Don't Like That I'm a Tough Manager? Tough.

A lot of my employees would probably call me a "tough love" kind of boss. And you know what? I'm glad they do. There's no other way to be a fair and effective manager.
Yesterday, one of my call-center employees showed up to work after missing three days. He had not bothered to call his supervisor, which is required. And this was the second time in two months that he failed to show up and notify his boss.

We schedule lean in our call center, so on-time, consistent attendance is critical -- as it is in most call centers. The entire team suffers when people don't show up, and customers suffer from less-than-par service.

Needless to say, I had no other option but to fire him when he finally showed up. Another employee thought perhaps we had been too tough but didn't realize we had already had a previous discussion with the employee the first time he skipped out on work. Unfortunately, there are some rules that merit a zero-tolerance policy. Failing to show up for a critical customer service shift -- and not giving any notice -- is one of them in my book.

There's no getting around the fact that some situations call for a "tough love" approach. The problem, of course, is that tough love can be, well, tough -- both in our personal lives and business. It's hard to set rules and then carry out punishment when they're broken. Maybe we're afraid of not being liked. Or we're worried about the HR attorney. Maybe we second guess ourselves for not being entirely clear in the first place about the rules, or what the consequences will be for violating them. But here's the thing: It's only fair to let someone know what will happen when they break the rules, and then follow through when they do. If you don't, you run the risk that neither your word, nor anything you do in your organization, matters.

So what if being tough doesn't come naturally? Here's what I suggest:

  1. Identify the employee behaviors that are critical to your business's success and communicate them clearly. Let me repeat that last part: Communicate them clearly so that everyone knows these things in the first week on the job. Stating it in the employee handbook isn't enough. When interviewing, ask questions centered around those items. Last month we rejected a very highly skilled applicant because we found out through references that there were attendance issues. We were told, "When she was here, she was our best employee." Sorry, can't have that around here.
  2. Don't sugarcoat negative feedback and certainly don't wait too long to give it. When you give it, be sure to explain exactly what will happen if the employee does it again. Remember Otis, the town drunk on "The Andy Griffith Show"? When he was picked up for public intoxication, he'd go in, get the jail keys, walk right into his cell, then politely return the keys. Now that's someone who understands ramifications.
  3. Have the conversation and move on. Most of us never learned how to have these -- some people call them fierce -- conversations. I don't like that terminology any more than I like calling them tough because it implies there will be a lot of emotion and difficulty involved. They don't have to be that way. Just go somewhere private, let the person know he's valued in the company, but there are certain policies that are essential to the company, and thus, must be followed. If he can't follow them, he knows the consequences.
Rules still matter. In a well-run organization, they are not merely suggestions or guidelines. There is a clear difference between right and wrong. If we want to be successful, it's time to get tough -- it's only fair.

Photo courtesy of the Marines