of experience as a trainer, speaker and consultant to a wide variety and size organizations worldwide I have discovered there are twelve key issues that sabotage employee performance and productivity.


They are,



2. Ignorance

3. Poor or no coaching

4. Poor hiring practices

5. Isolation

6. Clouded perceptions

7. Ego,  Management style

8. Inconsistent communication patterns

9. Inadequate human resource development and training

10. Negative motivational climate

11. Poorly communicated corporate direction and goals

12. Not in touch with reality

13. Inconsistent feedback mechanisms

14. Corporate Culture.


Let's look at a few of these briefly.


Arrogance.  This is the general attitude that the organization is invincible regardless of its abuses of customers, employees, the environment, vendors or competitors.


Ignorance.  This is often related to arrogance, but it goes even deeper.  It is being out of touch with the realities that exist within the organization as well as those outside the organization.  It includes but is not limited to: a lack of effective understanding and/or use of technology, a lack of awareness of customer attitudes or perceptions, a lack of interest in employee position needs, desires, concerns or problems, a lack of understanding of marketing or consumer shifts or trends, a lack of awareness of competitor activities, objectives or agendas, and a lack of empathy for supplier issues, problems, needs, or desires.


Isolation.  This is the approach of keeping employees, customers and suppliers at a safe distance so that your perceptions, opinions, philosophy and /or opinions are not challenged.


Clouded Perceptions.  This is being unwilling to see past the visible and the evident to the underlying causes, symptoms or contributors. 


Ego.  This is the desire to be right, control, manipulate, hold on to rather than delegate power, authority and responsibility beyond your office door or trusted inner circle.  It is having an open door policy, but a closed mind when people walk through it.


Management Style.  This is the style in which management staff interact on a routine basis with other managers, support staff, customers and suppliers. 


Communication patterns.  This is the manner in which information flows throughout the organization.  From top down, bottom up, department to department, inside the organization to outside and how outside-in information is distributed.


Human resource development.  Simply stated, this is the overall philosophy about how much of your corporate resources should be invested in the skill development and attitude management of your people.


Lack of clear communicated direction.  One of the greatest obstacles to effective employee performance is when your employees haven't a clue as to who you are trying to become, where you are going and why.   


Poor feedback mechanisms.  One of the biggest weaknesses of managers today is the ability to give both positive and negative feedback.  Negative feedback should not be designed to punish, but modify behavior.  Positive feedback is to insure that people know and understand the expectations and standards under which they are to function.


Culture.  Corporate culture is the personality of an organization.  It is the written and unwritten rules and expectations of behavior, interaction, and performance.  It is the rites and rituals that govern peoples attitudes and activities. It is the corporate paradigm that permeates every strategy, action, and decision.


Let’s go into a little more detail on the above items.




To succeed in today's competitive ever-changing global environment will require:


a)  a willingness to admit defeat and wrong decisions.

b)  humility

c)  flexibility

d)  compromise

e)  a willingness to let go of people, products, policies or procedures, regardless who

     supported them, created them, hired them that are no longer in the best interests

     of the organization  as a whole.  There will be a greater emphasis on what is best for

     the health and welfare of  the organization rather than who said it, decided it,

     or supported it.

f)  adapting to change regardless of how uncomfortable or challenging the new environment

    may seem.




The use of information is power.  However, if you lack current information on market trends, competitor strategies and activities,  customer attitudes and employee perceptions you will be operating in a vacuum.  I recommend the following to ensure you are making the best possible decisions on strategy, finance, marketing, manufacturing and distribution:


a)  use your field sales people as an information gathering resource.

b)   conduct regular employee surveys to discover department, product/service, employee

      and  procedure strengths, weaknesses, and needs.  These surveys should be conducted

      confidentially and evaluated by an outside resource.

c)   conduct regular customer audits to evaluate perceptions, needs, trends, attitudes,      

      problems and produce usage profiles.

d)  meet regularly with suppliers to determine where the relationship could be improved

e)   network with other business leaders both in and out of your industry.

f) become a voracious reader of business and industry publications that directly or  

    indirectly impact on your present or future.

g)  bypass your direct reports and regularly meet with support personnel to discover

     prejudices, judgments, problems and opportunities that are being missed.

h)  use your outside resources as information centers to fill in the gaps where your  

     prejudices or the prejudices of your employees may be jaded.




