Tip #905: What if you could stop blaming employees for poor performance?

“Put a good person in a bad system and the bad system wins, no contest.” Dr. W. Edwards Deming

A female employee of a metro company was acting out, yelling at customers, and slamming the phone down on them. Her supervisor was ready to fire her.

Do you know how long she had worked for the company? No, she wasn’t a new employee on probation. She was an employee with 20 years of satisfactory performance.

Clarifying Questions

I asked the supervisor:

Had she always been like this with customers? No.

When did this behavior start? A month ago.

What happened a month ago? Well, we moved her.

Where did you move her? Across the street.

Completing the Picture

Let me fill in the picture. She was a one-woman call center for the aged and differently abled who rode the special metro buses. She used to be in the bus barn where she could ask the bus drivers what was going on with times and routes, so she could answer questions from callers who were frequently somewhat confused. She had always provided excellent customer service. When she needed to take a break, someone was always there to step in for her.

Now she was in a building with one incoming line, no access to the information she needed to answer questions from customers, and no backup. She had raised her frustration and concerns with her supervisor, who had ignored her. As far as he was concerned, she was just overreacting to change.

Should She be Fired?

Her anxiety was through the roof. Was it acceptable for her to take her frustration out on the customers? No, of course not.

But should she be fired? No. She was (unintentionally) set up to fail. The supervisor needed to acknowledge that fact and give her the help she needed.

Misplaced Blame

The quality management guru Dr. W. Edwards Deming said that “85% of an employee’s ability to perform successfully on the job depends upon the system.” By the system, he meant an organization’s management, policies, and procedures.

How often do we blame employees for poor performance when we haven’t given them clear instructions and sufficient decision-making authority, provided necessary training and resources, clarified performance expectations, or monitored performance and provided timely constructive feedback?

The system failed the employee. She needed stress management training. But she also needed resources that would eliminate her stress and frustration: another phone line, constant access to the information she needed to answer incoming customer questions, and someone to back her up when she needed to take a break.

Question: Have you ever seen an organization (unintentionally) set an employee up to fail?

May your learning be sweet- and safe.


#employeeperformance #blameforpoorperformance

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