Small Business Leadership Daily Brief: June 15, 2018 – Quit Putting It Off Just Because You’re Dreading It

You know you need to do it. You’ve been needing to do it for days. Maybe weeks. But you’re dreading it. So you keep putting it off.

Without any idea what you’re waiting for. It’s not like it’s going to miraculously go away. You convince yourself that now isn’t the time. Besides, there are other things that seem more pressing. Next thing you know, another day has gone. You’ve escaped handling it once again. 

But it doesn’t feel as good as you’d hoped. Instead, the dread grows. And grows. 

I don’t know what it is. Some leaders report to me that handling an employee situation can be right near the top of things they dread handling. Through the years of doing it myself, and coaching leaders through the process, it almost always goes much better than people thought it might. Mostly, it’s because people don’t fully think through what’s actually going to happen (or what should happen). They have it framed incorrectly in their head so it becomes dreadful. 

Maybe you’re not vexed by needing to handle a poor performing employee, but I’m going to use that to illustrate the point. You’ll be able to apply it to whatever you’re putting off. Something you know you should handle right now instead of next week!

Let me tell you the story of a man I’ll call Ralph. Ralph is a manager. He’s in charge of a sizeable team of people, a lot of resources and his role is crucial to the company. A year ago Ralph appeared to be an excellent hire. He interviewed well. Had an impeccable resume. And figured to be an upgrade. 

The first 90 days went well. Ralph was doing a great job, confirming all our notions that we’d hired the right guy. 

Somewhere around the 120-day mark things started to go weird. Ralph would step out at random times during the day. Things continued to go well, but this change in his schedule was strange. Not something where I would call him into my office, but something employees were noting. It drove curiosity among Ralph’s troops, but nobody noticed any other oddities. And when Ralph left work at these odd times they weren’t uniform. He might step out at 1 pm and be gone for 30 minutes. He might leave around 3 pm and be gone for an hour. Ralph was a leader who established his own schedule so I was just keeping a close eye on things. Maybe I did what you do – I put off having the conversation with him, “Ralph, what’s going on with your schedule? People are talking and it’s becoming a distraction.” I wish I had done it.

Fast forward now to about month 8 into the role and Ralph is a serious problem. Work has slipped big time. His schedule has grown odder. I sit down with him and address every item specifically, in detail. He basically denies that anything has changed, but he can’t deny my evidence (performance standards weren’t being met). I put him on a performance improvement plan. That means, I write him up and tell him he’s got 30 days to get his act together and I commit to do whatever is necessary to help him. He signs it, shakes my hand and thanks me.

Thirty days later we’re doing the exact same thing again. Same result. I tell him there won’t be a third opportunity. “Ralph, I’m pleading with you to let me help you get back on track.” He denies he’s failing in spite of overwhelming evidence. He signs the second document, stands up, shakes my hand and thanks me. 

Thirty days later I’m terminating Ralph. It’s over. Months and months were wasted because I didn’t confront Ralph at the first sign of weird behavior which was distracting his team. Completely my fault. FYI, turns out Ralph was used to being fired. And then trying to collect money, either from his old employer or unemployment. I fought the fight against him collecting unemployment or threatening wrongful termination. And won! Ralph had some kind of a weird job hopping habit. I was at least the second of his potential victims. 

My putting it off cost the company MONTHS of poor performance that I could have fixed much sooner. But I convinced myself that Ralph wasn’t doing anything I could really confront. Maybe not, but I could have certainly had a conversation with him. Sure, he’d have likely lied to me, but I may have been able to start my PIP (performance improvement plan) sooner so I could be rid of him. 

Delay is more costly than speed. I’m not urging you to abandon thoughtfulness, but I am urging you to avoid hesitation. 

Maybe you’re delaying any number of actions because of fear. You don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings. You don’t like confrontations. Who knows? The excuses are as varied as our personalities. No matter. Delaying will likely cost you way more than taking action right now. 

Besides, if you act right now you’ll be it over with. That means you’ll be able to move on and get rid of that weight of dread. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

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