Jan. 8 2008 01:18 PM


Consider the following scenario

Tommy is a member of a local neighborhood baseball team. He is one of 12 boys on the team, yet he demands most of the coaching staff's attention. He is indifferent, confrontational and generally disruptive. As a result, much effort is spent constantly reminding him of the same basic concepts, preventing him from distracting his teammates and making sure he is where he is supposed to be, all of which squanders precious time at the expense of the team's development and success.


While dealing with Tommy is challenging for a few volunteer fathers who only want to make a positive contribution in the lives of children, dealing with a Tommy in the workplace has more significant and tangible consequences, not the least of which is potentially jeopardizing the long-term success of an organization. Unfortunately, being a manager will undoubtedly put you in direct contact with "Tommy!"


Tommy in the Workplace

In our example, the league has a rule for mandatory participation, meaning every child must play in a set minimum portion of each game. With Tommy on your team, you are at a disadvantage from the beginning. In the workplace, Tommy will decide to visit his friend in another department to discuss the latest gossip, disappear for long periods of time or find any task to do aside from his actual responsibility, all while his team tries to complete their project on time. In both scenarios, his teammates are left to complete the tasks for which he is responsible. They have the commitment to succeed and understand the part they play in the success of the team; however, they are often unable to overcome Tommy's action and inaction.


Managing Tommy's Negative Behavior

What are the factors that allow Tommy to continue to negatively impact his team? First, are there established rules that address his behavior? Our league allows a coach to bench a player for a few reasons such as discipline, attendance and the health of the child. Similarly, most organizations have a written standard of conduct listed in the employee handbook distributed to all associates.


In one scenario, the coach may not bench Tommy in order to avoid confrontation with the parents, not wanting to take the time necessary to file his reasons with the league or not wanting to be labeled as an ineffective coach. Instead, he deals with the situation as best he can. In the workplace, a manager may not address the violations of the standards of conduct for literally the same reasons: they do not want to spend the time on the process, they want to avoid confrontation and they do not want to be labeled as difficult. Although the rules are clear and easily understood by all parties, they are essentially useless based upon the manager's approach. In both examples, the hope is that the situation will resolve itself through the child quitting the team or the employee resigning this is ineffective and counter-productive.


Using Progressive Discipline with Tommy

Clearly communicating rules along with expectations to all players and providing coaching based upon these items would have provided an environment less likely to be impacted by a Tommy in the long term. Many coaches in our organization will conduct a parent's meeting after the first practice to state the rules and expectations for all players and parents. This establishes exactly what the players and parents can expect from the coaches as well as what they expect in return. The litmus test of whether this approach is successful is how the coach applies the rules with all players on the team. In the workplace, most employees are exposed to rules and expectations during orientation, only to see those rules and expectations not being applied in the day-to-day operations.


In each of our scenarios, rules and expectations must be fairly and evenly applied in a timely manner, utilizing progressive discipline, a process used to deal with behavior or conduct that does not meet established expectations. The key to progressive discipline is to create the understanding between management and the employee that a problem exists, and then agree that a solution can be achieved.


Measurable and relevant benchmarks are established with scheduled formal meetings to provide feedback on the employee's progress toward meeting expectations. Failing to make corrections or progress will result in the execution of established, increasingly meaningful consequences such as: verbal warning, written warning, unpaid suspension, extended unpaid suspension and, finally, termination.


When applying these steps, it must be reinforced that management and the employee agree that the situation can be corrected. Progressive discipline is not to be perceived as punishment but rather as a plan to improve the employee's behavior or performance. Should the desired results (improved behavior or performance) not be achieved following progressive discipline, then terminating the employee is the final step. The key is that the employee clearly understands these steps based upon the communication during the process.


Achieving Success with Tommy

In situations involving Tommy, you cannot underestimate the impact of his actions upon your team. They will resent the fact that they cannot achieve their team goals (and subsequently their individual goals). They will feel that they are being asked to contribute more than necessary to cover for Tommy, and you will potentially lose quality performers no longer willing to be on the same team as this individual. At the very least, by not addressing the situation, you are creating the perception that the behavior or effort is acceptable, and you will soon have a team full of  "Tommys."     


Whether your management challenge is to win the league championship or to establish your department or organization as the leader in your industry, you must:

>> Communicate expectations for performance and conduct to all staff

>> Clearly communicate progressive discipline policy to all staff

>> Apply progressive discipline in a fair and timely manner

>> Focus on resolving the issue, not punishment

>> Follow up consistently on established benchmarks and provide feedback

>> Continue to be present in the work area and coach staff to avoid future issues


If you are diligent about completing these tasks, you will achieve success, whether on the ball field or in the workplace.


Mark Hale is an Account Manager for OMG, LLC with over 20 years of management experience. He is a member of his local PCC and a member of MSMA. He can be reached at mhale@amig.com or 513-947-6713.