Be on the Same Page

Do you have an employee who isn’t performing up to your expectations? Is there a boss, who doesn’t?

Contrary to what you might think initially, the problem occurs more frequently the higher the corporate ladder you go. After all, expectations of the line employees are usually very well defined. Actions to be taken when an employee is not meeting expectations are frequently spelled out.

It becomes more difficult as soon as the bargaining unit is left. The expectations of a line supervisor are fairly well agreed upon, but not necessarily easy to measure. The line supervisor is expected to establish an atmosphere where his employees will have good attendance, do high quality work, and put forth a good effort. Of course, none of those things can be easily measured.

Even one step up the problems multiply. Not only is performance hard to measure, but there frequently isn’t agreement about what is expected. What is expected of a quality manager? There seems to be as many definitions as there are facilities. Is the quality manager responsible for identifying defects or identifying and correcting the cause? What happens if the correction he wants to apply isn’t the same as the one the foundry superintendent wants to use? Is the quality manager responsible for setting the targets for key variables? What is his responsibility when he notes that production employees aren’t following established procedures? I’ve seen different answers to all of these questions in various operations.

Now, think about the job of the foundry manager. I’ve seen operations where the responsibilities and authority that go with that title are almost unending. On the other hand, there are those places where the foundry manager is little more than a leadman. Is the foundry manager responsible for cost improvements? If so, in the short term or long? Does he decide that a different lining material would be good for the operation or is he the one that decides that it’s time for a new melting system? Does he decide whether someone is capable of running a molding machine or that it’s time for a new machine? Is he expected to recognize the need for a new core machine, is he expected to develop the justification for it, or does he merely do the best with what he has?

With these differences in operations, there’s little wonder why so many problems with the performance of subordinates occur. The subordinate frequently has one definition of the job and the boss another.  

It’s easy to visualize potential problems when the boss and employee learned under different systems. Fortunately, in the case of new hires, the interviewing process gets the boss and subordinate on the same page.

The problem does magnify itself under two sets of conditions. It’s easy to see that bringing in a new boss is likely to reveal problems. The old boss and the subordinate may have been on the same page, but the new one brings in a different view of what should be happening. What can cause even more frustration is when boss and subordinate have matured in the same system but the boss decides that system is not working any longer. The problem is obvious - all of a sudden what has always been good enough isn’t.

What’s the solution? If you‘re an employee who feels the boss doesn’t appreciate the job you’re doing, the fix is simple but not very easy.  You have to find out what he wants. You could try simply asking, but if you’re already sensing his displeasure, it, most likely, isn’t the way to go. You’ll just confirm in the boss’s mind that you don’t know your job. (While it’s true you don’t by his definition, you don’t want to admit it to him.) You’re going to interpret his expectations by paying attention to what pushes his hot button – both good and bad. What do you get “the look” for? What causes him to relax? No, it’s not precise, but it’s better than doing nothing.

If you’re the boss, the first thing you need to do is make sure you know exactly what you believe the job entails. It won’t be easy for you to be explicit, but if you can’t define what he’s supposed to be doing to yourself, what’s the chance of your getting him to understand? A second step is to decide if your definition is realistic. I’ve heard people describe what they’re looking for and felt the only thing missing was walking across the lake at the 4th of July picnic.  

Once you have a realistic description, then you have to decide whether the cause of problem is the employee not knowing what you expect, his not being able to do what you expect, or something else. No matter which of these alternatives you initially believe, making sure you’re both on the same page is a good first step.