0 He Ain't Heavy, He's My Workmate

FrankNewberry2012Many of us are lucky enough to have real friends in the workplace. Some of us even work with family members. But, what do we do when our friend becomes a liability? Do we 'carry him' or cover for him or her out of loyalty? Or do we let things take their course and risk him losing his job?

Trainer and Motivational Speaker Frank Newberry offers his thoughts on the downside of loyalty at work

I am now into my twenty-fourth year working in the turfcare sector. In my experience, the people in the sector (groundsmen and greenkeepers) are the most gentle and loyal people I have ever worked with in a career lasting forty years across different sectors.

You get the odd exception. We have all met people who are loners, some people are more ruthless and more self involved than we are. Some even get jaded and bitter but, in the main, people in this sector want to help and enjoy being friends with each other.

In my sector, if you get a good idea, you keep it to yourself

A person I met in another industry once told me that he could not help but notice that, when a turfcare professional discovers or develops something new at work, he goes immediately onto the Pitchcare or BIGGA website to share his ideas and to ask for feedback. "That (my associate said), would never happen in my industry. In my sector if you get a good idea - you keep it to yourself. You jealously guard your secret until you have had time to implement it and get the credit for it from your employer."

This desire to be friendly and helpful can be tested to the limit when your friend at work becomes demotivated or depressed and his performance suffers in the long term. I have met a number of people who have team members that are performing badly in greens teams and grounds teams, but they keep their jobs because they are being carried by their team mates.

I would want people to be loyal to me

When I ask why this is being done, there are a number of almost convincing answers to my question including:

- He's a mate of mine
- It's not my job to sort him out
- I would want people to be loyal to me
- No one has noticed that we are carrying him
- Hopefully, he will get over this rough patch he is in
- It is a lot easier to cover for him than to tell the boss - that would be intolerable

The poor performer is exploiting the good nature of his team mates

Whilst these responses might be compelling at one level, they are not really convincing. For me, this is mainly because - whilst the team are being loyal to the poor performer - the poor performer is not doing much about the problem himself.

I would argue that, in many cases, the poor performer is exploiting the good nature of his team mates. They are unhappy about his poor performance, but worry about being the whistleblower, particularly if this means acting alone. The thought of being seen to be disloyal to the team is repellent to them and goes against everything they believe about the way people should treat each other at work.

There are at least two things to consider here :

1) Management are probably not doing their jobs properly if they have not noticed the problem. And it would be a dereliction of duty if they did know about it, but are letting the situation continue. Even today, at the height of a recession, many supervisors still have trouble accepting that they (the supervisors) are responsible for the performance of their work team and the individuals within it.

2) Whilst people in the turfcare sector are loyal and willing to help, they are also what is known as 'conflict averse'. They would rather avoid a scene than confront someone about a problem. Some I have met can be very direct, but the vast majority did not get a job in turfcare to sort out people and performance problems. They would much rather someone else does it.

The most popular way of solving this problem the wrong way is

I have been employed by a number of clients to deal with situations that have arisen because this performance problem has not been addressed properly. The most popular way of solving this problem 'the wrong way' is for teams to get so fed up with being powerless to change things that they swing the other way and turn on the individual poor performer.

How can this be with such a loyal group of people? Well, it seems that the group eventually decides to be loyal to 'most of the team', but not 'all of the team'.

This results in the poor performer gradually being excluded from informal team discussions. The other team members start to talk behind his back, and it is agreed that the poorly performing individual is letting the team down. It is when his behaviour is categorised as disloyal that the team fractures and professional help is needed to restore team morale and optimum performance.

Groundsmen and greenkeepers could be a true friend

It would be so much easier if management or supervision were trained or knew how to deal effectively with this not uncommon problem. Failing that, team members could show tolerance and loyalty in other ways by imposing 'group discipline'. This would involve agreeing, amongst themselves, what is acceptable and unacceptable performance (and for how long it might remain unacceptable).

Groundsmen and greenkeepers could be a true friend to their workmates by talking to them in a supportive way about their performance. They could begin to do this by agreeing some ground rules for giving each other difficult feedback. For example, they might say, "I have something difficult to say, but I do not want to hurt your feelings because you are a mate. How do you want me to play this?"

Good luck with your underperforming colleagues - you do not have to carry them.

Frank Newberry has been helping people get better results in the turfcare sector for over twenty years. If you are having team or individual work performance problems and you would like some advice that is specific to your situation you can get in touch with Frank direct via the contact tab of his personal website: www.franknewberry.com .

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