You can't run your organization successfully from behind your desk or locked in the boardroom.  The job of management is to manage not hide.  If I have heard it once I have heard it hundreds of times.  "We have too many meetings at the upper level of this organization that are generally a waste of time."  I concede that meetings are necessary but evaluation, implementation, execution and directed purposeful action takes place on the street, on the shop floor, in the distribution center not in the meeting room.  I recommend the following:


a) start your day with a "walk-about".  get to know your people.  Be visible and 


b)  end your day with another "walk-about" for the same reason.

c)  be accessible for people when they need information, decisions, feedback, counsel, to

     vent, share, learn, grow, help with your insight, experience, knowledge and sense of


d)  have an open door as well as an open mind when people get there.

e)  learn to listen between the lines.

f)   ask lots of questions.

g)   never be too busy to coach an employee who asks for help, advice or guidance.


Clouded perceptions.


Perceptions become reality.  What is believed to be true regardless of whether it is true or not is acted upon as if it was true.  When you make a decision, any decision, or form a judgment with less than a clear vision of what is really true, you are bound to make mistakes.  Some mistakes at the top cost organizations very little, while others have put organizations out to pasture.  There is only one way to ensure that your perceptions are in line with reality. 


a) create an organizational environment where it is safe to share openly problems, issues 

    and concerns without the fear of retribution. 

b)  don't edit the information you receive regardless of the source.

c)   remember disagreement doesn't mean disloyalty.

d)  encourage disagreement.

e)  don't criticize, punish or discipline employees for bringing reality to you. 

f)  some of your best employees will be the most outspoken. They may be difficult to 

    manage but they are worth their weight in gold, if you want to survive.

g) pay attention to your "gut" feelings, they will be right more than they are wrong,  

   regardless of what you hear or are told.  




Would you rather be happy or right?  Uncontrolled egos have destroyed more enterprises than any other single ingredient. It takes a certain amount of ego to be successful when running a business, regardless of its size, but too much will earn people's wrath, contempt and scorn.  None of these make for a healthy corporate environment.  I recommend the following:


a)  does your need for power, fame, control ever get in the way of sound practical business decisions?

b)  are you more concerned with getting vs. giving credit?

c)  are you more interested in being right than the health or success of a project, activity or your organization as a whole?

d)  do you spend more time talking or listening?

e)  do you tend to over power, intimidate or manipulate people toward your opinion, answer or method?


Management style.


It is easy to determine; if your overall management style is positive or negative,  if it contributes to increased or decreased market share, greater or lesser profits and increasing or decreasing customer base, if it contributes to improved employee performance or increased stress and employee turnover.  There are six  questions to ask yourself:


a)   is your organization a fun place to work?

b)  do people look forward to coming to work?

c)  do your people love their work?

d)  are people waiting in line to join your organization or do many of your employees have their resumes on the street?

e)  do people trust and respect each other or is mistrust rampant?

f)  do your people take ownership of department and corporate outcomes or do they show

     up, do their job and go home?


Your answers to these questions will give you a reasonably accurate assessment as to whether you need to modify your management style or if you are on the right track.


Communication patterns.


Do your people have to be in the right place at the right time to know what is going on in your organization?  Are all your employees kept informed in a timely manner on key corporate decisions that affect them?  Is there excessive redundancy anywhere in the organization?  Are there mini kingdoms where people have circled the wagons and edit information before it leaves or enters a department?  Do you have excess employee turnover?  Are stress levels throughout the organization increasing? Is your corporate culture defined by, "you better get it in writing?" These are just a few of the symptoms of poor communication.  I recommend the following ideas for your consideration:


a)  remove any layers or blocks between employees and/or departments that may be

     preventing "real world" information getting to the people that need it. 

b)  bypass your direct reports, and talk with support staff to test the integrity of the messages that are getting through to your organization or department.

c)  ensure that there are no duel or mixed messages that are penetrating the organization.

d)  correct destructive rumors that may be creating incorrect perceptions.

e)  encourage the upward flow of unedited information.

f)   listen and read between the lines of all communication.

g)  listen for the emotion and feeling behind conversations.

h)  weigh truth on truth scales and sincerity on sincerity scales.


