Words Your Team Won't Ask For (But Desperately Needs to Hear)

Serious Benefits

Would you be interested in a leadership practice that would improve the quality of work for 80% of your employees? What if you could increase the productivity and job satisfaction of 93% of your staff? What would that mean for your team and your organization?

Believe it or not, there is one thing you can say and do that can provide those benefits. If you’ve been in the workplace very long, you will probably recognize this one very quickly.

Many years ago, when I started my professional career, I came across a survey that asked, "If you got to be boss for a day, what one thing would you do?"

Boss for a Day?

Before reading any further, take a moment to answer that question. How would you have answered it differently at various times in your career?

You might expect the most common answer to be one of these:

·      "Give everybody more vacation time" or

·      "Give myself and other deserving folks a raise" or maybe even

·      "Improve the quality of the food in the break room"

While those items were on the list, they were not the most common. The most frequent response was, "I would take care of the troublemakers and the people who are not doing their work."

In my own speaking and training I have asked this same question many times and, despite changes in the economy and workplace, this continues to be a very common response.

In fact, 93% of employees report working with people who don’t pull their weight. Underperforming coworkers cause one-fourth of employees to work four – six additional hours each week and 80% of employees report that picking up the slack for slacking coworkers lowers the quality of their own work.*

Why Bother?

If you’ve ever worked alongside a slacking colleague, you know this reality firsthand. There’s almost nothing more demotivating! It corrupts the soul when you have somebody who's not pulling their weight and not doing their job. For your highly productive team members, it begs the question, “Why bother?”

If you allow that situation to persist, soon their performance will suffer or else they will leave and find a team worthy of their skills.

Key to Morale and Productivity

The answer to the problem of troublemakers and underperforming team members are words your team needs to hear you say: “That will not happen here.”

You may use different words, but it is critical that you create a culture where everyone is expected to do what they need to do and to treat others with respect.

Once, after sharing this program with an energetic group of leaders, a woman named Mary approached me and said, “David, I used to earn six figures as a manager in a technology firm. I did everything on your list…”

I nodded and smiled until she said, “Everything, but number six.”

“That is a hard one for many leaders,” I replied.

“Yes, but it’s also the reason I don’t work there any more – they fired me because I didn’t take care of those things. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. Make sure you emphasize this one!”

Mary wanted to be sure you understand that you can say all six of the other items on this list, but if you fail to say this one, your credibility and influence will inevitably suffer.

What About Volunteers?

If you’re a nonprofit leader or leader of volunteers, this applies every bit as much to you as it does a leader in a for-profit company – if not more so! Imagine a volunteer who is contributes their time and energy, works diligently, and does their best working alongside someone who is half-hearted at best. What will happen to your hard-working volunteer?

The same thing that happens to a paid employee – they will lose heart and possibly leave altogether.

Give Them What They Need

When you say, “That will not happen here,” you provide safety and accountability, and you communicate that what they're doing matters. You demonstrate respect and value for your mission, for the work, and for your employees. Failing to practice accountability devalues the mission, the work, and disrespects your staff.

It is the duty of the executive to remove ruthlessly anyone – and especially any manager – who consistently fails to perform with high distinction. To let such a man stay on corrupts the others. It is grossly unfair to the whole organization.  - Peter Drucker

Your Turn

Leave a comment and let us know:

How do you hold your team accountable when things aren't going the way they need to?

How do you say goodbye when the time comes?

Take care,



Creative Commons Photo by ank0ku

*Grenny, J., May 2013. Advancing Accountability in Your Organization, T+D, p. 14.

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