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When Encouragement Goes Wrong

A friend of mine has been having problems with someone on her team for awhile now. The guy has been missing deadlines, making errors and missing a lot of work. Before the holidays, she wrote him up for these issues. When we met up for lunch right before the year ended, she said she thought the warning had done the trick. She believed he would get focused and turn things around in 2014.

When we met up for lunch right after the first of the year, she said things were going well. His work and attendance got a little better. She made sure he knew that she recognized the effort and improvement. She even approved his annual increase. She thought these things would reinforce the positive behaviors.

However, when we met up for lunch last week, things with him were worse than ever. His attendance and performance had fallen off again. Work was piled up and she was working overtime to catch things up. She had completely lost confidence in his ability to do the job. She was starting the search to replace him.

And she was wondering did her attempts at positive reinforcement cause him to think everything was all better and slack when she really wanted him to keep pushing? Did her compliments and rewards cause his demise?

I don’t know.

On the one hand, I can understand wanting to encourage the guy when she saw him doing better. Getting in trouble with the boss is no fun and, when that happens, we all want to feel the security of good grace as soon as possible. And we all want the person who supervises us to praise our efforts and results. She was trying to be that kind of manager — and I think workplaces need more people like that.

However, giving too much praise too soon and/or rewarding someone monetarily so soon after such a fall-off in performance wasn’t the best move. She probably should have held off on his annual increase until he produced more consistent performance results. The praise combined with the pay increase undermined the prior warnings … Sure, you don’t want to hold a performance hiccup over someone’s head forever — but 90 – 150 days is a better guideline than 60 days or less.

In the end, his demise is really no one’s fault but his own. Showing up, on time for the days you are scheduled and accurately completing the tasks assigned to you on time is the foundation of work life. People who cannot do these basic things will not remain employed in any job.

When that happens, you may just have to wish the guy the best in their future endeavors and move on.