How to Deal with a Pack of Slackers

Last Updated Aug 3, 2009 1:52 PM EDT

Are you frustrated with your team's performance? Do they seem to be just going through the motions, not putting out their best work, and actively resisting your efforts to improve their productivity?

Then maybe some advice doled out by Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky of Cambridge Leadership Associates might help. Responding to a new manager seeking advice on how to handle a staff "addicted to complacency," these experts offered spot-on suggestions for how to stop hating -- and start motivating -- your employees.

First, realize that if you mentally condemn them as a lazy pack of losers, you're shooting yourself in the foot. Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you approach them as if you're managing a pack of slackers, no doubt they'll respond in kind.

Instead, try to look at it from their perspective. They don't think of themselves as complacency addicts. But maybe they feel you're looking to trade off quality for check-box achievements. Or, if you're a new manager, could be they think you don't understand all the inherent conflicts and difficulties of their jobs. Or perhaps they think you're treating them like a number on a spreadsheet rather than a member of an office family.

The point? Haranguing them from your moral high ground won't work, because they think they have the moral high ground as well.

So take a different tack, say the experts:

"Start by engaging these folks where they are, not where you are. Be curious. Listen to their stories for clues as to what they really do care about, what their most noble values are, and what they are afraid of losing. I'm not suggesting that you buy into or accept their behavior, but you do need to understand the reasons behind their resistance to you."
To read more about handling a culture of complacency, read the full post. And share your own ideas in the comments section.
  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for AnchorDesk.com and writes regularly for Law.com and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.