“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” ~ Tom Peters

It is one of management’s greatest nightmares. One of their finest people has suddenly turned cold. The person who did more than their share came up with great ideas, enthusiastically helped others and lifted the spirits of the team suddenly seems disinterested in even doing their own job. They used to be the first ones there, the last to leave but lately have been coming in late. In the past, they rarely called in sick, something they’ve started to do regularly. While enthusiastically helping others before, you’ve had complaints from colleagues that they are no longer doing their share of the work. As a manager you have to do something. There are steps you can take to get to find out what is going on and make the changes necessary.

Don’t Just Let it Slide

The worst thing to do is to let it go and hope that the employee comes around and the problem will work itself out. If anything, it will get worse and that their actions will negatively affect the others. Not only will morale suffer, but so will your credibility as a manager if staff see an obvious problem that you are not willing to act upon.

Don’t Make Assumptions about the Cause of the Problem

There may be many reasons that this person is acting the way they are that may, or may not, have anything to do with their job. People change and they may have found a new passion or purpose in life. The work that he or she found challenging and meaningful in the past, may hold little interest anymore. There may be something going on in their personal lives that we don’t know anything about.

Pick a Time and Place to Have a Conversation with Them

Calling them into your office could be an intimidating place for them and stifle open and authentic conversation. Find a place that will be more comfortable for them. If you aren’t sure of where to go, ask them or find out from someone they know, where they would be comfortable. Pick a time when there are no looming deadlines or work that requires a high level of focus.

Be Firm but Sensitive

This is where having a high degree of emotional intelligence becomes so crucial for the manager. Start the conversation on a positive note by talking about the person’s past performance and thank them for going over and above in their role. Only do so if you are sincere and authentic. If they sense you are being phony and not genuine, the result will have no chance of being a real and open conversation and come to an abrupt halt. Only mention what you have observed and the changes you have seen in them. Never make interpretations or assumptions about what has caused their change in behavior, leave that up to them. In this critical conversation, it is imperative to use open ended questions, comments and statements.

Practice Active Listening

At this point, remind yourself that you are simply trying to find out what is going on and to do this you have to actively listen. To make sure you have heard correctly, repeat back to the person what you have heard them say and ask them to clarify things you aren’t clear about. Wait a few seconds before responding to them to let them know you are taking in what they said seriously. This few second pause also gives them the opportunity for self-reflection and possible further outpouring of information or personal revelation.

If Leaving the Organization is the Best Option, Make it a Win/Win

If it turns out that their interests, passions or future plans no longer align with that of the organization, thank them for their contributions, wish them the best and give them your blessing for their future. Do whatever you can to make their departure as pleasant an experience as possible. It will leave a good impression of your organization for them and for the staff they are leaving behind.

If the Problem can be Solved Within, Come up with a Joint Plan

If the problem is in their personal lives, ask them what they need from the organization. If it has to do with the workplace, first ask what they feel they need to turn things around. Research shows that there is nothing better than a good dose of recognition to turn an employee around. Don’t make offers or any promises that you cannot realistically follow through on. If their ambitions or desires fall outside of what is possible in their present workplace, the best thing to do is be honest, encourage them and support them in moving on with your blessings.