I am fortunate to work as an executive coach with people at many levels, in different stages of their careers, and in a variety of industries. Even though there is significant variety and diversity in my client base, I am often struck how similar their thought processes and experiences are. This is particularly true when it comes to discontent. You’d think everyone would be complaining about wages, or lack of vacation time, the long hours, or the tight spaces in which they work — no. People are discontent with actions and attitudes that prevent them from doing their best and that hurdle is often set up by people at the top. So listen up and let me know if you have experienced, or are experiencing, some of these challenges. Or, are you the cause of them?

Strong, competent, loyal employees complain about...

Lack of Transparency: This is an area where I hear significant controversy. Top management claims they are open and receptive with the staff while the people in the cubicles feel dictums come from on high with little explanation or worse, decisions are made without the stakeholders input or feedback. Suggestion: Think out loud, start talking earlier, and ask the opinions of people closest to the ultimate user. They’re the ones who will tell you, “it sounds good but it can’t work because... so you need to...”

Ever-Changing Goals: Like restaurants change the soup of the day, some managers seem to have the compulsion to move targets regularly. A client once told me at the global bank where she worked, “they had so many changing initiatives, I couldn’t keep their names straight no less remember what they were about or why we were supposed to be doing them.” This is a sorry tale but not an uncommon one. It’s confusing and demotivates. It also causes concern the ship is drifting and probably off course. Suggestion: It takes vision, planning, dedicated time, buy-in to create, transmit, and execute to specified goals, and requires the courage to stay with them and the smarts to know when alterations are required. Moving the target only makes it easier to miss.

Short-Term Focus: “What have you done for me today and what are your plans for tomorrow?” seems to be the foci. Long range has been sacrificed for short-term wins. It’s as if the only race is a sprint and people are dismissing the longer runs. Short-term thinking often provides immediate solutions that in turn have little to do with what will happen. Immediate thought is also susceptible to constant switching, changing, and redirection, many times off course and shortsighted, requiring backtracking and re-do. Suggestion: Charge yourself and others to keep the vision in mind. Challenge everyone to set aside immediate think or fear of audit, and aim for the real purpose of the work.

Unreasonable Deadlines: I once heard an intern say, “If everything is due today what will we do tomorrow?” As naïve as it might sound, there was some wisdom in questioning why all work is needed now. Imagine if emergency rooms didn’t have triage and dealt with coughs and heart attacks as equals, or if all buses and trains were scheduled to arrive at 8:30am. What would you think? My guess is you would say it is unreasonable, unnecessary, plain stupid, and may even be dangerous in some cases. Yet many managers sabotage projects by handing out unachievable deadlines. A coworker of mine’s favorite expression when given such time constraints was, “How do you want it, fast or accurate?” It’s funny but true. Suggestion: Think about time as part of any deliverable demand. Ask yourself, “What is lost with immediate demand — quality, morale, value?” Empower your people to tell you when deadlines are difficult, if not impossible, and work with them to figure out solutions. Don’t be surprised if it includes you.

Never Good Enough: I’ve been known to say more than a few times, “Often good enough is good enough.” Keep in mind the last statement; this is coming from the mouth of a person, aka me, who could easily fall into the perfectionist category. All the same, there are many times when giving a good (not great) work over is all that the subject, project, or recipient needs or is worthy of. Suggestion: Consider the impact and the ultimate customer, and then decide how much effort you will put into the work at hand. If every deliverable is good enough all of the time, I guarantee you; our status in the world would soar.

Volume vs. Quality: There is a horrible mindset out there that says bigger is better. It translates into things like if 10 pages is good, then 100 are better or if 20 slides in a presentation gets the point across, then 50 slides will really drive it home. Wrong! Everyone has a point of overload and it is generally sooner than the presenter’s capacity to create and disseminate more information. Steve Jobs was a genius at the clear concise message. Why? He had clear, concise ideas. He didn’t need a defense, he presented the idea — simply. Suggestion: Make the point, edit the words, lessen the visuals, and drive home your message.

Strong, quality people are trying to do their best and are delivering. Yet it all could be so much easier if leaders were to stand their ground when it comes to vision and focus. Employees want to know the why, be given achievable deadlines, and a sense of what is most important. It is the responsibility of leaders to provide this direction and their reports are asking for it.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.