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Career Q&A | By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Focus on why co-worker is failing to produce

Q: I have a co-worker who doesn't follow through on things she agrees to do. To make it worse, she often volunteers for things — and even then doesn't do them. Suggestions?

A: To get your work done successfully, you'll need to minimize the risk of her lack of follow-through and communicate directly with her about the situation.

For starters, calm down, take some deep breaths and step away from the emotion of the situation. If her lack of follow-through has caused you to miss deadlines or has affected your reputation, that could be upsetting, but it won't help if that is driving your reaction.

Understanding why she drops the ball will help you find solutions. Consider the reasons that she may volunteer and then fall short. For example, if she's relatively new, she may be trying to make a good impression by being willing to step up, but may not have the skills to deliver. Or she may get caught up in enthusiasm for a new project but be overextended. It's almost 100 percent certain that she isn't doing this to be disruptive; assuming that she's acting out of goodwill will help you turn this around.

Focus specifically on what has actually happened, understanding each of the incidents. If there are times when she does follow through, consider the differences between the situations.

And don't forget the other possibility: that you haven't been clear about your expectations or timelines.

It's essential to minimize the risk that you face with your projects. Knowing that she may not follow through, plan how you'll react when she offers her assistance. If she doesn't have the skills, you may accept her help, but in a more limited way and with more supervision. This will encourage her and help her build skills. If she tends to take on too much, ask directly if her workload will allow her to accommodate another thing. It's not unreasonable to get specific about timelines and expectations, and follow up frequently to ensure that things are moving along.

But these steps may not be practical, so you might need to be direct about the reasons that you aren't taking her up on her offer. In that case, talk privately with her, focusing on what has happened in the past, how it has affected you, and why you're going to pass on her assistance this time. For example, "Last time you offered to organize the event schedule, you didn't get it done. As a result, I had to work over the weekend to meet the deadline. We don't have time for that this time, so while I appreciate your offer, I'm going to put someone else on the task."

Such situations can be sticky, so if needed, find other resources to help manage this. For example, you might want to talk with your boss for other ideas on how to handle it.

It's positive when people want to help, so keep the door open, offering to help her learn new things or to be involved when she has time.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

Focus on why co-worker is failing to produce 01/12/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:54pm]
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