Employee will not change unless expectations are set

November 6, 2018

By Marie G. McIntyre

Tribune News Service

Question: I recently hired a young man who does a good job but seems unwilling to address one particular issue. “Joshua” works at our reception desk, answering the phone and assisting customers. He willingly takes on additional tasks and says he loves working here.

The only problem is that Joshua has horrible handwriting. Whenever he leaves messages for people, they have to find him and get him to translate. I have repeatedly mentioned that he should improve his penmanship, and other managers have told him this as well.

On the rare occasions when Joshua leaves a readable note, I always compliment him. However, this hasn’t done any good. I also suggested that he could send messages by email, but he never does. How do I get Joshua to take this seriously?

Answer: Managers often erroneously assume that simply mentioning a concern will magically produce a resolution. Unfortunately, however, that is seldom the case. Performance coaching requires several steps, and awareness is only the first.

Given the input from multiple managers, Joshua obviously knows about this problem. And since his notes are occasionally legible, he can apparently fix it if he chooses. So, if awareness and ability are not the issue, that leaves the question of motivation.

For Joshua, improved handwriting is simply not important enough to make the effort. And the reason why is actually quite clear. Although you have repeatedly requested change, your words were contradicted by your actions. Continuing to accept his illegible notes sent the message that they were actually OK.

To resolve this performance issue, you must reiterate your expectations and then insure that they are met. Therefore, it’s time to advise young Joshua that things are about to change.

For example: “Joshua, I want you to know that I’m very pleased with your work on the reception desk. However, unreadable notes are still a problem, even though you can write clearly when you try. If you prefer written messages, they will have to be legible. But if they are not, we will have to switch to email.”

Advise the other managers of this plan, and then be sure to get their feedback. If the mangled messages continue, Joshua will have to lose his writing privileges.

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