Walking by a problem

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla -- I just relinquished squadron command a few weeks ago. It was a tremendously rewarding experience that I'll never forget. One thing I learned to be absolutely true during that tenure was: "When you walk by a problem, it becomes the new standard." But this was also one of the hardest things for me to learn.

Why? A lot of people don't like being the "bad guy." The supervisor or coworker may fear destroying a good working relationship by criticizing someone's performance.

But, I learned it is possible to correct poor performance without being harsh. It can be as simple as, "Hey, I noticed you didn't come into work on time this morning. I expect you to be here on time. Did something go wrong this morning? Is there anything I can help you with so that you don't show up late again?"

Also, coworkers of the poor performer tend to respond well as long as these corrections are applied fairly and consistently. Disciplining someone who did something wrong is not the biggest killer of morale. The biggest morale-killer is letting someone get away with something that everyone else doesn't do.

The organizational environment is the key factor that separates an elite organization from the rest. If you are in a lax unit, the person who tries to correct poor performance may be viewed with hostility, but in an elite organization, the poor performer is the one viewed with hostility--he's "bringing the unit down." If you're in an elite unit, it's not the boss who's the enforcer - it's your peers.

Lastly, one of the symptoms of a person who is thinking of suicide is a sudden decline in the quality of their work. If you just let that behavior slide because he/she is "just having a bad day", you've missed the opportunity to ask what's wrong. You never know; your attempt to reach out and ask what's wrong might just stop that person from going on a downhill slide from which they'll never recover. You may even save their life.