Problem Solving at Work
Let's look at the law and good practice on dealing with potential or actual problems caused by an employee's behaviour. In legal terms, this is "misconduct." (We are going to try and avoid using too much legal language, because we believe in being a little more positive!)
In this section, you will gain a brief insight into the methods of problem solving we can employ at Jack Wills, regardless of the problem at hand.
So what's the problem?
It's often interesting to note how different managers perceive different behaviours. For example, one manager may consider lateness as "something that just happens sometimes." Others might say, "never be late; lateness is breaking the rules." And then there are a whole host of interpretations in between.
So what's right, and what's wrong?
This is where it gets interesting. There actually is no "right" or "wrong" answer. This means we have to consider a number of things to work out whether there really is a problem or not.
The first thing to consider is "what is a problem?"
A "problem" is something that has a negative impact on something else. So if being late is causing a problem to the running of your business - whether you're in Merchandising, Finance, a store or our Distribution Centre - then lateness is a problem. But, if there's flexibility and you've agreed in your team that work time is a bit more "fluid" - and the job is getting done on time and to the right standard - then it might not be considered a problem.
So what next?
If it is a problem, we have to establish the cause. Is it the person's ability to organise themselves, or the way they think about their work? Could it be that they are simply unable to tell the time? In legal terms, we need to understand whether the cause of the problem relates to the employee's "conduct" (their choices/decisions/chosen behaviour) or "capability" (relating to their qualification or physical/intellectual capacity.) Here are some examples.
|The person is making an effort but is not achieving the level or standard of performance required.||The person does not make enough effort.|
|They have received relevant training but they do not appear to have acquired the necessary skills.||They are choosing not to apply the skills they have.|
|They accept that they are not achieving the required standards.||They do not agree on the problem identified.|
|They cannot obtain relevant qualifications.||They are not interested in obtaining relevant qualifications.|
|They do not seem able to get there.||They do not seem willing to get there.|
|Low output of work.||They do not seem interested in improving.|
|Long-term sickness.||"Unauthorised absences" that are short term and persistent, without any underlying medical condition(s).|
And what do I do about it?
The opportunities are truly endless.
Using the lateness example, we would normally start with a conversation with the individual to:
- ask them what's causing the problem, and
- re-set the expectation (good leadership requires that we do this at the outset so this should merely be a reminder!)
All too often we hear about leaders who don't address the issue casually, informally and gently - only to be stung later when the problem gets completely out of hand and we have to start all over again before we can do what really needs to happen (which sometimes means ending our relationship with the person.) The law helps us here because it enables us to positively and proactively seek improvement and engage our people with our team, our brand and their contribution to Jack.
How to have this conversation, you ask. Well, it is surprisingly simple:
- You tell the individual that there is a problem,
- you explain gently why it's a problem, and
- you ask them a question - "what is it that makes you late?" (Let's try avoiding "why-based" questions because they can sometimes come off as being a little on the aggressive side.)
Asking questions can be incredibly powerful. If you ask a question, you may be surprised by the answer.
Imagine the response you receive is "I care for my sick, elderly mother and she often needs things just as I'm leaving the house to come to work. This puts me behind and I'm really sorry." And then they cry...
Or on the contrary, imagine the response you receive is "I don't actually care about working for Jack Wills as I started my own business last year and it's just really taken off so I only come here to keep my product discount."