And when should you, as the boss, just let something slide?
Since entering the Oval Office, President Trump has fired a handful of people and publicly called out or disciplined others.
But when it came to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s striking declaration that the boss “speaks for himself” on American values — a public, if subtle, distancing from Trump’s roundly criticized response to violence in Charlottesville, Va. — the President did not publicly retaliate. The same held true for economic adviser Gary Cohn, who told an interviewer Trump “must do better” in condemning hate groups.
Time will tell whether Trump decides to ax Tillerson and Cohn, chastise them or overlook their recent transgressions; in the meantime, his predicament raises a practical question. When should you, as a manager, crack the whip — and when is it best to let something slide? We asked some experts.
Ask whether it’s an issue or an annoyance. An “issue” — e.g., a monetary mistake, an action that affects the bottom line or something that alters the way in which business is conducted — “needs to be dealt with,” career expert Lynn Berger told Moneyish. But with an annoyance, she said, ask yourself whether the employee’s behavior bucks company standards or you’re just personally irked by it. Is the person doing the work, but simply not doing it your way? “A lot of times, people put their own standards on other people,” Berger said.
Look at the scale and frequency of his or her actions, says Weiner. Is the employee showing up to work late and taking long lunches, but working late to make up the time? Or is the person consistently delayed submitting projects, impacting the business-client relationship? “You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis,” attorney and career expert Wendi Weiner told Moneyish. “Is the person breaching policies and procedures? … Have you also outlined the job duties for the person, and is the person failing to perform those job duties where it’s impacting productivity?”
You might go easier on a high performer who happens to have a messy desk or penchant for non-work-appropriate attire, added Monster.com career expert Vicki Salemi — or an “outstanding employee” that makes the rare error.
Consider whether the employee’s conduct is above board. “It’s important to remain ethical and have your own moral compass as a boss as to whether or not something should slide,” Salemi said. An employee’s habit of discriminatory conduct or inappropriate comments “puts you and your company at risk, but it’s also just the wrong thing to do,” she said. “So as a boss, you need to do something to address it.”
If you’re aiming to be instructive, you could just have an informal conversation with the employee, Weiner said. But if the person’s actions are having “more of a widespread negative impact” — i.e., impacting productivity or upsetting clients — you might enact more formal disciplinary sanctions, like pulling him or her off a project.
If you do decide to discipline the employee, do it in private, experts said. “Obviously, Trump’s modus operandi is to publicly respond and admonish people,” Weiner said. “But ultimately what he’s doing is lowering his professionalism.” Take the high road and pull your employee aside behind closed doors.
Preface your criticism with some positive feedback, says Salemi, barring any sort of “completely egregious” behavior, which you should address head-on. An example: “Going into this meeting, I was impressed with how prepared you were. However, I noticed that when you talked to the client, you swore a lot,” she said. “Going forward, keep up the great preparation work but please conduct yourself a little bit better.”
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