The Contractor’s Best Friend /10-23-2013/How to Lead Your Carp to “Take the Bait” of Self-Importance! Part 4 in a Series

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In Part I of this series, I laid out an overview of the three work styles and attitudes practiced by many workers.  We’ve already cover Thoroughbreds and the Fence-Sitters – check out our archives if you’ve missed those – and this week our focus will be on leading the third style of worker, the employee I call the Carp Worker

The Carp Worker (CW) is known as the one who normally argues or disagrees with just about anyone and just about anytime.  Introduce the Carp Worker to a group of new workers and within 15 minutes the group will learn that the CW is the smartest person in the group.

The hardest thing to accept about Carp Workers is that many of these individuals are bright people, possibly among some of your better craftsman…technically.  They know that they are good, you know that they are good. The problem is that they know…that you know…that they are good! 

Carp Workers can certainly range from those who are technically terrific but have a chip on their shoulder to those who simply have a bad attitude and are not productive in any job area.  As we address how to lead the Carp Worker, let me lay it out now that you must be clear, consistent and committed to holding the CW accountable to company processes, procedures and compliance issues.  Failure to hold the CWs accountable will lead to their having justification to argue, question silly issues, or just play ignorant of having known of a required rule or process step.

The Center for Construction Innovation & Development has identified that Carp Workers make up 17% - 25% of the workforce.  Not a very large group (nothing compared to the much greater numbers representing the Fence-Sitter Workers), but we’ll soon find out that the CWs take up a lot more of your time and energy.   They may be small in numbers but they can sound like the voice of the majority.

There is often a correlation between the number of Carp Workers a contractor employs and the company’s commitment to principles, values and processes that are maintained.  The more consistently a contractor holds his workers accountable, the more vision and communication that is practiced in the company, and the greater positive and proactive leadership that is executed, the fewer Carp Workers will be both in numbers and expression. 

One more consideration before we outline how to lead your Carp Workers.  In the subtitle for this article you read,

How to Lead Your Carp to “Take the Bait” of Self-Importance!

“What in ‘blue blazes,’ Humphrey, are we wanting the Carp Worker to experience Self-Importance?”  Well, there are several reasons:

First, Carp Workers, in many cases, have developed some very good skills and can be one of the best at their position.  However, somewhere in their past they did not receive any authentic recognition or appreciation.

Second, Carp Workers, when focused, can produce “in spades.”  While there is a balancing act to play when leading a CW, maximizing his potential will not come via fighting him at every turn…even if you feel like it and they deserve it!  When a Carp Worker is made to feel important while he contributes to performance excellence, he becomes very loyal to the leader who provided the positive recognition. 

How to Lead Your Carp to “Take the Bait” of Self-Importance!

1. Clearly Present the Carp Worker’s Position, Roles & Responsibilities

OK, you need to insure that all workers, no matter their job title, understand what they will be doing in their position.  For Carp Workers, the purpose is to reduce the amount of mind games they can play about what they are to execute.  As talented as most CWs are at their craft, their style is the originator of “It ain’t my job” excuses, often designed to see how far they can go getting away with doing less.  Interestingly, CWs often take this position at the most opportune moments, usually when asked to do something that they just don’t want to do. 

2. Clearly Present YOUR Standards & Expectations for the CW’s Job

This is especially important to execute as a leader when working with Carp Workers.  Standards, in this case, represents any law, work process, compliance issue, safety practice, company policy etc., by which the CW must abide.  In others words, standards are “non-negotiable.”  For example, if the state DOT mandates that a current truck log be kept in the cab of the truck, and your driver happens to be a Carp Worker, he or she must have that current truck log in the truck with them or face some negative consequences should they be pulled over by the police.  In this case the officer handing out the ticket could care less whether the driver is a Carp, a Fence-Sitter, or a Thoroughbred.  The law is the law! 

Just as important is that the Carp Worker clearly understand what YOUR Expectations are for his position.  While expectations might provide a little more wiggle room compared to standards, the Carp Worker is still expected to fulfill YOUR expectations for their position.  A brief example involves the topic of work hours.  Is it proper for a contractor, with a starting time of 7:00 a.m., to “expect” to have workers arrive prior to the starting time in order to prepare to begin work promptly at 7 a.m.?  Yes!  While you might not terminate an employee who didn’t meet your expectations, you certainly have a right to educate your Carp Worker that arriving early to work provides him with the time to make sure they have their required personal protective equipment available and in working condition.  Share what YOUR expectations are for their work effort, behavior on the job, and conduct with other workers, customers, and suppliers.

