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Stop “Red Ink” Behaviors to Enhance Your Bottom Line
by Nancy Ahlrichs

There is no faster path to the legal system than through management inconsistency. Ignore “red ink” behaviors at your peril.

Overworked, ever-optimistic managers too often set the stage for “red ink” behaviors by hoping they are just rumors, or that the individuals involved will develop conflict resolution skills overnight, or that the disruptive behaviors and poor performance will miraculously evaporate and go away. Managers spend up to 25 percent of their time focused on poor performers and red ink or conflict-related issues.

Poor performance could include attendance issues, deadline issues and quality issues. Red ink behaviors include verbal abuse (bullying), harassment or sexual harassment. By responding inconsistently, managers can actually intensify unwanted behaviors.

In Managing to Stay out of Court, author Jathan Janove cites four “inconsistency traps” that can lead to undesired employee behaviors, lower productivity and even litigation. These four traps are:

1. Person-to-Person Inconsistency

This commonly arises when one employee is paid more, disciplined more or otherwise treated differently than another employee who performs at a similar level. At the very least, this type of inconsistency causes morale, trust and teamwork to suffer.

2. Person-to-Document Inconsistency

When a manager treats an employee in a manner inconsistent with employer documents (e.g., employee handbook, policy memoranda, e-mail messages, human resources documents), the manager creates a trap. Employees given an “acceptable” rating in all performance categories cannot suddenly be fired for long-term attendance issues. The “acceptable” rating is proof of acceptable performance to this and other employees. Without documentation of the attendance issue and in the face of an acceptable rating in all areas, the manager damages his or her credibility. (Were you lying on the performance review or are you lying now?)

3. Document-to-Document Inconsistency

In an effort to get things done, too many managers create documents in conflict with official policies and procedures. ALWAYS review the employee manual, accepted job descriptions or other documentation before issuing departmental memos on vacations, incentive compensation, or criticism of employee performance.

4. Person-Over-Time-Inconsistency

Too often, managers wait and hope that an employee’s consistent behavior (attendance problems, bullying behavior, quality problems, etc.) will go away or magically improve. Finally, the manager can take the problem no more and “blows.” The employee feels victimized since his or her very consistent underperformance has never been an issue in the past.

As Janove says, “There is perhaps no faster path to the legal system than through management inconsistency.” Very often, but not always, the employee with the attendance problem or other red ink behavior is a department’s top producer. Whether there is ever a lawsuit, tolerated poor performance or even red ink behavior costs organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the effect(s) it has on the performance of other employees and the inability of the department to attract and keep high quality employees.

Nip red ink behaviors in the bud, and be consistent about not tolerating poor performers. Your department will function more smoothly, your deadlines and quality levels will be met, and your stress will go down.

Nancy Ahlrichs’s two books, Manager of Choice: 5 Competencies for Cultivating Top Talent, and Competing for Talent: Key Recruitment and Retention Strategies for Becoming an Employer of Choice, may be found in large bookstores and on www.amazon.com.

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