The things you’ll remember most (or should remember most) about your career, and the things that’ll often indicate whether or not you were a good leader, are your people.
The people who work under your charge, “your family”.
The people to whom you report, “your bosses”.
And the people with whom you interact, “your customers & your peers”.
To be a truly successful leader, you really have to serve all 3 masters…to THEIR own liking!
With your people, you need not be liked by every single person. Chances are that if you are “universally loved & adored”, you’re probably running a country club & not a business enterprise.
And while you need to be 100% fair to 100% of the people, 100% of the time, that does NOT mean that you treat everyone similarly.
You hafta adjust & modify your approach according to the person’s personality…and performance.
Most people respond well to positive reinforcement & acknowledgement for a job well done…but what do you do with the poor performer(s)?
You gotta be a little tougher on them. It’s for the business’s good AND their good!
(Just like what my Mom said when she’s whack the crap outta me…”I’m only doing this for your own good! You’ll thank me some day!”)
But you also have to be realistic.
Do they have “the goods”, e.g., the intelligence, the work ethic, the drive, the ability to absorb knowledge, the potential to perform better, etc. to become (at least) an acceptable performer at their current role/position?
If not, could there be something better suited for them, something not as challenging or perhaps, more aligned with their skill set?
(Always remember, no matter what, they’re PEOPLE…someone’s son or daughter or brother or sister.
They could be a parent, struggling hard to provide for their family. Or someone new to the workforce that hasn’t really caught on yet.
It’s a helluva lot easier to simply write some people off as “lost causes”, replaceable assets…but that’s the easy way out!
As a TRUE leader, you must care for each & every individual – – regardless!
And “treating people like family” must be something you do with passion, with genuine love. It’s more than just a cool thing to claim!)
I’ve come across a few employees in my time who should not have been in their current positions.
Not in any way, shape or form.
In my opinion, they were in way over their head, did not possess the mental capacity to handle the job the way it should be done & in all honesty, should have been released from their jobs.
(I didn’t come to this instant realization, this quick psychoanalysis, through mere observation. Rather, after hours & hours & hours of individual training, coaching & review…and a WHOLE lotta blood, sweat & tears…one comes to the point of “What else can we do???”)
But remember, a good leader uses their head, heart & gut when making a decision.
Don’t ignore your heart.
I know this may sound crazy, but I don’t believe that I’ve ever fired an employee for poor performance.
For job abandonment? Yes.
For total insubordination (well, not to me directly)? Once.
Even once for embezzlement (entering false claims for himself & his gf).
An agency temporary who just wasn’t cutting it after several attempts of coaching, training & whatever? Yeah, a few times.
But I really don’t ever remember firing an employee for performance & that includes excessive absenteeism.
Always nip the issue in the bud before it becomes a problem.
Make sure you (or your managers) speak with EVERY employee after EVERY unscheduled absence to review their record to date. You don’t want any surprises nor any “But no one told me!”.
I don’t care if it’s their first one in 5 years…have the conversation!
Hey, it can be a very positive one (“Yesterday, you must’ve been feeling terribly as that was the first time you’ve called in sick in years. I sincerely hope you’re felling better & I want to thank you for such wonderful performance!”), but have the talk.
If their work is suffering (as you’ll often find with new, or new-to-your-area, employees), address it directly & immediately.
And with new employees, BE PROACTIVE!!!
They’re gonna make mistakes, probably a lot of them. And there are a helluva lot more things they don’t understand than just those things for which they ask questions.
New employees are embarrassed to ask questions every time they really need help…they view it as a sign of weakness & not being able to properly handle their job. They’ll ask their neighbors 10x as many questions as they will their supervisors!
Be ready for this & be ahead of the game.
EVERY new employee should submit a list of “difficult things”, “tough questions”, “hard-to-understand topics” to their supervisor at the end of EVERY shift, for at least the first few weeks. Stuff that had ’em befuddled, had them wondering, had them asking questions (to themselves as well as others).
EVERY new employee, EVERY single day.
