Do your employees sometimes disappoint you?

Michael Feuer

How many times have you been disappointed because one of your employees or associates didn’t produce as promised or as you expected? How many times when this occurred did you merely chalk it up as a black mark against the offender? If this is a recurring theme with those who work for you, then perhaps you should look in the mirror as the problem may be with you — not them.

The fact is that most employees want to do it right. Most actually work diligently at doing what they believe is expected. The best of these employees aggressively make that extra effort to take their performance to the next level.

In order for employees to deliver and excel, it is your job to first thoroughly explain what is expected of them on every major new effort. Failures come in all sizes and shapes, but there is typically one common denominator underlying the miss. It usually starts with a failure to communicate, including defining the key elements necessary to effectively accomplish the goal. Secondly, the necessary check points probably were not established from the get-go to prevent the project from straying off course. Finally, the person doing the work may not have been told the importance of the assignment, and that he or she must ask for help if problems were to arise. Human nature is to “whistle in the dark” and forge ahead even if there is that nagging sense that all is not right.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. If you want something done and done correctly you must take the time and make the effort to simply explain the task and provide the pertinent details. If the people undertaking the work understand the purpose and the expected benefits, they’ll be more deliberate in producing an appropriate finished product. Understanding the goals dramatically increases the odds of success. If people don’t know why they are being told to do something, it’s not realistic to expect them to even care.

Too frequently, bosses think that employees will understand what must be done and think this will come about through some magical process or by osmosis. This would be nice, but it just doesn’t work that way. Many times you won’t get feedback on the task’s progress because too many people believe it’s a sign of weakness to report in or to ask questions. There is an easy fix to that problem; if you’re not getting a sense of the status of what’s happening and it’s an important effort — you go to them. When you lose touch with the evolution of a significant project, your people could sense this as a sign that it’s not important to you.

Too frequently when an effort results in disappointments, everything hits the fan. This causes various degrees of angst on numerous fronts and, most important, radically reduces productivity, leads to missed deadlines and, even worse, may result in a costly lost opportunity.

If a project goes south it’s mandatory that you find out why. Many times it’s too easy and convenient for the boss to say, “handle it,” without explaining what “it” means. The combination of those two words, followed by the assignee stating, “I’m on it,” without having all the blanks properly filled in, makes it a good bet that the end results will not be pretty.

Clearly, not every undertaking requires a detailed explanation or a well-documented work plan, but even the simplest task needs to be articulated clearly and requires an answer to this question: Is this a “down and dirty” job or do you need near perfection? Also you must provide a deadline. If you don’t give one, the employee can’t prioritize his or her work.

The much-quoted statement dating back to the War of 1812 proclaimed, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Business is tough enough as it is; make sure you’re not the enemy contributing to a failure because you didn’t communicate what needs to be known by all involved so there are no surprises. The first rule of being a leader is to provide explicit directions to those who must follow you. If the employee fails, you’re not the only one who will be disappointed — he or she will be, too.

MICHAEL FEUER co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at [email protected]

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