IT Employment

My subordinate says he "gets it." So why won't he change?

Emotional intelligence is an issue that most managers simply don't understand. In this blog, leadership coach John M McKee provides insight into what to look for and how you can deal with someone who "just doesn't get it".

"I have done everything to get this guy on track. Each time I talk to him I think we've finally got an understanding about what he needs to do; but then - nothing! What do I need to do?"

Ever had a subordinate who seems to have the right mix to do the job, but then always slips and falls before the task is complete? Or, perhaps, you've been in the situation where you've spent a lot of time and effort to hire just the right job candidate only to then find out that she's not up to the requirements.

Don't worry - you're not, as they say in Colorado, the lone ranger. It's more common than you may expect. And the reason for their inability may be more obvious than you thought.

In today's workplace, most companies simply can't afford to carry anyone who's not able or won't get the job done. Every day we see more companies' announcements about slowdowns, layoffs, offshoring, or using consultants versus hiring.

It's tough out there. And all the indicators say that if you're working in one of the so-called Western countries, it's going to get tougher. (Little known fact: some estimates put India's middle class workforce at about 150 million employees by the end of 2012. That's the size of the entire U.S. workforce today and most of those people in India will be doing work which had previously been done elsewhere. Yes- it's going to get worse for a lot of people.)

Suffice it to say, in most organizations, we need all of our team working at optimal performance. Or we'll need to replace them.

So why would someone who is smart, apparently capable, talented, and willing not just make the necessary change you discussed with her when she indicated she understood? It may simply be that she cannot. Intellectually she gets it - but emotionally they can't change. And it that case, you can't do anything. Not quickly anyway.

Depth Psychologists tell us that if two people are communicating and one is significantly more advanced emotionally, there will likely be a communication breakdown. Without any desire to belittle anyone, the example they use is one of a grown-up talking to a child. And this is pretty understandable when you noodle on it.

If a grown-up is telling a child something beyond his comprehension level, the child won't be able to respond appropriately. It's not that the kid doesn't want to, he just doesn't quite understand how to do what's expected of him. I know that anyone reading this blog understands this - it's "common sense," right?

But what you may have forgotten is that most children won't grow and end up at the same adult levels as each other emotionally. So you have a miscommunication with one asking for something that the other appears to grasp intellectually but can't respond to  appropriately. Generally accepted is the idea that if one person is more than two levels higher in terms of emotional intelligence than another, there will be a miscommunication. It seems that we can "improve" one level at a time but beyond that, as they say, "we're just not ready."

And so, you can push, pull, encourage, and threaten - all to little avail.

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any statistically valid psychometric testing (like a Myers-Briggs Temperament Sorter, for example) that can help us determine the "EQ" levels of our staffs with confidence. There are a few on the market however, and I may just not have found the best tool yet.

If you've got one of these folks on your team, you'll have to make the tough call: keep him and hope that training or coaching may get him on track, let him go and replace him with someone who can do the job, or continue trying to push him until he decides to leave.

Beyond those options, the only advice I can offer is to suggest you read up on this issue. At least then you'll be prepared when it comes around. The best book I've come across is probably the landmark on the subject. Written back in 1995 by Daniel Golman, it's called Emotional Intelligence.

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

12 comments
OldER Mycroft
OldER Mycroft

The article reads well, is based on workplace examples I am all too familiar with, and carries a principle I understand. However this idea of an emotional level is utter nonsense. The mere use of the term indicates to me that the author wishes to put forward a considered proposal designed to establish a point, but without taking a literal stance in case it rebounds back on him. The use of the 'emotional' stuff is just pussy-footing around hoping the reader gets the general drift. Call it like it is! There are people in our society, people who were children once as we all were, who have been processed through exactly the same educational system as the rest of us, and who have arrived at the work situation with the clear intent of getting a [b]fair day's pay for a fair day's skive.[/b] That is it. That is the crux of the matter. Just as some adults go on to a life of crime, some even become politicians! But please don't try to insult my intelligence with some molly-coddled, wrapped-in-cotton-wool, phraseology that shows sympathy for the bloke who simply doesn't want to work for his money. I'm all for pushing these kind of people though - I'd push them straight out the door onto the unemployment line. And by the way, it is unnecessary to parenthesise "common sense" - unless it is a descriptor you don't use very often. :) >>[i]It would appear that I have been censored for the common British use of a phrase involving the 'P' word which is spelled like hussy but with a 'p'. No flagrant swearing was intended. American political-correctness for gawd's sake.[/i]

nwoodson
nwoodson

I agree with dyahnne in large part because it is up to management to state its goals clearly and if need be have a prescribed COA in normal situations. I don't buy the need to coddle folks, though. Your emotional needs are not my concern as mine aren???t yours. The mission at hand is the issue be it software development, infrastructure erection or anything else. Any mission has a task/condition/standards relationship that can be built. That's what managers and project leadership are for. Subordinates need to be candid, though. If they are missing something critical...fine...management should be aware of that. Conversely, management can't get up in arms if they didn't take the time to assemble teams with the proper skill sets. Worse yet is the need for "Jesus in a three-piece suit" that some organizations would have you believe is a necessity. Summed up, it boils down to one concept...rationally organized teamwork. If the leaders aren't capable of this, then the team is doomed to fail.

