Reader: I work in a professional coaching position, supporting my colleagues across a variety of job-related performance issues and conflicts to uncover hidden motivations, clear up misunderstandings and adopt more efficient practices. I do not officially evaluate these colleagues; I have a bag of carrots and no sticks.
One colleague has exhausted my reservoir of strategies and is close to exhausting my usually large reserve of patience. This colleague frequently forgets deadlines and pushes work off until the last minute, leaving me with the choice of bailing her out of a self-created emergency or letting her experience the natural consequences of her actions. While I am usually a firm believer in natural consequences, her inaction would negatively affect one of my teams and their clients.
I am hoping you might have some strategies I can use to help this colleague learn to manage her workload, as this skill will probably determine whether she will keep her job.
Karla: Presumably, your other colleagues have the ability to respond to your help; they just need to tweak their technique. But this particular colleague may need more fundamental adjustments. All the reading tutors in the world can’t help a student who needs glasses to see the page.
If you’ve made clear to her that her lapses are putting her job at stake — something that should jolt even the most careless workers back on track — but she keeps dropping the ball no matter how many automated reminders and calendars you help her set up, then her procrastination and forgetfulness might be symptoms pointing to a cause that you’re not trained to address.
Time for a conversation where you admit you’re out of ideas, and open the door for her to propose solutions: “I’m concerned because none of my usual time-management strategies seem to be working for you. Do you have any ideas on what might help you perform better? Is this something you struggle with outside of work, or is there something about this workplace that makes it hard to stay on task?”
Then listen. If she says something like, “I’ve had trouble with this since I was a kid,” maybe there’s an undiagnosed medical or behavioral health issue. If she complains of constantly being distracted and derailed by meetings and visitors — or having too little regular contact with the people she’s supposed to respond to — then maybe she can be allowed to relocate to a workspace that better suits her needs. Or maybe she’s decided this is the wrong job for her, but she hasn’t found the wherewithal to quit.
None of these presents a situation you can coach her out of. But as someone who’s worked closely with her, you are in a position to suggest outside resources or recommend other changes to HR or her supervisor that can help her succeed.
PRO TIP: If you suspect an underlying medical or behavioral condition is hampering a colleague’s performance, avoid giving an armchair diagnosis. Focus on observable, job-related behavior and direct him or her to an employee assistance program for a confidential diagnosis and treatment.
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