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Recognizing Responsible Employees

As a manager, it is your responsibility to identify what behavior you want employees to exhibit in your shop, and then to look at each employee to see who exemplifies that behavior.

By Terry Combs,

Don't get caught giving all of your attention to the unruly ones when those meeting their resposibilities are the ones that need to be rewarded.

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  • In a large family, children quickly learn that rebellious behavior gains attention. Unfortunately, it's no different in the workplace. More often than not, problem employees who regularly show up late or fall behind in their work attract more notice than dedicated employees who show up on time, accomplish their tasks and quietly leave the building after a full day's work.

    As an employer, giving all the attention to the "unruly child" can cause resentment among your "good" employees. In this article, we'll learn how to recognize those who work to their full potential and should gain more notice, and those who should not.

    Hard-working employees get discouraged when problem employees receive all the attention, or when mediocre employees are rewarded for suddenly doing their jobs well. I witnessed a situation where a problem employee received a bonus for reporting to work on time for two weeks in a row, while the employees who never missed a day of work got nothing more than a pat on the back.

    The process begins with defining and identifying what constitutes positive job performance. As a manager, it is your responsibility to identify what behavior you want employees to exhibit in your shop, and then to look at each employee to see who exemplifies that behavior. In other words, look for positive attitudes and performance. Look for those employees and practices you believe set the standard for all employees. This takes a little time and effort on your part at the front end of the process, but it's worth the effort.

    When establishing a standard for employees to meet, don't make rules for the sake of making rules. Policies should reflect real goals, real efforts to reach positive end results, and real efforts to maintain productivity and profitability for your company.

    Communicate Your Policy
    Setting standards and communicating them to your employees are the two most important functions of a manager. It is not only your responsibility to identify the positive behavior you expect, but also to communicate your expectations effectively to all of your employees. These standards are usually communicated through written company policies.

    For example, if you expect everyone present at their workstations each day by 8:00 am, you need to effectively communicate that expectation in your written policy. If you expect a minimum average of 80 percent efficiency on a press, spell that out in a written policy, too. Just as important, you need to communicate what the result will be if that efficiency level is not met or exceeded.

    Not only do policies need expression in written form, they are best introduced in an open forum, either in a company-wide staff meeting or in small group discussions. Give your staff the opportunity to talk about these policies, and take the opportunity to explain what it is you hope to accomplish by implementing these changes in the work environment. A policy with a specific, reasonable explanation (and not "Because I said so!") is much easier to implement, and more easily accepted by employees.

    Monitor Progress
    Standardizing your expectations and communicating them as policy puts all of your employees on an even playing field. After establishing a policy, it is critical to enforce it at all times, not just when it's convenient. No matter what the standard is, if it's important enough to establish as policy, then it's important enough to monitor the results.

    If, for example, tardiness is an issue, then record the daily on-time attendance of your employees. In some cases, it helps to publish this record. Don't enforce the attendance policy only when you're fed up with sluggish morning production. If you don't pay proper attention and adhere to your written policy, your employees will become lax.

    It's the same case with printer efficiency numbers. Efficiency level is determined using the simple equation of dividing estimated production time by actual production time, generally calculated over a weeklong period. If you establish a minimum efficiency level of, say, 80 percent, track and publish the results. Nothing motivates an employee like a little friendly competition to exceed the minimum level, but also to show the best efficiency level among his/her peers.

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    Without communicating and then monitoring your standards, your employees are left to flounder, and wonder what exactly is expected of them. An underachieving employee may honestly think he or she is performing perfectly, while an overachieving employee might not get the recognition deserved. If you are not communicating your expectations and monitoring the results, you're leaving your employees confused and frustrated. Monitoring the progress of your set standards is sometimes an eye-opening experience — to you and your employees. For example, once a pencil and calculator are put to an employee's performance, you may find that the employee everyone assumes is doing a poor job may, in fact, be a superior employee.

    Monitoring everyone using the same standard creates that even playing field we discussed, with no room for hurt feelings or conjecture on anyone's part. Good employees may be vindicated with an apples-to-apples comparison of their work efforts.

    Ideally, you should assign one employee — probably someone lower on the management ladder — the job of monitoring your adherence to policies, and have the results submitted to you each week. This way, it is more difficult for a week to be skipped, and this procedure sends the message that the policy is being enforced. If the function is left to a senior manager, the manager may occasionally become trapped in dealing with this crisis or that. Before long, the monitoring function will gradually dissolve. Your employees will then think that maybe, just maybe, it's not that important for them to show up on time, and to do their best on the job.

    Reward Success
    As we discussed, a cardinal sin of management is enticing a mediocre employee into doing a better job with a reward, while the good employee sits by unrewarded. Success is the goal in any company. If you have a group of employees who have already reached a certain level of productivity and responsibility, reward them before sticking a carrot out for the mediocre.

    Maybe you believe you already reward that success, through higher wages, perhaps. If so, then it is important that this reward of higher wages be made clear to all. Say to your employees, "If you reach and maintain a certain and well-defined success level, your reward is a higher hourly wage." Everyone deserves to know the rules, and have an equal opportunity to play the game by those rules.

    More likely, you will have to sit down and totally rethink your rewards system for success. An old business viewpoint says, "I'm paying you to do your job. You don't need an extra reward for it." That's true in one sense; you pay a certain wage for a certain job. When you complicate the situation by paying special attention and offering rewards to pull a wayward employee back on track, you change the rules of the game. Wages, bonuses and rewards should all be based on standardized and publicized levels of ability and success.

    Tie bonuses and wages to adherence to the policies you deem most important. Communicate those policies, and monitor the results. You'll create a better workplace, and an environment where "acting up" isn't necessary for employees to get noticed.

    Terry Combs is a 30-plus-year veteran of the screen printing industry. He is an industry trainer and consultant through his website,, offering hands-on and online classes, as well as onsite consultations. He is the author of hundreds of technical and management articles, and a regular speaker at industry events. He is the owner of the screen printing supply company,

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, July/August 2012 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2013 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association ( All Rights Reserved.

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