jmckee7307
jmckee7307

But it's real and it affects a lot of managers and employees. Understanding it conceptually will make you a better executive.

swheeler
swheeler

Your psycho-stuff is just right for those of us who operate on a higher EI. Many talented employees, including myself, have less than ideal psychological profiles. Coupled with high intelligence, I can see myself in the same situation as your employee who gets it but can't do it. I've often had conversations at home that ended in being told, "If that's what your boss wants, you better do it so you don't get fired." Sometimes an employee is worth the extra effort of understanding how their mind wraps around things. You are more than experienced enough to tell when you have the average slacker on your hands. When dealing with the exception, I suggest being blunt with the consequences of non-compliance and following up on it. It's usually the only way to get through to me. I can comprehend being suspended for not following policy much easier than explain why I can't do as you've asked when I cognitively understand.

dyahnne
dyahnne

If a subordinate continues to come up short on completing projects, even after the employee told his manager he got it, then it doesn't take a whole lot to see where the problem really lies. The manager has to be walking around with blinders on, because after the subordinate has performed way below expectations over a period of time, the manager should be questioning his own management skills and effectiveness in articulating what he wants from the employee. First, after the employee says he got it, then the manager should ask for a full report on what they discussed, including a rough idea and timeframe for completing the project. I think this would be a good indicator if the employee really gets it. In actuality most employees have a problem saying they don't understand something, or they need more specific details, because saying "no" has a negative connotation, especially in the workplace. Some do not want to appear inept or not sharp enough to grasp concepts, so one may say yes, even if they mean no, hoping they'll figure it out later. The problem with this is that sometimes they don't figure it out, so they come up short or perform poorly. We've created a culture, especially in the U.S., where "succeeding and winning" is everything. The stakes or high and the job market is very competitive today. Most companies are ambivalent to the real emotional needs of their employees, and most employees have a difficult time expressing what they need from their jobs to be truly successful and productive. Thanks D.Cook

nwoodson
nwoodson

Yup! Sandals, beard AND pony-tail! We are tech geeks after all!!! :)

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

cognitive understanding vs. ability to do that which one cognitively understands. I ran across this in my work with the Supplemental Instruction program. 'New hires' understood what they were supposed to be doing, but didn't necessarily know how to go about it. I implemented a policy in which experienced SI Leaders gave 'mock' SI sessions at our weekly meetings, at which point the new Leaders picked up on how to go about structuring their own sessions, first based on what they experienced in our meetings, then building on their own ideas with advice from me and other experienced Leaders in their subject. SI information here: http://www.umkc.edu/cad/SI/index.html

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

On the products I train on there are a TON of environmental variables. While I can answer 99% of the questions about our products and provide strong technical information on how our product interacts with the main pieces we work with, I won't always know how it will work in X environment. A prime example is that a customer hammered me for saying "I don't know" when a VERY environment specific Citrix question came up. Rather than making something up, I provided them with what I did know, what I could extrapolate, and what I could envision, given my product knowledge. However, the short answer is "I don't know." The customer claimed that my product knowledge was too limited because I couldn't answer a HIGHLY specific question.... When did saying "I don't know" become so bad?

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I have worked in situations in which admitting I wasn't quite clear was costly. Thanks for that!

rmcoplon
rmcoplon

I don't mind when someone says "I don't know," or "I don't understand." What drives me up the wall is when they say "I get it," and then blatantly don't do what they said they got. It leaves the door shut for working together to find a solution, and doesn't result in getting the job done, and as a necessary outcome introduces delay and risk into the project. Some employees seem to believe that if they say "Oh, okay" in my presence, but then can't act on the action item, it'll all blow over and be okay. But when it's a necessary task for the project, ignoring it and praying that it goes away isn't reasonable. My question becomes this: in a world where asking an employee to do his/her job can be seen as "creating a hostile work environment," what obligation do I as a manager have to rehabilitate an employee who believes that saying yes and not acting is acceptable? The risk incurred to the company (and client) while you document documet document so that you can defend your decision is huge, affecting the company's success, reputation, and follow-on business. How much "lack of emotional intelligence" is grounds for dismissal?

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