So, you want to be more assertive

AssertivenessOne of the foibles of many managers—especially the rookies—is the lack of assertiveness. It’s the awareness of the need to swoop down on wayward employees to express your opinions and feelings without delay. Hey, they’re getting away with stuff they shouldn’t be doing, and you’re just standing there watching it happen. You’re not doing your job, and you’re growing angry at yourself because you’re feeling like a doormat boss.

You need to do something. But what?

Let’s say, for example, employees are shuffling in at 9:30 instead of 9, taking longer and longer lunches, and 4:30 is the new 5 p.m.

Here are three ways to deal with it:

1. You deliver “the speech.” Round them all up in a meeting, and sound off: “Look, we gotta put a stop to this. Now! At your desks by 9. Lunch is 45 minutes, and we operate until 5 p.m. We can’t run a business like this. Am I clear?”

2. Let it slide a bit. Morale is pretty good, and you just may make things worse if you say anything. They’re still getting their work done, so what’s an extra 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. Flex is in. If it worsens, then maybe you’ll reel it in. But for now, it seems like a pretty good perk, and you don’t want to rock the boat.

3. Isolate the individuals who are bucking the system. These are one-on-one meetings with employees who are in violation. You need good documentation and a fair, but firm, voice: “Joe, for the past two weeks you’ve been coming in at 9:45 and leaving at 4:30. Is there a reason for this? You know, other people are counting on you to be here during our work hours. Can I get a commitment from you to be here?”

If you choose No. 1, you’re not being assertive, but overly aggressive. You don’t need to dump everyone in the “bad employee” basket. This tact is not fair to those who follow the rules, and it just generalizes the problem.

No. 2 just kicks the can down the road. One thing is clear: Things will get worse if you don’t take action, and you’ll have to address this problem when it starts cutting deeply into productivity.

If you want to be effectively assertive, then No. 3 is your best bet. It’s direct, honest and it addresses individualized problems. It allows the employee to understand what you want and gives him or her a chance to be accountable for their actions—the essence of good management.