Improvement starts with self-examination

The Life: Best turnarounds in a manager and a worker that have been witnessed by the Workplace Doctor.

What is the most incredible turnaround in a worker that you have seen? And in a manager? HM, London

The Workplace Doctor is intrigued by your question and waits eagerly to hear of the reasons. In the meantime, however, let's think back over the years.

The most incredible turnaround I've seen in an employee was one I witnessed during a performance counselling process over a matter of three months.

Our HR director was known for her fairness and her commitment to those she had hired. Her team was in awe of her expertise, yet on this occasion they started questioning outcomes with the extent of performance management for Paul.

Paul was struggling to fulfil work commitments. At the time this was happening, the laws were starting to change in favour of the employee, placing pressure on the employer to prove beyond doubt that everything possible had been done for the employee to turn his below-standard performance into an acceptable one. This pressure resulted in a watertight arrangement of a four-step counselling procedure, for which three sessions were deemed to be ample. When Paul showed no improvement after 10, documented, one-to-one sessions, the very disappointed and saddened HR director asked him just one simple question: If you were me, what would you do?

Paul replied: I would sack me.

Why was this a successful turnaround, as there was no change in performance? Success comes in many guises and on this occasion, Paul accepted that he was at the centre of the non-performance, he was unwilling to change his ways and it was time for self-responsibility. From the viewpoint of any doctor, including a Workplace Doctor, what great results for sustainable and healthy change in a person.

And now for the best turnaround of a manager.

Many first-time managers have been promoted for their ability to "produce" or complete tasks, an ill-placed reason that does not prepare for managerial success. Promotion into a managerial role took Tim away from production and into the world of leading people to do the job, with which he struggled.

Doctors work with causes and should prescribe accordingly. The Workplace Doctor recognised the cause to be a lack of preparation for the role, a responsibility that the organisation had chosen not to take. The prescription was a concoction of understanding and acceptance techniques, change tips and an action plan for increasing people skills. Why did this result in such a turnaround?

Two years later, when Tim was moving into a new leadership role, he had not one but two junior supervisors ready for the leadership of people. In addition to wholeheartedly embracing the change he faced, he also committed to ensuring nobody else would need to experience the pains he did. Tim allowed his own experience to embed new managerial behaviours, becoming a best-practice example of succession planning for the rest of the organisation to mimic.

The doctor's prescription

Perhaps in both cases, the doctor has become redundant; what a wonderful diagnosis for a Workplace Doctor.

Deb Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based Business En Motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at for the Workplace Doctor's advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague