By Guest Blogger Robby Slaughter

We’ve all had the experience of working with someone who doesn’t seem to get very much done. If we’re feeling generous, we may assume these folks are burdened with personal issues or intangible, invisible assignments. But in the darkest corners of our minds, we sometimes dismiss them as lazy, incompetent or disorganized. What do you do when your office mate is an organizational boat anchor?

Before we discuss what you should do, let’s be clear about what you shouldn’t do. Here is a list of commonplace, but terrible strategies for dealing with a colleague that seems too slow:

Complain to your supervisor – If you’re concerned about someone else’s performance, telling your own boss is either going to have no effect or backfire. Your supervisor is responsible for you, not some other employee. All you might achieve by raising the issue is identifying yourself as someone who spends their time monitoring the performance of their peers. You might also get words like “nosy” or “meddlesome” added to your personnel file.

Complain to their supervisor – Chances are pretty good that the bosses of unproductive employees are already aware of the issue. And if they don’t know that their team gets nothing done, you are in effect accusing that manager of cluelessness. This is no way to win friends at work.

Complain to Human Resources – Of all the bad ideas on this list, this is the probably the least terrible. A qualified HR professional will listen intently to your concerns and keep them confidential. If they do make an inquiry, they will do so discreetly. Unfortunately, you won’t feel much better about the process, since you won’t be in the loop. Even worse, if you detect no changes, your personal list of ineffectual colleagues will then include the entire human resources department!

Confront them directly – There’s no smart way to approach a colleague you suspect as indolent or incapable. No matter how you try to sugarcoat your words, you are ultimately accusing them of not pulling their weight. It’s simply not your place to have this conversation. You’re not their boss, period.

Gossip or start rumors – It should be self-evident that if you have negative comments about someone, you should keep them to yourself. Other people may well have the same perspective, but an individual’s apparent lack of progress is not appropriate nor helpful break room conversation.

Ignore them and focus on your own work – You may have expected “biting your tongue” to be the best advice for dealing with unproductive colleagues. Yet we all know that this approach will only cause our resentment to fester and eventually explode. If you do four or five times the work of the person in the next cube, yet they continue to receive a paycheck, you’re going to grow to despise them and the organization as a whole. Soldiering on might seem like the best option, but like the rest of the bad advice above, it will only make the problem seem worse.

overworkedWhat should you do if you work with someone who is a total slacker, a technical luddite or just frighteningly unqualified for their job? Instead of judging, slowly build a culture of celebrating progress. Change the dominant paradigm from one of skepticism and muffled frustration to one where daily victories are measured and cherished.

Start with your own work. Organize your space so it’s abundantly clear that you are passionate about focusing on one task at a time and advancing each of your projects conscientiously. Build a zone around you that shows all of your active responsibilities, in the form of neatly labeled folders, binders or other artifacts. Fill your weekly calendar with appointments—even just reserved time for complex projects—and hang a freshly printed copy outside your desk each Monday morning. Start a daily journal of your work activities and publish this to the company intranet. Share your personal culture of celebrating progress at social moments. End every water-cooler conversation with a positive, reinforcing phrase, such as “I’d better get back to my desk; I’m looking forward to getting back to work!”

Here’s what will happen to your lackluster colleagues as you begin to establish this new way of thinking at the office: the fuzziness of their roles will be brought into sharp focus. If you really are tremendously more productive, your rock star status will emerge as indisputable. Your fellow team members will want to celebrate their own progress (or at least appear to be as hardworking as you) and thus will start to emulate your behaviors. Those who aren’t keeping up will quietly disappear. The process of actually working will once again become fundamental to work.

It’s also possible that slowly shifting the course of your organization won’t cause any changes in personnel or overall motivation. Instead, this effort could merely make you aware of the concealed work of others. You might learn about the hidden contributions of colleagues and begin to value them once again. It’s entirely conceivable your current frustrations are wholly unfounded. With a new culture of celebrating progress, however, you help ensure no one makes the same mistake again.

Ship at SeaYour colleagues may be dead weight, or they may be furiously paddling on a part of the ship far away from your view. Do not attempt to force the truth to appear through accusations. Instead, gently make the unseen seen. Celebrate progress. The genuinely devoted shall remain to face whatever currents lie ahead. Above decks, we are all sailors true.

Want to learn more about maximining your efficiency as a non-profit pro? Come to the July 6 event in the Indianapolis 2011 Productivity Series entitled Productivity Techniques for Non-Profit Professionals.

Robby SlaughterGuest Blogger Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a regular contributor in several regional magazines including the Indianapolis Business Journal, Hamilton County Business Magazine, and Health Minute Magazine, and has been interviewed by national publications such as the Wall Street Journal. You can learn more about his consulting firm at www.slaughterdevelopment.com.