Most of us have at spent time in the doghouse. Its usually after we’ve blown it or underperformed in someway. While the analogy is often applied to marriage, doghouses are just as common in workplaces around the globe. This is a problem because nothing good comes from keeping a doghouse at your workplace; it’s a place of punishment and isolation. However, ask managers if they keep a doghouse and most, if not all, will tell you they don’t. But if nobody does, then why can most employees recount at least one story of feeling like they have been spent some time there.
Doghouses are tricky things because sometimes they are the result of a manager who is punishing an employee, while at other times they are figments of the employee’s imagination. Even if they are the later, there is a lot you can do as a manager to make your workplace doghouse free. When it comes to eliminating doghouses, clarity and closure are the keys.
Here are six steps to eliminating doghouses at your workplace.
When an employee has made a mistake or underperformed:
1. Manage your emotions.
Even if you are extremely angry with your employee, there still needs to be control. Anger clouds our judgement and weakens our self control, leaving us open to saying something, which may be extremely damaging. In the end your goal is to promote effective behavior in the workplace. Walking around angry will not help you do this. If you are really angry about the mistake an employee has made, avoid giving feedback until you have cooled off.
2. Address them quickly.
Remember as a kid when you did something wrong and your mom threatened you with, “Wait until your father gets home.” Waiting to get in trouble is agonizing. When an employee makes a mistake or underperforms, it’s important that you as a manager deal with it quickly.
3. Always be specific.
Outline exactly what they did (behavior or action) and stay away from character judgements. For example, if Mary messed up the order with a big client, then outline exactly what she did wrong. If Bill told a joke at the team meeting that was insensitive then outline the specific problem behavior, (telling an insensitive joke) instead of making a judgement about his personal character (you’re insensitive).
4. Link their behavior or action to a larger consequence.
Sometimes managers think they need to be angry with an employee for a period of time to help them ‘get it.’ But most employees will ‘get it’ if you connect it to a bigger ‘why.’ Instead of being angry at Mary all week, help her see the consequences, or potential consequences of her mistake. “Mary, the customer said they had considered going to our competition because of your mistake. We cannot afford to lose a client this large. If we did we would not have enough revenue to continue without severe cutbacks.” Unless Mary is an uncaring and unengaged employee (in which case she should not be dealing with your largest customer) she is going to ‘get it.’ Her manager will not need to go around the rest of the week still angry at her. Help your employees connect real-world consequences to their actions.
5. Be specific about what you want them to do next.
This is an important step because people naturally want to do something to right their wrong. “Mary, I want you to make a checklist of everything you need to do before you ship an order to a client. I want you to finish that by the end of the day and give it to me.” This gives Mary something to do which will not only help her, but will also protect her and the company from making the same mistake again. It actually helps improve your organization.
6. Close the loop.
The final step may be the most important. When an employee makes a mistake they can feel a great deal of insecurity. Insecurity will not help your employees work at their highest level. Since most of their insecurity will relate to their perceptions of how you feel about them, you want to find ways to communicate your belief. There are many ways to do this but the most obvious is to treat them like you would on any other day. Be friendly, respectful and professional. Another great way to close the loop is to give them positive feedback on something they have done well. Whatever you asked them to do in step five should provide a great opportunity to communicate belief. “Mary, you have done a great job with this checklist. I can’t think of anything to add. If you use this with every customer order, you will be delivering world class service. In fact, I think we should make copies and give one of these to everyone on the team. This will be a great resource to make our team better.”
The hardest part of keeping your workplace doghouse free is managing your own emotions. You may have followed the six steps above but still feel angry with Mary because of her mistake. This is part of the challenge of leadership and why you need to have other outlets in your life to deal with stress and anger. In the end, you are paid to produce results and the bulk of those results are produced by your people. Therefore you want to do everything in your power to help them be as successful as you need them to be. When employees feel like they are in the doghouse, they will never perform optimally.