Late Again?!

Q: I am a Nurse Supervisor, and I frequently have a nurse who shows up late for her shift. I haven’t said much to her about her behavior other than, “You were late today.” I have received a cross look or two, but she rarely says anything. What is frustrating for me is that I never know who is going to be late or who isn’t going to show up. If we are short-handed, then I am forced to call in other resources to cover the patients in our unit. What should I do?


A: First, you need to realize that if you don’t call people on their poor performance, being silent is the same as saying, “Whatever you’re doing is no big deal!” If you let current performance persist, you will continue to get the same result. To make matters worse, if this nurse continues to get away with what she is doing, her behavior sends the message that others have permission to do the same. Or even worse yet, other nurses will question your leadership because of your unwillingness to address the problem. Here are some suggestions to improve the situation.


Address the Issue

You have to address individual performance with the individual. When you can take a moment, hold a conversation with the offending party in private.


Prepare Ahead of Time

Review the DialogueWORKS framework, identify the facts you will share and the interpretation youcare to test. For example, you may choose to begin with something like this:

            “I noticed that today and Friday you arrived between 8 and 9:30 a.m. (Facts.) I’m thinking that there are some challenging priorities you are facing. (Interpretation.) What is going on? (Question.)”


What is most important is that you offer a non-threatening space for people to talk about what is happening. Remember, “put-downs lead to shut-downs.” It is difficult to create a solution to a problem if the other person won’t engage or becomes defensive. Allowing the person to explain their side of the story helps you to know what you need to address specifically.


Share a Positive Interpretation

When a person doesn’tperform as expected, we are often quick to assume the worst about their behavior—that they are lazy or inept, or both. You need to recognize that a person’s positive intent goes obscured by your negative assumptions or interpretations about their behavior. To identify a positive intent for a person’s behavior, you might find it helpful to assign a positive intent to the individual’s behavior. Use these questions to expand your thinking:


"What would explain such behavior in a positive light?"


“How might I interpret such behavior positively?”


“What positive intent would explain their behavior?”


Notice how you might suspend a negative assumption by assigning a positive assumption.


Negative Assumption

Positive Assumption

“My boss is an insensitive jerk because he is always cutting me off.”

“My boss is excited to share his views.”

“My manager is an overbearing micromanager.”

“My manager goes out of her way to provide support and assistance.”


Notice the difference in tone that these positive assumptions deliver.


Don’t worry about creating a positive assumption that may not be true. What is important is that your delivery of the message is positive so that the conversation will continue. You will have the opportunity to establish increased accountability before you are through. What is important is that you move past your interpretation by asking questions that will increase your understanding.


Motivate with Consequences

Many believe that people are more motivated by sharing negative consequences rather than positive consequences. The only time I have found sharing negative consequences to be useful is when you want to be perfectly clear about what negative consequences will follow from continuing poor performance. Otherwise, I have found sharing positive consequences and expectations to be more powerful. Notice the difference:


Negative Consequences

“When you are late, everyone becomes frustrated and irritated because they have to do your work. They also worry about not providing adequate patient care.”


Positive Consequences

“When you are here on time, everyone feels more like a team knowing they can count on one another to do their own work. We are also confident that our patients will receive the attention and care they need.”


Notice that framing the situation positively allows the individual to clearly understand how their behavior contributes to a specific, positive outcome.


Identify a Plan

After asking sufficient questions to understand the reasons for nonperformance, ask the individual to identify what they will do differently. This allows the individual to create a plan that increases their buy-in to achieve the desired outcome. However, if creating a viable plan is outside the expertise of the individual, you must be prepared to teach, mentor, and coach an individual who may not know what to do to improve their performance.


Being able to successfully address individual performance issues, such as being late, will not only improve individual commitment but also increase productivity. Remember that individuals are more inspired by the value of their contribution rather than how their behavior detracts from the enterprise. The key is to hold a conversation that increases respect, builds the existing relationship, and achieves the desired results.