“It’s April and she has already missed 17 days this year!”

At least weekly, I talk to bosses or employees who, having reached the end of their rope, dump out six months’ worth of frustration about an employee or boss. When I ask what they plan to do next, they often say, “Oh, I’m having a come to Jesus meeting with them first thing tomorrow morning!”

I get the emotional seduction of having that kind of meeting. I was the queen of come to Jesus meetings. I mean, I would sit outside my boss’s door, stalk him in the hallway to catch him returning from the restroom, you name it. However, after some painful meetings, I realized that, unless you are Jesus and can perform miracles, come to Jesus meetings don’t work.

The essence of a come to Jesus meeting is that you “lay down the law” by pointing out the severity of your grievance, letting the person know you absolutely won’t stand for it anymore “or else.” There is no problem-solving or change involved. It’s fear-based (or tear-based, depending on your style of expressing your emotions) and shock value. The confusing part is that it works – for about 60 days.

So, in the example above, a boss was completely frustrated about his employee’s excessive absences and was determined to have a come to Jesus meeting with her to let her know he was firing her if it didn’t improve. But then he shared that he didn’t think she was faking. He believed that she was overwhelmed – she was a young, smart employee who he had promoted quickly from receptionist to Client Services Coordinator, she attended college full-time and also had a part-time online boutique business. He felt that her intentions were good, but she would routinely burn herself out, become genuinely exhausted, get sick and miss work. But he felt good because he’d had a come to Jesus meeting with her, and for the past two weeks she was doing much better.

Therein lies the problem. Yes, she is doing better, because she is afraid she will be fired! And, if the employee truly has integrity and wants to be a good employee, she is disappointed in herself for letting you down and she WANTS to do better. The problem is, employees in this situation will do better out of fear, and any emotions they are operating off of for results can only last about 60 days before burning out, at which point the employee goes back to status quo.

So the problem with come to Jesus meetings is that no problem resolution occurs. Generally, in situations like this where you believe in your employee and feel the employee genuinely wants to do good, but has some habit or issue that is problematic – please realize the employee doesn’t KNOW how to solve the problem. (Or if you are the employee, it might be your boss who has the problematic behavior but doesn’t know how to change it.)

So, in this example, help your employee find some strategies for handling all the things on her plate, or prioritizing them. Don’t do it FOR her – she needs to be accountable for it herself – but recommend some resources to her. If she KNEW how to fix the problem, she already would have. And she can only run on fear-based adrenaline, or regret-based adrenaline, for about 60 days and then her habits will start rearing their head again and the problems will return. Not because she doesn’t care, but because she doesn’t know how to fix it.

The same thing often happens when employees have come to Jesus meetings with their bosses about not getting things in a timely fashion. The boss genuinely feels bad and regrets the stress on the team, so the boss works REALLY hard at getting things returned on time, but the problem remains unsolved, genuine change never happens and it burns off in about 60 days.

It isn’t a matter of people not caring. In fact, it’s because they DO care that they even improve for a short amount of time. It’s simply that, unless you make changes that touch the core reason the problem is occurring, change can’t sustain itself.

It’s completely fine and appropriate to lay out the severity of the problem and be clear what the consequences are if it continues to occur. But don’t just stop there – invest in finding solutions.
Unsure where to start? Determining whether you need to end the relationship or invest into it is a good starting point. Our SmartFire™ Solution workbook ($49.95) can help you determine if the person is “out of bounds,” needs more training or is the right person in the wrong role.


By Laney Lyons-Richardson


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