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Underperforming Employees, Or What One Author Calls “The Critter State” |  October 01, 2015 (1 comment)


Miami, FL—I think one of the most frustrating things for a manager or small-business owner is to see a smart talented employee underperforming. Often this happens because people faced with tough challenges tend to revert to a primitive mindset. Bestselling author Christine Comaford calls this “The Critter State.” Employees react to problems by fighting, running or freezing rather than intelligently responding.

When employees get scared, their first reaction is one of uncertainty, and usually they use just a fraction of their brains and abilities as they regress to uncreative behavior they see as “safe.” Comaford has compiled useful information during her years working with companies on how to motivate employees to work harder, smarter and with great purpose. She says:

“Ask Questions Instead of Statements.” Most leaders give orders all the time, then complain all they’re employees are just order takers.  You as an owner create that feeling. When leaders are asked a question, their impulse is to give an immediate answer.  That trains employees to constantly ask questions instead of trying to solve problems and find solutions.  I have sat in on many training sessions and the ones I see as the most effective are ones that became interactive.

Instead of employees just answering questions, I’d rather ask “what would you do?”  See what other employees could be looped in and what could go right or wrong.  This is what puts your brain into problem-solving mode rather than that “critter state.”  And it puts employees’ brains into problem-solving mode rather than freezing or fighting back—or my favorite, ignoring the problem entirely.

“Be Extremely Clear, Don’t Leave People to Figure it Out.” It’s extremely easy to think that employees know everything you know (assume we know what that means) and they can figure out what you want.  This is often not the case.  Uncertainty leads people to waste time, get nervous, and once more revert to that “Critter State”. The more detail you put into a request, the better.  Say what you want, on what terms and by when. Don’t be vague.

“Make Accountability Central to Your Culture.” Accountability can become a two-fold problem.  Often businesses do not have clear structures.  People may not know what they are accountable for or the consequences of underperforming.

Critter mindset is not what you want in your sales associates or other employees. Photo:

One of my CBG retailers, [Maryland-based] Smyth, is the leader of accountability in my book.  He delegates thru divisions.  If it is a bridal buyer, she is accountable for what he/she buys and then sees it through.  The senior executive team is there to mentor but they teach accountability and learn in the process.  It makes a company one big team, which I find priceless.

There is nothing more important in business than having employees do what they say they are going to do.  If an employee does not follow thru, you must sit down with them and ask why, no sweeping under the carpet.  You will get one big pile of a mess.

The first time they drop the ball, if there is no personal issue, figure out additional structure so it does not happen again.  If it happens a second time, ask if you have put too much on their plate.  Work to reduce the number of low-value tasks they spend time on. Consequences don’t need to be adversarial but they do need to be there if you want behavior to change.

Use these three phrases to knock employees out of a “Critter State.” They can help you influence them in the right direction:

1. “What If?” When using “What If?” we remove ego and reduce emotion.  Using “What If?” is like throwing a beach ball.  People will usually bounce the beach ball around and make it their own.  It will make employees brainstorm more easily.

2. “I Need Your Help.” I use this a lot.  It invites employees to temporarily swap roles with their boss, to think like a leader and step up.  Often employees step up to a level they may not have thought themselves capable.  Gives employers a great feeling of pride.

3. Last One: “Would It Be Helpful If…” Success breeds bigger expectations, which can be terrifying for people.  By taking the focus away from intimidating tasks and focusing on solutions, people start to move forward.

Yes, that is what I think all employers are looking for.  Someone who will find the solution, not feed the problem.

Andie Weinman, president and CEO of Preferred Jewelers International / Continental Buying Group Inc., was born with the “Jewelry Gene” working in the jewelry industry since she was only ten years old. Her first job was as a cashier in the opening of a catalog showroom doing a fantastic job even at that tender age. Andie holds a B.A. in musical theatre and a B.S. in marine biology from The University of Tampa. When she realized that seawater and marine biology were not good on her hair and she wasn’t quite good enough to make it on Broadway, the jewelry business beckoned. Andie has picked diamonds, sorted color stones, shot waxes and performed a multitude of jobs in the manufacturing of jewelry.  Her negotiating experience and prowess has given her the reputation as being tough but fair in her dealings with vendors. In 2012 the Indian Diamond and Color Association awarded Andie the Prestigious Doyenne Award of the Year

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By Ben adams on Oct 2nd, 2015 at 2:24pm

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