HERE'S A COMMON PROBLEM:  You’re a manager, and the people who work for you are either lazy or they think they are smarter than you.  They cut corners and think you don’t know about it.  They are skilled practitioners of covering their bases and always seem to be one step ahead of you.  They have an excuse for everything and do just enough real work to make you feel guilty about firing them.  Yet, it bothers you because you are responsible for them and you know they can do better.  The higher-ups don’t want to hear about your problem; they just want you to fix it.  If only you could find a way to control them and motivate them to care as much about their performance as you do.  Even if you are a CEO, you may have this problem with your upper-managers; if you just started at your job today, don’t worry, you’ll soon be in charge of a small team or something and need some way to negotiate through these weeds.  As businesses are built on hierarchies, or chains of command, this is a problem we all face at some point. 

"Big deal, the economy’s in the tank, there are people lined up out the door to work here, we should just fire the lazy SOB’s."  I would suggest you reconsider.  Typically, a high turnover rate is indicative of poor management, which would only reflect poorly on you.  In short, it’s the easy way out.  Have you ever been to a restaurant whose staff all seemed unhappy and lost?  It’s probably because nearly everyone there started last week and they neither know each other, nor know how to work together.  Not only that, how well do you think they are going to work together knowing that they will probably lose their job next week because of something stupid someone else did anyway?  The most successful managers know how to lead and guide their teams to accomplish a successful goal.  Although your subordinates may seem like they don’t listen to you and are just trying to cut corners and get the job done, I would be willing to bet that they don’t actually know what their job is, or what they are supposed to be doing.  Either that, or they just don’t like you.  Don’t laugh; if your subordinates don’t like working for you, they will dig in their heels and getting productivity out of them will be like trying to coax a cow down some stairs. 

Anytime I have someone new who comes to work for me, the very first thing I do is invite them into my office and ask them lots of questions unrelated to work.  Without getting too personal (because the barrier between superior and subordinate is in place for a reason), I get to know who they are as people, before I try to get to know them as employees.  This accomplishes two things: it shows my employees that I care about them as people as well as employees, and it shows them, quite frankly, that although I’m their boss, that I’m not a bad guy.  I might even know a joke or two!  Typical topics that I like to inquire about are college, hometown, children, five-year professional plan, hobbies, favorite choice of music, that kind of thing.  I do this to establish connections; I believe that if my employees know just a bit about who I am, they will be more apt to understand my leadership philosophy and feel comfortable asking me questions.  The reality is that people who enjoy their work and like who they work for (it can be assumed that they applied for the position or submitted an application because they think they will enjoy the work) are more productive than people who hate their jobs and/or live in paralyzing fear of their superiors.

Once the new employee and I spend a few minutes getting to know each other, I get down to the real reason why I invited them to the office.  ***If you’ve zoned out up to this point, take a sip of coffee and PAY ATTENTION TO THE NEXT SENTENCE.  When employees first start working for you, you NEED to articulate to them what their job is.  I know that might seem dumb, but studies and practical applications have shown that a staggering number of employees have never actually been told what to do when they come to work.  They know that their position is “assistant director of distribution” or something, but they don’t actually know what they are expected to do.  As such, they come to work and try not to mess anything up or get in anyone’s way.  There is absolutely no reason why anyone who knows exactly what they are supposed to be doing shouldn’t be motivated and productive.  Humans naturally develop patterns and become more efficient the longer they do something over and over.  We become more comfortable with our tasks, we teach ourselves things, and we feel good about our work output because it has now gone from a series of tasks we completed to the genuine result of our efforts.  The “over and over” I just mentioned, we will now call a “position of employment.” 

In the initial meeting, you can elaborate these tasks anyway you wish.  If you are partial to spreadsheets, use that.  I prefer the simple word document (I now have a series of templates saved on my computer for all different positions).  In my initial meetings, my new employee and I go line by line.  I encourage them to take notes, although I give them the sheet at the end, and tell them to feel free to stop me with any questions they have along the way.  Also included on the sheet is a list of names and contact info of people who fall between us in the chain-of-command.  I highly encourage that YOU support and encourage an open-door policy for all managers on all levels.  I, personally, make it mandatory.  If my managers aren’t willing to entertain questions from the people who work for them, then I don’t want them in charge of people—bottom line.  This way, productivity is enhanced by a constant free-flow of information—up, down, left and right—and I don’t have 150 people asking me questions every day.

Once you have concluded outlining your new employee’s job description, before you send them on their way to happy success within your organization, I highly suggest that you conclude your meeting with the following inquiry:  “What are your questions?”  If they say that they don’t have any--very well.  Just make a note that they didn’t have any questions.  Once this task is accomplished, you will find that your employees will be much more productive because they know exactly what they are supposed to be doing, where they fall in the grander scheme of your business, and that their articulated efforts will make a difference.

*If you send your new employees on their way and they do not perform in the way you believe they should (because even with crystal-clear guidance, sadly, these things do happen), I suggest you check out my article entitled, “Severing Ties with Lackluster Employees—The Fair Way.

**If, sometime later, you find that you have two stellar employees that, for whatever reason, cannot work together, I invite you to check out my article titled, “Attracting Opposites to Develop Cohesion.