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Face The Challenge - Sample Section, Chapter 14

Chapter Fourteen - Subordinate Turnover

"Subordinate Turnover" examines how to improve or reduce employee turnover and poor employee morale; and what Leaders can do toward improving their supervisory techniques and improving the work environment to reduce the drastic negative consequences associated with revolving-door personnel practices and high employee turnover.

14.1 Why Subordinates Do Not Perform Well.  Unfortunately, a great number of Leaders regularly vocalize their annoyance or frustration over their Subordinates' seemingly inept behavior or substandard performance.  And while few Leaders readily comprehend why their employees perform in an unsatisfactory manner, an even smaller minority are able to fathom how to motivate such ineffectuals to perform at a higher level or to reduce their undesirable conduct.  However, this failure can generally be attributed to Leaders interpreting the situation from their own perspective rather than stopping to analyze the relevant criteria from their employees' point of view (Haire, PIM p56).  And as "the difference between a lady [proficient Subordinate] and a flower girl [deficient Subordinate] is [often] not how she [he] behaves but how she [he] is treated" (Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion); some of the most common causes of inferior performance or high turnover rates are a result of the Leader's own antagonistic attitude, a general lack of proficient supervision, or an otherwise hostile work environment.  With a higher percentage of workers generally quitting or being terminated because of a failure of the supervisor-Subordinate relationship than dissatisfaction with the work tasks performed, their compensation level, working conditions, or the organization itself.  Thus almost invariably, turnover rates are inversely proportional to the interactive or motivational skills of the unit Leader.  As once again, "we awaken in others the same attitude of mind we hold toward them" (Hubbard).  And though the long-range effect of motivationally dull Leaders can permeate many supervisory levels, their most malignant effect is usually felt at the echelon immediately below them.


(A) Other contributing causes of unsatisfactory Subordinate performance or conduct include: (i) not having learned or been taught to do something differently, (ii) being unaware that a more favorable or productive alternative exists, (iii) not knowing that what they are doing is incorrect or undesirable, (iv) not being informed as to what is expected of them, (v) undesirable attitudes resulting from their previous work or life experiences or upbringing, (vi) organizational policies or supervisory practices that are inappropriate, unproductive, or misdirected, (vii) work assignments that do not fulfill their achievement needs, (viii) poor training and development, or  (vix) unsatisfactory compensation levels that do not meet their minimum requirements.  In addition, many Subordinates may never have had the opportunity to be successful, or have been so negatively impacted by their past life experiences or circumstances, that they are emotionally unprepared to face yet another potentially hostile situation or failure.  As a consequence, their personal expectations, aspirations, and achievement orientation all operate at subterranean levels.  They may also have given up trying to improve themselves or have somehow come to accept that they will never be able to achieve even their most modest goals; having lost all hope or dreams of a brighter future.  With many being unable to figure out how to improve their current condition; and preferring chronic lethargy to further disappointment.  While others may not be willing to pursue their dreams for fear of failure and losing the dream that has protected them from descending into an even deeper state of despair.  Thus commonly, actual ability is not the primary criterion inhibiting Subordinate performance; but rather, their suppressed desire to be successful combined with their fear of failing once again.


(B) Subordinates recurrently behave within a given range of behavioral options that they perceive as being available to them.  Thus for Leaders to initiate a change in behavior, Subordinates must first be made aware of other, more beneficial alternatives and then be given the opportunity to expand their skills to meet these new demands.  Subsequently, a large majority of Subordinates must be taught the basics on how to be successful (e.g., interactive skills, personal hygiene, or protocol requirements) in addition to learning the technical aspects of their work tasks.  And while it is more obvious that once an individual has revised his or her mental attitude a change in behavior can be expected, it is often overlooked that changing one's behavior—either voluntarily or involuntarily—can also produce a substantial change in mental attitude (Herzberg).  Thus the rational basis for Leaders to always establish more demanding or higher standards to achieve improved results regardless of the supervisory situation; and the corollary to the ancient wisdom of "as a man [woman] thinketh so is he [she]," "as a man [woman] behaves, so he [she] becomes;" the underlying philosophy of any military boot camp or motivational program (Leavitt, MP p85).  For if people laugh, they will be happier despite the circumstances.  If they place greater emphasis on their personal appearance, they will feel better about themselves.  If they are more diligent, they will have greater self-confidence.  And if they have greater self-confidence, they can take on increasingly greater challenges, etc.  As invariably, "…self-image is the key to human behavior.  Change the self-image and we change the behavior.  Even more than this, the self-image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment.  It defines what one can or cannot do.  Expand self-image, and we expand the area of the possible" (Rom J. Markin & Charles M. Lillis, Business Horizons, article: "Sales Managers Get What They Expect" June 1975, p54), as well as the organization's bottom line.