3. Quickly Address Problem Carp Workers…Professionally

When a Carp Worker acts negatively or does not comply with performance, policy or process issues you should address such situations quickly.  The longer you wait to address negative issues you encourage, unintentionally, the CW’s behavior and send a message to other workers that you can be intimidated.  You might not be intimidated but the perception might still be made.  Quickly addressing the CW does not require making a big scene (which is what many Carp Workers would actually like to see happen). Instead, you need to address their negativity privately.  Laying down the parameters of what you will tolerate reminds the CW that there are boundaries and they, too, must comply.  Your conduct with the Carp Worker, even in the most heated of conditions, should be calm and poised.  Remember, you are the leader, the boss – he is not!  Rather than attack his character or spend your meeting time cussing him out, let him know how “disappointed” you are in his actions or attitude.  Take the high road and don’t give him an excuse to shoot back.

4. Engage Carp Workers with More-challenging Tasks or Projects

Carp Workers, like bored children, are prone to create more problems for themselves and others if they are not mentally challenged.  If CWs are gifted with skills and knowledge, it’s a sure bet that positioning them to be involved with more-challenging assignments can keep them focused on the work at hand and give them less time to stir things up.

5. Isolate Complaining CWs Away From Other Workers

Isolating a Carp Worker who is complaining may not always be easy to do but you need to pull the CW away from his peers and have a one-to-one “visit” about his complaining.  Many contractors have a tendency to either ignore the complaining or simply “pop off” with something like “Just shut the #@%# up.”  Don’t avoid a confrontation; just be sure to pull the CW out of the work area and share with him that his activities are unacceptable, present what is acceptable, and provide the option to either shape up “NOW” or leave!  You do owe it to the other workers to create the best possible working environment.  While construction provides many an opportunity to lose one’s temper, if the CW uses mistakes made by himself or others as a platform to complain, then you must address his actions.

6. Solicit the Carp Worker for Ideas

The previous few techniques have been more to address the negative side to Carp Workers.  But remember, the CW is often one of your most talented workers.  Asking the Carp Worker for his ideas on a particular issue or problem can stroke that affirmation that they desire.  Many leaders of CWs can be slow to ask them for their ideas for fear that the CWs will go into a long-winded speech about all that they know and how stupid other people are to not use their ideas.  Push through this temptation and solicit CWs for their ideas…they’ve often got some great solutions!

7.  Recognize the Carp Worker When They Perform Well

OK, I’ve waited long enough: When your Carp Worker does something well, compliment him for his effort.  Again, going back to an earlier observation, many CWs have never really had that leader who sincerely appreciated their talent.  Recognizing the CW reminds all of your workers that you are not driven by favoritism nor are you afraid to give credit where credit is due.  Don’t hold back from recognizing great performance from your Carp Workers just because they “tick you off” at other times.  Again, take the higher road and let them know that you appreciate work well done.

8.  Tie Greater Opportunities to Progressive Improvement

One reason that many contractors are slow about complimenting a Carp Worker is that they are afraid that such positive talk will go straight to the CW’s head.  While this isn’t unfounded, one solution is to communicate to the Carp Worker that one good deed does not mean immediate job promotion or pay increase.  Share with your CW that you are looking for consistency and with consistency comes opportunity.  This might range from the number of days without an incident or mistake to going three to six months of no negative interactions with other employees.  This technique is very much tied to measurement but it’s also a progressive means to educate your CW that you are looking for long-term winners.

9. Place Your Carp Worker in Charge of Some Responsibility that Benefits the Team

OK, before you think me crazy, remember that we need to move the CW to “take the bait” of self-importance.  This self-importance should be tied to some extra responsibility the CW can execute that will benefit the other workers.  Such an effort will allow the other workers to view the CW as a contributor to something other than negativity. 

10. Confront the Carp Worker with Specific Examples & Clear Correction Steps

For our final leadership technique we want to address one final “tough love” effort that needs to be executed.  When leading Carp Worker you must confront his negative actions or attitude, making it crystal clear what the exact action entailed.  Let the CW know the negative impact of his efforts on his job or the morale of his peers.  Don’t dodge this opportunity to reinforce needed performance or behavior.  Invite the CW to solve his own problem, but if he is clueless on how to correct the problem, then clearly lay out what he needs to do. 

Leaders always want to take the most positive approach whenever possible, yet the behavior and actions of a Carp Worker can test the leader’s patience and sincerity.  Keep a few final thoughts close to your efforts when dealing with the Carp Worker:

  • Don’t take the negative attitude or actions of your CWs personally; they must accept personal responsibility.
  • Realize that you will never make up for whatever the Carp Worker has had lacking in his career.
  • Treat the Carp Worker like other workers but be quick to address his “out of bounds” actions by clarifying what is and isn’t acceptable.
  • If the Carp Worker commits some “wrong” that requires discipline or termination, then stick to what your company’s policy directs.
  • Remember, you can “win” with Carp Workers, but you need to clearly paint the picture about what is expected and what consequences exist for non-compliance.

When dealing with Carp Workers be firm and equitable in how you treat them.  While they are often “high maintenance,” keep your “fishing line tight” and you may just get them to take the bait of self-importance.

Here’s to raising your Carp Workers from the bottom and up into some really good water of performance excellence!

Brad Humphrey  

© 2013 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™

 

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