You use these for those 1/2 hr reviews you should be holding with the mew employee group(s)…EVERY single day.
For their individual reviews, at least 1-2 weekly.
The first 90 days of ANY RELATIONSHIP is, by far, the most important & crucial stage ever…be it employee, customer, love, sports, religion, family, friends, whatever!
You will lose more employees, customers, friends, lovers, teammates, etc. in the first 90 days than you will in their next 2-3 years!
You can’t train enough.
You can’t over-review.
You can have too many meetings with them.
Take every opportunity (when things aren’t crazy) to sit different experienced workers with them.
With customers, contact them regularly during the first 90-120 days. We did that with our new Checking customers with our Customer Care Unit & got tremendous results! Attrition dropped significantly & total relationships grew immensely!
People have SO MANY QUESTIONS…and so many (perceived) issues & problems…during their first 90 days.
Whatever you think you’re doing, then OVERDO IT!!!
If you’re not doing it, then start.
If you’re doing it 5 times, then do it 10 times.
If you’re doing it for 15 mins, then do it for 1/2 hour.
At one time, I compiled a list of “The 25 most difficult & confusing things you’ll face on the job” for Customer Service.
(Yes, explaining why their check bounced…when they had 50 million other transactions going on…was on the list. And it needs to be done in SIMPLE ENGLISH so your customer can actually understand it, especially since in 99.999999% of the time, the bank was completely wrong!!!
In their minds, and that’s all that really counts! I really don’t give a damn how the rep felt about the call or whether they followed every step in the process correctly IF THE CUSTOMER WASN’T HAPPY ABOUT THE CALL!!!
Not only does the employee have to be right, the customer must also agree with that & accept the facts (after first understanding what occurred & why)!
No, not easy.)
Don’t wait for every employee to experience this stuff on their own.
Why can’t today’s new trainees benefit from what last month’s/year’s new trainee experienced? Why can’t we realize this stuff & try to get ahead of the curve?
I get it that there are, indeed, growing pains. Some things will only come with time & experience.
But most early “difficulties” are because they haven’t been specifically trained on that topic. Or not trained well enough on it. Or not tested sufficiently on it.
Or now they’re being faced with an irate, “but he’s not listening to what I’m telling him” customer & thats not what we learned in training!
At Citi, they gave a test at the end of the 6-8 week training class for new hires. (I think it was later extended by a couple for sales/referral instruction.)
If a student got, say, 76% on the final exam, then what about the other 24%?!? Handling 3 out of 4 things properly is acceptable?
Get your Training Dept to share ALL test results with you.
Get a written & oral review/evaluation for EVERY student from the trainer.
When an experienced worker sits with one of your rookies, get a list of EVERY topic (from the veteran) that should be later reviewed & covered with the newbie.
Over, over, over.
More, more, more.
Again, again, again.
So what do you do with the employee(s) who just can’t cut it, after repeated attempts to help???
I had 2 such employees…Maria (my bilingual rep in Nebraska) & Andy (my supervisor in Client Relations in the USCC)
If we put Maria on formal (final) documentation, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have to eventually release her. (How she ever got on the phones in the first place was beyond me & a whole ‘nother matter.)
I eventually traded her to the mailroom for one of their bright, eager, hard-working clerks.
She got to keep her job & the new rep we got turned out to be excellent. It was the best thing for both of them…and the business.
With Andy, he never, ever should have been promoted in the first place…he was way too immature to be put in charge of 20 individuals, especially since he had a difficult enough time managing himself. (I inherited him.)
If I put him on a formal PIP/Performance Improvement Plan for officers, I surely would’ve had to fire him in 3 months.
In order to save his job, I transferred him to the Branch Support Unit where he was able to able to keep his title & salary, but didn’t have any supervisory responsibilities. In this way, he could simply concentrate on his own performance.
I was certainly within my rights to release both of them, but that’s where the heart part comes in.
You may not agree with my approach, but then again, we all don’t drive a red car. (Hell, I don’t even have a car anymore as I’m not allowed to drive. No, I’m not being punished…👁👁.)