Human resource development.


The investment you make in your people's skills and attitudes will come back again and again to your bottom line.  It may not always be evident directly but it will show up in improved loyalty, morale, ability and overall performance.  Training is an investment in a secure future not a cost.  There is never a bad time to train and educate people. Training should be on-going and relevant.   I recommend the following:


a)  use inside resources for technical and industry training and out-source general skills and attitude training.

b)  off the shelf training programs have limited benefit, consider only custom designed in-house programs when out-sourcing this activity.

c)  training must be regularly reinforced.  You can not change behavior for the long haul with a half day public or in-house seminar or video.

d)  prior to developing a training or human resource development program survey the real

     needs, issues, problems and opportunities that are present with the group that will


e)  have clear focused objectives for any program and develop some form of measurement device no matter how simple or unsophisticated.


Lack of clear communicated direction.


Do your people, all of them, know where you are going, and do they care? One of the biggest obstacles to effective employee performance is a lack of awareness as to the direction or mission of the organization.  Your mission is your general statement of purpose.  What you stand for and believe in.  It is your corporate identity.  There is a right and need to know when it comes to corporate information.  Not every employee needs to understand your financial statement, the details of future growth plans or acquisitions, however, every employee has a need and right to be privy to your general direction,  and how they will fit into the new picture.


I recommend the following ideas for your consideration:


a)  if you have not written a corporate mission statement, I encourage you to do so. When developing it, ensure that it is consistent with who your organization really is not who or what you believe it to be.

b)  once written share it with every employee to ensure both understanding and acceptance.

c)  put your top three goals in writing and see that every employee gets a copy.

d)  constantly re-evaluate to determine if your activities, communication, tasks, objectives and agendas are consistent with your mission statement.


Poor feedback mechanisms.


Everyone wants and needs to know if what they are doing is correct and how they are doing it is acceptable.  Negative feedback should not be designed to punish, but modify behavior.  Feedback both positive and negative can dramatically improve performance and results.  I recommend the following:


a)  praise in public and private.

b)  criticize in private.

c)  don't ignore negative behavior.  It sends the message that it is acceptable or tolerable.

d)  annual reviews are generally a waste of time.  Most are conducted poorly.  Besides, if you have behavior that needs changing you don't want to wait a year to correct it.  I suggest quarterly informal discussions on: expectations, needs, problems and issues either from the perspective of the supervisor or the employee.

e)  feedback should be immediate and delivered in a manner to ensure understanding,

     acceptance and ownership.

f)  ask your employees to give you a review every time you give them one.  If you think you are perfect or they don't know your weaknesses you are living in fantasyland. 




Culture is the personality style of the organization.  It is the unwritten rules, rights and rituals that act as a filter through which every decision, project, task, goal and activity must pass.  Corporate culture has its stamp on every person, policy and procedure.  There can also be department, division and group cultures within the overall corporate culture.  The impact of culture on the health, success and longevity of an organization can not be denied.  I suggest the following:


a)  conduct an employee culture audit.  This can be done either formally or informally.  It can be written or verbal. It can be confidential or public.

b)  see if your culture is consistent with your mission statements' premises and philosophy.

c)  is your culture changing?  If so how?  How fast?  In the direction you would like?

d)  remember all culture is top down.  It flows down from the senior person in the group,

department or organization.  You must take full responsibility for it regardless of its nature or description.

e)  if you want to change your culture it will take time, lots of time.


Well there you have it.  Woven in the above concepts are the seeds of improved employee and organization productivity or the seeds of destruction.  I challenge you to reflect on these ideas to determine in which areas you, one of your executives or managers or the organization as a whole needs modification or improvement.


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