Human Resources: Address Behavioral Issues Promptly

Yesterday, I felt like I was leading a symphony orchestra making beautiful music. Today, something happened and I am back to herding cats. When will all of these people issues go away?

I am afraid the simple answer is “probably never.” In the years that I have consulted with business owners, and even now in my alter ego role as a general manager, I continue to be amazed at how even the best of performers can bump their heads. Worse, it seems to be contagious so that it is not an isolated case, but oftentimes becomes an epidemic that spreads throughout the business. The most difficult struggle is how to deal with the issue and restore the symphony orchestra feeling.


Start with Analysis

There are two aspects of an employee’s performance. The first of those is the “skill” he or she brings to the job. I know that you all go to great lengths to ensure your employees have the requisite skills. Many of you would not even consider making a hire if the individual’s background did not include many years of experience. Then you add to their knowledge through continuing education from technical schools or equipment vendors. When you buy new equipment or upgrade software, you go through an educational upgrade as well.

So how is it that, with all the experience and training, a job goes south? Something in the process went wrong and the job must be redone. Well, all too often it is the second aspect of an employee’s performance that came to play and that is behavior; the behavioral characteristics that the employee brings to the job. Despite the best equipment and software and despite the emphasis on clearly defining the job requirements, it comes out wrong.

Here is a case in point. The work order included two padding jobs for the same customer. The first job was to be padded from the top. The second job was to be padded on the left. You guessed it. They both came out padded on the top. The padding quality was very good because the bindery guy had the right skills. The problem was that he has an attitude about reading the details of the work order. He even signed off on the work order when he was done that he had completed the tasks as directed. He just didn’t bother to read it first. Fortunately, the error was caught before going to the customer.


Another Viewpoint

Patrick Lencioni in his latest book “The Advantage” puts it this way: “Whether we are talking about a football team, a sales department, or an elementary school, a meaningful drop in measurable performance can almost always be traced back to behavioral issues that made the drop possible.”

Lack of attention to details, decreased discipline about cold calling, lack of follow through, no sense of urgency are all behavioral problems that occur long before any decrease in measurable results is apparent. Lencioni continues, “Great leaders and great team members confront one another about these behaviors early because they see the connection between the two and care enough about the team to take that risk before the results begin to suffer.”

The problem for you, as owner or manager, is taking that risk. If the press operator does not know how to run the press, it is obvious to both you and the operator. There is a skill missing, so you both can agree to a training plan. When the issue is performance, then it is a matter of accountability. Lencioni says, “It is much harder for most people to hold one another accountable because it involves something of a personal behavioral judgment.” It is going to be a battle about whose opinion is right. But it is a battle that must be fought.

In my books and in my speaking, I always remind owners and managers that, “We hire for skills and fire for behaviors.” When you set out to correct a bad behavior, firing is always a possible outcome. Nevertheless, those behaviors must be addressed—and they must be addressed over and over again. If it is just a bump to the head, then it can be corrected and the symphony plays again. But if it is an ingrained behavior and there is no prospect for change, there is only one outcome.


Debra Thompson is president of TG & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in Human Resources for the Graphics Industry. Debra can be reached toll free at 877-842-7762 or Learn more at