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Misunderstood: They're SO Lazy!

Over a decade ago I took a new role managing a Learning & Development team. When I started the role, the woman who'd been managing the team on an interim basis approached me to discuss a team member.

She advised that one of my new direct reports wasn't completing tasks as expected and would soon be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). I politely interrupted and asked not to hear more stating I didn't want my impression of the employee influenced.

I wanted to assess the circumstances myself - with my associate's participation.

We began meeting to have conversations about what was important to the associate - their values - and how they tended to be motivated - their interests. I then assessed the associate's strengths to see how they worked (through relationship-building, influencing, executing, or thinking). Lastly, I looked at the skills that motivated or caused burned out in the associate.

Here is what we found out together. My associate:

  1. Activates and wants to get things done

  2. Disrupts through experimentation and process improvement

  3. Is flexible and likes a variety of tasks at work

  4. Loves ideas

  5. Has a naturally optimistic and positive disposition

  6. Likes to train, mentor, or develop people

Isn't this person great!?

You might be wondering:

If getting things done was my associate's priority, why were they a candidate for a PIP?

Glad you asked!

HOW we work matters. WHY we work matters. WHAT we work on matters. WHO we are, which shapes our interests, matters.

In the above list, number two (disrupts) and number three (flexibility and variety) were BIG issues for the associate.

There were many processes on the team that weren't optimal and the associate had very little variety or opportunity to ideate at work. In fact, the original manager (not the interim person) didn't like change and work was handed out one task at a time because the manager wasn't a multi-tasker. The associated had a strong need to jump between tasks to stay energized.

What energizes one person overwhelms another.

Imagine the person described in the numbered list in an environment that is routine, working on one thing at a time, working for a change averse manager, with processes that were not efficient or innovative.

Here's what I did in response to understanding my direct report: I adjusted the way I managed the person's performance.

I reviewed our processes and determined where we had inefficiencies and a need for improvement. I then approached the associate and said:

"Here are things I'd like to see improved. I don't care how you go about it, or what you work on each day. You have until September to complete these goals and you can innovate how you improve these processes as long as they meet expectations:: A, B, and C."

The employee now had a variety of ambitious goals where they would improve, innovate, disrupt, ideate, and work on what they wanted any given day. I laid out the problem to be solved and set expectations for results, but not how the results should be achieved. I also set an intention for the associate to train the rest of the team on the new processes to tap into the interest to train and mentor others.

We met weekly for a one-on-one to discuss what was going well, what could be done differently or better, what challenges the associate was having, and what support they needed.

The associate rose from almost being placed on a PIP to a top quartile performer for the three years I managed the team. In one particular year I recall the associate implemented 26 process improvements!

At performance review time I remember my direct report saying to me, "Wow, I didn't realize I accomplished so much this year."

The lesson:

We should use caution branding people as lazy. Sometimes we are the person demotivating someone by our management style, or simply by not tapping into how a person works best, why they want to work, what skills they are motivated to use to get results, and their unique combination of interests (doing, thinking, creating, helping, persuading, or organizing).

When I reimagined how my associate approached the results the team needed, I received the greatest reward of watching them rise to fulfill their potential.

Procrastination isn't laziness, it's avoidance. People who avoid are likely struggling. We need to attempt to understand why instead of writing them off.

The above concepts apply to children as well. We can assume kids are lazy when they are, in fact, demotivated.

There's more than one way to skin a cat - and when we get creative on the how, the why, and even the what, we can get the results we need in a way that is motivating to the other person.

Two of my children often doodled in class to pay attention. Teachers wrote on their report cards that they needed to stop drawing and pay attention in class. In fact, keeping their hand moving is how they kept their mind attentive. These kids of mine are thinkers and if they don't do something with their hands, their mind will wander to its happy place - imagining, envisioning, creating in their own head - a far more fascinating place to be than math class!

It helps me to remember the majority of people show up wanting to do well. We can help them do just that.


Need help discovering yourself or another person in your work or personal life? You can get a personalized YouMap® profile (ages 15 - 120!) or work with a YouMap® Coach to help you understand your strengths, values, motivating skills, and personality-based interests.

Cover photo: Our cat, Button. :-)

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Santosh Nair
Santosh Nair
Jun 21, 2023

It happens so often that as part of the 'handover process' from the prior to the new manager that personal 'opinions' and not professional evaluations are shared. Unfortunate but true! It takes a good manager / leader to weed out the noise and make one's own informed decision on the people.

Kristin A. Sherry
Kristin A. Sherry
Jun 21, 2023
Replying to

So true. I'd bet it happens more often than not. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Santosh!


Jun 20, 2023

This is a great success story! obviously, this person thrived under the right manager. Reporting to someone with micromanaging tendencies would certainly have a negative impact on the performance and wellbeing of any independent, creative person.

Kristin A. Sherry
Kristin A. Sherry
Jun 21, 2023
Replying to

Absolutely! I think many of us can relate. Thank you for your comment, Kimberly!

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