Sometimes the Employee is not the Problem

by Michael Haberman on October 17, 2013 · 0 comments


Maybe the "apple" is not rotten but the "basket" is the problem.

Maybe the “apple” is not rotten but the “basket” is the problem.

In the teaching I am doing this week my students covered human resources development. We talked about the process of organizational development (OD). In that discussion they learned that sometimes the employee is not the problem.

A supervisor’s complaint

Many times training and OD initiatives get started with a supervisor’s complaint that his employees are not being productive and therefore they need more training. Rather than jumping in and committing to training an assessment needs to be done of what the situation really reflects. Perhaps the problem is not a lack of training. Perhaps it is a technical issue. Perhaps it is a structural or work flow issue. Perhaps it is a people issue, but not the employee. Perhaps the supervisor is the major problem!

Look at the basket

Alan Weiss, whom I consider to be a mentor (although he does not know it) published a short story in his Monday Morning Memo where he tells of an employee in a passenger lounge at Penn Station in New York. She is the staff on Saturday morning and is chronically late. She inconveniences the passengers consistently yet nothing ever changes. Week after week is the same. Alan says apparently no one ever monitors her performance. He ends his story with a quote from a general manager who said “When I see people underperforming, I take it up with their manager, because that’s the cause of the problem.” Alan concludes with this “Sometimes it’s not the apple that’s rotten, it’s the basket.”

The next time you are having problems with employees make sure you take a look at their manager. A change there may make a bigger difference than anywhere else.

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