Is this business or personal?


Photo by Elisabetta Foco

During college I worked a job for 3 and a half years that I loved. The people in the company felt like family. We’d go out after work, we’d laugh and have fun at work, we were productive, we exceeded our goals, we were the best store in our district. Then one day the store manager announced he was leaving to pursue a lifelong dream and a new manager would be starting in two weeks.

I’m not one to brag, but I was one of the highest sellers in the store. I consistently ranked on district charts for big ticket items, units per transaction (I sold lots of little stuff along with your one big thing), and I had customers who would specifically seek me out to buy more products from me. I trained new employees on product knowledge and worked with them to ensure they could sell as efficiently and effectively as possible.

On the day the new manager started I could do no right.

Despite exceeding my goals, it wasn’t enough. Despite having worked with our salespeople to consistently win district sales contests, I was written up for poor performance. And this was all during one of the economic dips immediately after September 11th.

I started going to work every day feeling as if I had a target on my back. There was nothing I felt I could do right and my motivation lagged. My performance began following my sudden sour-attitude.

It’s amazing what a bad manager, and anti-motivator, can do to a company. Eventually I had to leave and find another job. In fact, eventually, most of us fled for greener pastures. I’ve wondered, in recent years, if the problem was that I resisted a new manager, or if he was really that bad. I spoke with people who worked at the store after me, and they overwhelmingly agreed he was that bad of a manager. A store that had a core staff of 10 people for 3 years, ended up having a complete staff turnover every 4 months within a year of the new manager taking over.

The feeling of having a Scarlet Letter on my shoulder is something I’ve talked with others about, too. No matter how they, and their coworkers, perceive their motivation levels after a new manager takes over (or they’re promoted into a new department), some people are just not well received. I can’t always pinpoint what the issue is, or how to solve it, but it’s a valid feeling to be aware of.

Do you single out employees who have always done a good job and received great reviews? Is their performance suddenly awful with no explanation as to why?

I used to umpire baseball and a fellow umpire once gave me the best advice I’ve ever received: “Don’t be a part of the game. You officiate the game, you’re not a third team on the field.”

This applies to work and the Scarlet Letter feeling as well. As a boss, your job is to coach, motivate, and lead. When an employee’s performance truly does sink, your job is to help them get better, manage them, and motivate them. Although, at some point this may not be possible and you may have to let them go. In umpiring, this is like the close call that ultimately determines the outcome of the game. You had to make the decision, and you may or may not have been right, but that’s ok.

If you feel, as a boss, that your job is to nitpick the rules and your employees, you’re becoming a part of the game. It’s amazing what can happen when you give your people a little slack and let them perform.

When you come into a new department, watch people work, give them help when they need it, but let them shine. If you’re picking on someone, ask yourself why. Are they truly a bad performer, or do you just not like them on a personal level?

This is never an easy task, but being honest with yourself and your motivations can help you retain your best employees and continue helping your company to thrive.


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