(C) A somewhat less evident contributor to underperformance is the Leader's failure to establish a high enough performance standard that the majority of his or her Subordinates can respect.  For example, Leaders who demand smiles and salespersonship at the service counter, while at the same time the parking lot is strewn from curb to curb with trash and cigarette butts, have little chance of inspiring their Subordinates to achieve the desired interactive performance level.  Likewise, if the factory floor is cluttered with debris or the roof leaks, product quality standards are unlikely to be taken very seriously.  For much as the average person finds it far easier to toss his or her fast-food rubbish out the car window when driving through a heavily littered neighborhood than one that is well maintained, Subordinates are much more likely to toe the productivity line when their Leader has all his or her operational ducks in a row.  But when Subordinates cannot see how their extra effort could possibly make any difference, or feel that their supervisor's demands are inconsistent with what is taking place around them, their performance will gravitate toward doing only the absolute minimum necessary to avoid supervisory rebuke.  Correspondingly, their supervisors are typically reluctant to raise the performance bar, thinking that if their Subordinates cannot meet the present standard, how in the world could they possibly achieve one that is even more demanding.


(D) Again, in the greater majority of cases, unacceptable Subordinate performance is a combination of destructive attitudes, insufficient training, or deficient supervision; and not a lack of talent or ability (noting that there are many jobs that workers are not inherently motivated to do depending upon the nature of their economic circumstances, other employment alternatives, and the level of personal satisfaction to be derived from the task).  The acid test being that otherwise capable Subordinates who have poor attitudes will generally perform their tasks in the correct manner with regular consistency, but either very slowly or sloppily and without regard for quality standards.  And to an outside evaluator they will look as if they are just lallygagging around or trying to get one over on the company by not carrying their full weight or really earning their pay.  While Subordinates who are inadequately trained or who lack the personal ability to execute their assigned tasks will prove incapable of performing their tasks correctly; regardless of how quickly they attempt to do so or how many supervisory electrodes are applied.  In addition, the following conditions or practices are commonly responsible for a lack of Subordinate proficiency:


1.  Inadequate preliminary or advanced training,

2.  Poor follow-up training after the initial training period,

3.  Poorly communicated directives or operational changes,

4.  Inadequate or overbearing supervision,

5.  Low peer group morale,

6.  Personality conflict between a Subordinate and his or her immediate supervisor or peers,

7.  Disappointment with salary increases or advancement opportunities,

8.  Inability to do the job even after being properly trained and supervised,

9.  Overwhelming personal problems,

10.  Boredom with job responsibilities,

11.  Unsatisfactory working conditions (e.g., heat, noise, or noxious odors), or a lack of teamwork,

12.  Inadequate or poor quality peer group interaction (i.e., a lack of camaraderie),

13.  General discontent with basic compensation levels or benefits,

14.  Little sense of satisfaction or accomplishment (lack of pride) regarding the tasks performed, or a

15.  Lack of respect, appreciation, or recognition.


(E) Consequently, to improve performance, Leaders must establish a work environment where Subordinates feel that their effort will be commensurably rewarded, that their personal circumstances will improve, and that they will be provided with a greater sense of purpose or achievement.  And to help accomplish this, a continual stream of small improvements can effectively start a general upswing toward greater organizational proficiency without any grand mellifluous pronouncements that may create unrealistic Subordinate expectations or ultimately foment even greater discontent.  For a fresh coat of paint can often work wonders; as can cleaning the employee rest rooms, introducing new uniforms, improving general maintenance standards, adding potted plants, improved lighting, fixing the air conditioning, or reducing noise levels.  The important thing is that those involved have reasonable grounds to believe that progress is being made toward a brighter tomorrow.  And to further drive this result home, Leaders are wise to rely on the time-tested "ASK" formula (source unknown), whereby they concentrate their efforts on improving Attitudes, developing Skills, and expanding their Subordinate's Knowledge.

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Copyright 2006 by H. Garrett Hayward from Face the Challenge: The Leader's Success Handbook