When I was head of HR at a large hospital in Baltimore, supervisors and managers would come to me when routine discipline did not correct a situation with their direct reports.
I recall one situation with a rather autocratic supervisor of the supply department. Their responsibilities included unloading several trailer trucks of supplies first thing each morning, securing the supplies, and delivering the non-pharmaceutical supplies to the clinical areas and then the rest of the hospital.
One of the crew was eternally late – every morning he’d show up about 30-45 minutes after the shift started and the supervisor would write him up, applying progressive discipline, including suspension.
The supervisor had asked for a per-termination review with me in preparation for firing this employee. I ask the supervisor to send him to talk to me before his shift was over that day; I was curious why he wouldn’t come to work on time.
When we met, I asked him what the problem was with being on the loading dock ready to work by 6:00AM, like all his teammates? Here’s how he saw it:
I get there when I can, but if I’m late, I always make up the time at the end of the shift – my supervisor get’s his 8-hours every day
When I get to work I jump right in and don’t waste a minute unloading the trucks and moving the supplies to the floors and departments
I’m a hard worker – reliable except for coming in late
I do not think I should be fired for being late – it’s no big deal, I do the work.
I asked him to review his typical day with me and list each person he came into contact with in the course of his duties. He told me that it took about an hour to unload all the early trucks when everyone was there, longer if someone was missing.
He listed his teammates, then the clinical staff, then the department staff, and a few others – 75 in all. He volunteered that virtually all of the 75 relied on him for their supplies and would page him for emergency requests, instead of calling general supply.
I asked him about how ‘I do the work’ applies when he’s late to the loading dock to unload the trucks? As he was telling me that he’d jump right in, he realized that not being there shortchanged his teammates, since they had to do his share until he showed up.
He told me there was over an hour delay getting to clinical area delivery when he caused the unloading to drag longer. Asking him to describe what happened when he arrived on the floor, he said the staff would jump him and get the supplies they really needed and rush off to the patient’s room. They seemed stressed.
Anything different with the other departments? Often they were anxious to receive the supplies so they could complete or deliver their work.
My last question was how much work was there at the end of the day, when he was making up time? ‘Usually not too much – I just chill until I can punch out with 8-hours’.
I summarized what he had told me:
The other 5 guys on the loading dock relay on him to do his share and have to work harder to cover when he’s not there
The other 70 people he sees each day rely on him to bring them supplies as early as possible so they can properly care for the patients or complete their work
These same people rely on him for emergency supplies and special service
He is letting down most of this entire group when he does not come to work on time –
The other guys have to work harder
The clinical area is more stressed when they do not have the proper supplies at hand
The work of the staff in other departments is delayed when he is late on the delivery rounds
His ‘make-up’ time doesn’t make up for the problems he causes when he’s late.
It is a big deal after all and what he does makes a difference to 75 other people in the hospital. He said he had never seen it from that view and agreed that he affected a lot of people by coming in late.
He made me a promise that he would be in and ready to go by 6:00AM from tomorrow on! I gave him an alarm clock to help him keep that promise. And he did for the remainder of time he was in that position, before he was promoted to a more responsible one elsewhere in the hospital.
We get so focused on our tasks, that we can lose track of how our work affects others. If it really does not matter, look out – job elimination may be just around the corner.
How would you impress the value of an employee’s contributions on others within and outside the organization or department?
Seems like you did a good thing there assuming the best and giving the employee the chance to be a quality employee — not everyone is so lucky. Talking it through is a great way to do it, I like your approach.
Give people credit for doing good work. All the time. Very specific, very immediate.
Agree with Corey, great intervention, very effective. Can learn a lot from that one.
Great example for both performance management and customer service. Helping people connect the dots of the impact they have throughout the ‘system’ of their organization is very effective in turning around performance and a culture. Too many managers don’t know how to do this or are blinded by their frustration with the situation or individual. Thanks for sharing, Jack.
Great job of reclaiming an employee. I wish all HR staff and management would put as much effort into helping employees as you did here.
Thanks for your comment and support of reclaiming an employee instead of just throwing them away.
During the interview, he was amazed (me too actually) that he routinely touched 75 people each day in his supply role. That’s an impressive tribe!
I have found the best form of constructive criticism is to review what was done well – not concentrate on mistakes and poor performance. It identifies desired activity in a positive way.
I like your comment about giving people credit – no one does everything wrong, so find the good stuff to highlight.
Great comment! Helping the employee discover the effect of his or her actions is so much more instructive than to try to overcome their ‘self -talk’ challenging a negative observation.
It is important to note that both parties must be open to making a change for this to be successful. Seeing the contribution instead of a task can make all the difference.
There is a risk in having that last conversation and offering one more chance. Better not to let it get so far down the road.
Thanks for your comment.