Dealing with the Dust Catcher

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They called her the “Dust Catcher.” It wasn’t because she liked to clean. It was because she stood so still.

Other team members would be straightening the store, fixing displays, or unpacking shipments. The Dust Catcher (DC) would stand stock still, staring into space.

Performance wasn’t an issue. She was measured on her sales per hour and she did OK. She just didn’t do things that made other team members’ lives easier. As one of her managers put it, “Everything was getting done, but it was getting done by everyone else.”

If you’re the boss, how do you deal with situations like this? You do it relentlessly. Nothing less will work.

In this case, the owner and two store managers agreed that whenever the DC would quit working and stare into space, they would swoop in and direct her to specific productive labor. In the end the DC left for another store.

These are behavior problems. Sometime they’re in the grey area, but sometimes they actually violate formal rules.

Consider the case of the “Master of the Uniformverse. (MU)” That’s what his sergeant named the police officer that always had something wrong with his uniform.

The rule at his agency was that officers should be in the briefing room, dressed in proper uniform, with proper equipment and ready to work at a designated time that varied with the shift. MU never quite made it.

Sometimes was missing something for his uniform, like his name plate. Sometimes he arrived on time, but buttoning his shirt. Sometimes he had to delay hitting the street because he had to go back to his locker for a piece of missing equipment after briefing.

His sergeant warned him. Then he started documenting each instance of rule infraction. That meant at least one counseling session a day. And every instance was something different.

Doing the kind of follow-up and documentation we’re talking about takes time and lots of emotional energy. Your problem team member will have more natural staying power than you do. You have to make do with self-discipline and the knowledge that this is your job.

My experience is that most people who will wind up on your team will correct behavior issues, quickly and based on a simple instruction from you. But the ones that don’t do that will become time sinks of the first order.

So first, decide if the effort is worth it. If the behavior affects team performance or morale or violates a specific regulation, the answer is probably “yes.”

Commit yourself to following the trail to the end. The fact is that most behavior problems are fairly insignificant if you only have one or two instances. But with many instances, they loom larger. Your job is to document until done.

Sometimes you won’t have to. One of my clients had a young man working in the cube farm who decided to wear some truly vile cologne. It entered the building several minutes ahead of him.

His supervisor noted the issue and the complaints from team members. His response was to come in the next day wearing a different vile cologne. He must have bathed in it.

His boss tried counseling again. The next day, it was a different vile cologne. She had an idea how this would all go. She needn’t have worried.

The next day when Mr. Cologne arrived he noticed that everyone was wearing one of those masks people buy to protect themselves from infection. His cubicle had been modified.

The nameplate had been changed to “Smelly.” Battery powered fans were mounted around the rim, directing airflow into the cubicle. Air fresheners adorned his workspace.

Soon after he sat down, different team members walked up to his cube, wearing their mask, and turned on one of the fans. He pounded the desk and cursed. Then he started to laugh.

The young man stood up, raised his arms over his head and yelled, “OK! I get it!” Then he went to his boss and asked if he could have some time off to go take a shower.

Boss’s Bottom Line

Behavior problems can be devilishly hard to deal with. Sometimes it’s like nailing Jell-O to the wall. Often it takes lots of documentation. But that’s part of your job.

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