You’ll always know how your bosses feel about you…that’s called your performance appraisal. Feedback. Business performance results. Financials.
And you’ll know how your customers & peers feel about you in different ways.
They’ll say nice things to & about you, even behind your back! They’ll repeatedly come to you for assistance & help, often times bypassing the “formal network” because they trust you & you’ve always come through for them.
(That will also provide you inside info on what holes & weaknesses exist within your (organization’s) formal network, especially when it comes to handling problems, exception items, “one-offs” & special/unusual/expedited requests. Most processes & procedures are specifically designed to handle work requests when everything’s nice & pretty & packaged according to specs.
But get something unusual, or a 2nd request to rework something, or you need something yesterday, then no one’s willing to listen, let alone help!)
Customers care most you’re resolving a problem for them.
When they have “something out of the ordinary” that needs to be taken care of.
When they have a special need, be it for an exception ruling, an expedited resolution timeframe or something done “a little differently from the standard cookie-cutter process”.
That’s when an organization is truly worth its salt…in those 1-2% of the times when everything doesn’t fit nicely into the box!
And when others come to you with special requests for help…
Will you head up the United Way campaign for us this year? Can you pls co-chair our annual Food Drive? Can you fly to St. Louis to talk with our staffs about service & going above & beyond?
Can you help us with an employee who’s currently in a possible “hostile work environment”?
This last one was very near & dear to my heart as I was asked by Human Resources to assume managerial responsibility for an employee who I knew quite well…whose “work climate” was way less than optimal (through absolutely no fault of her own).
I had no open positions nor was I getting any budget relief…but I was absolutely thrilled that I was asked to help (and absolutely fuming that she hadda be put into this position).
We did everything possible to make her feel welcome (no one ever knew of her situation but me) & put her to work immediately handling some very critical (new) functions that I truly believed would start paying immediate dividends.
They did, she did well & we had a new addition to our family.
In fact, I was able to pull some strings & get one of my employees (who had a true conviction to become a trainer) transferred over to the Training Dept, even though she was only in her current position for 7 months instead of the required 12.
That why rules were meant to be bent as far as possible without actually breaking well.
It turned out to be a win/win/win/win for every person & organization involved.
(In fact, about 17 years later, she was still in the USCC Training Dept, doing incredibly well & just recently moved to other responsibilities as the USCC’s role has drastically changed !
Yeah, the invasion of the Bankcards body snatchers!)
And then there are times when ya gotta trust your gut on stuff.
When I came down to San Antonio in late ‘93 to migrate & manage Retirement Plan Services Operations, I made sure that I interviewed every single candidate that passed the initial screening. It was my area & I was gonna have final say on every person selected.
There was this young man by the name of “Tony” who previously had worked for the USCC as an agency temporary. He had applied for a permanent position in my area, but I was strong advised by HR to NOT accept him as there had been a previous incident with him while he was a temp.
Keeping all this in mind, I interviewed him anyway.
I was pretty direct & upfront with him. Duh.
And I was truly quite impressed with what he told me & the sincerity with which he said it.
(I have a special nose for crap, trust me.)
And while I fully understood that I was putting my professional reputation on the line, especially since HR really didn’t know me well (except their Director, Tom Short), I took a calculated chance on Tony & hired him on.
Turned out to be a GREAT decision!
Quickly became a wonderful employee & stayed with Retirement Plan Services (working for “Ms. Watkins”…Sandra Watkins) after I went on to other assignments (seemed there were a number of USCC fires that I was asked to extinguish, then rebuild the area…quickly!).
He eventually became a Citibank Auditor & is now a very successful Auditor with another company.
Head, heart, gut.
They’re all important & must all play a role in making important decisions.
As always, thank you so much for listening!
Disclaimer: Any references to actual people, places & events in this story are purely intentional and in no way represent the opinion of management. Past results do not guarantee future performance & these products are not FDIC-insured. Pls do not operate motor vehicles or heavy machinery when using our products. Proceed with caution & always follow the directions on the label.