A few months back I took the Coast Guard Senior Leadership Principles and Skills class, which combines The Leadership Challenge with some Coast Guard specifics. I enjoyed the class a great deal - the instructors (Charlie Coiro and Cdr Scott Jones) were outstanding.
One resource they provided is the technique the Coast Guard uses to address problem behavior with its staff. This was something of a revelation for me, because while I had some vague sense of how to encourage people having problems, I lacked a structured way of intervening.
The technique the Coast Guard uses provides a structure that I like, because it separates the problem behavior from the employee themself. The trainers say that problems are seldom intentional and usually result from a misunderstanding or shortcoming of ability.
This matches my experience - essentially everybody I work with is a dedicated professional working toward the same goal, and problems arise not because of willingness but out of confusion.
This chart is supposed to guide how a leader responds to a problem with one of their charges. The leader is supposed to correct problem behaviors by stating the standard vs the behavior, listening and then diagnosing why there is problem behavior. Depending on the underlying reason for the problem behavior, different approaches are advised.
The intent of this methodology is to emphasize that most problem behaviors are the result of misunderstanding, circumstance or under training and not any hostile intention. It further emphasizes not applying the flow chart beyond the point where the problem behavior ceases. It separates the behavior from the employee.
The example they gave at the training is a chronically late employee.
Supervisor: I see you came in at 9:30 today. Our doors open at 9, and we expect staff to be here by then.
Employee: I thought we had core hours between 10:00 and 2:00 and that if I were here during them and work the full 8 hours my starting/stopping time didn't matter?
Supervisor: That's an option at some offices, but we haven't started that program here. The customer service component of our job requires that we're all here to answer the phone at 9 promptly.
Supervisor: You're right, my mistake
Employee: I know, but I have such a hard time getting up. I've tried alarms, light timers and I just don't know what to do.
Supervisor: -Brainstorm ways to wake up here-
Supervisor: Try some new methods of getting up on time. It's important to be here at 9, so let's check in again in a month and see how things are working out
Employee: I get in when I get in. You know I bust my ass all the time.
Supervisor: -Stop when argument gets through to employee-
Supervisor: I know you work really hard, and I appreciate that, but part of your job is providing customer service. If our customers are here at 9 and you aren't here to help them, it puts them in a tough spot. Your co-workers have to cover for you, and it isn't fair to them to double up their duties just for your convenience. I get rated on this unit's customer service performance and I like to be able to say that we are not just meeting all our guidelines and helping as best we can, but exceeding them. If this continues, we'll have to put you on a performance improvement plan, and that's one foot out the door.
Employee: -in tears- My car keeps breaking down and I don't have any money to fix it because my daughter has cancer and the chemo takes every extra cent I have
Supervisor: -empathy- -humanity- -help-
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Thanks to Bruno Kussler Marques for the header image (which is a Pontiac Judge, for those wondering)