The Queen of Hearts in Louis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland commanded “Off with her head!” at the slightest offense. Although this fictional story was written over 100 years ago, there are lessons from this story that can be applied to 21 st century work culture. Many inexperienced or uninformed leaders in today’s dynamic workplace may inadvertently “kill” the whole team when only one person makes a mistake.
I was reminded of this ill-advised practice by a colleague of mine, a millennial who is still early in his career. He told me that his boss sent out an email to the whole team with a correction, a directive that asked for different behavior. The boss said that he’d heard complaints and wanted them all to pay better attention to their customers.
Trouble is, this colleague of mine was already doing just that.
The boss acted the best he knew how – he sent out an email to all eleven of his team members. But the result of his action was an unintended consequence of his inability to address the one or two team members who were not paying proper attention to customers.
My colleague reported feeling “afraid, anxious and unfairly accused.” He responded with an email that apologized for any possible infraction on his part and asked the boss to give him direct feedback if he wasn’t performing to expectations.
This is a common mistake of inexperienced or uncoached managers: this manager “killed” the whole team indiscriminately instead of dealing with specific employees. He used a blanket or indirect correction when a direct and specific correction would have been much more impactful. More impactful, but far scarier for the manager.
Managers who are truly leaders will gather their courage and deal directly with team members who are not performing to their expectations. If they don’t mete out corrections directly, they risk losing the trust of the whole team, instilling a climate of fear, and not fixing the problem. Performance suffers. When everyone on the team is blamed, no one is responsible.
Instead, what the manager should have done is meet with the one or two team members who were not meeting his expectations. He should explain the complaints he’s received, explain the consequences of poor performance, and ask the team member for their viewpoint. In addition, he should be generous with affirmations of good performance and share any compliments from customers.
Beware of the blanket or indirect correction. It does not accomplish your goal of improving
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