Workplace Wisdom

3 Stories: “Just Get It Done” Damages Performance

It’s not enough to announce to your staff, “Just get it done!”

Because either they will or they won’t.

If a manager communicates performance feedback without a real understanding of how the job gets done in the real world, then it’s unlikely that the job will get done. And when the manager wonders why not, the staff will honestly say that they either weren’t told or didn’t understand what was wanted.

If the staff does understand what’s being asked of them, the job may get done, but not necessarily in the way that the demanding, big-picture-no-details manager meant or wanted.

Consider the following two actual situations:

  1. “Just Make the Numbers”Too much pressure to meet certain sales figures means that a nervous rep holds back sales leads from Friday’s processing because she’s nervous that she won’t get enough leads next week.

    Net result: The rep appears to make her numbers week after week and her reported average remains beautifully consistent, but up to 15% of her customers are fulfilled late, start their program late, and are ultimately less satisfied and less likely to renew than customers who were processed and started on time. Because the business pays commissions on all the rep’s sales, it never recoups the marketing investment on the 15%. Not to mention that some of those dissatisfied customers may be sharing their unhappiness with other potential customers.

    Is this really the result the manager wanted?

  2. “Just Figure Out How to Work Together On It”An office assistant is temporarily assigned to another department’s project as part of a budget rationalization. The supervisor of the project doesn’t actually want this assistant on his project, based on his prior negative experience of her work. The senior executive thinks it’s obvious that human hours are effectively fungible units, so she doesn’t bother to attend the planning meeting that is supposed to orchestrate a smooth staff transfer between the two departments involved.

    Net result: The project suffers extra errors and slowdowns. The staff members in both units are upset and resentful, which affects all their other work negatively as well. Interdepartmental information flows are also affected in other tangentially related parts of the organization.

    Is this really the result the senior executive expected?

Unintended Consequences Out in the World

In last Sunday’s New York Times’ “The Haggler” column (which I love, and if you care about service you should be reading it, too), writer David Segal described a terrible practice that has been in force at Staples, the office products giant. Segal’s emphasis was on the horrible experience for the affected customers, but I was struck by how employees were driven to commit ridiculous, counterproductive behaviors because of structural fiats.

Floor associates in the Staples stores who could not “get the job done,” which, in this case, meant selling an average of $200 worth of add-on products with every computer purchased, were encouraged by their local management to “walk the customer” — that is, to act as if the desired computer was not in stock and let the customer leave the store disappointed or even aggrieved so as not to negatively affect their incentive goals.

So What Do You Mean?

If you’re a manager who’s working in an organization where “just get it done” is the operative phrase, and you yourself haven’t taken any action to help or change the situation, then there isn’t much hope that it will change — you’re just waiting to be lucky. If your staff knew how to do it the way you want it done, and how to get the results you intend, they’d already be doing it.

Are there practices in your organization that force employees to “just get it done” in ways that create unnecessarily negative unintended consequences?

Onward and upward,

LK

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