Work until you can’t work anymore…and then work some more
I was recently working with the C-level person who was struggling with the performance of his leadership team. He looked tired. He was working 60 to 80 hours a week and a couple of the other people on his leadership team were putting in similar hours. After exploring the bulk of the work that was driving those hours, we discovered that he was doing a lot the work of one of his direct reports.
What was the reason? You guessed it; this direct report wasn’t performing well. He wasn’t doing all of the things that this leader expected, and the work that he was doing was not up to standard. Rather than address the individual’s performance through conversation, everyone on the team just started doing more of this person’s work. The mood of the team had fallen into resignation bordering on resentment and the overall performance of the team as seen by the chief executive was starting to fall.
This is an all too common example of the impacts of poor performance on the team. And there’s only one way to deal with it: have a leadership conversation.
When people don’t cut the mustard
Teams are comprised of people who fill specific roles in the course of coordinating action to produce results that satisfy customers. Because were dealing with people, there are variations in how well people fill their role on the team. Not everyone can be a star performer. However, everyone has a role to fill. How well they fill that role and how well they work together as a team ultimately, is responsibility of the leader.
It happens. Sometimes people just don’t meet the standard. Sometimes it's a lack of skill, lack of capacity, or just a bad fit within the culture of the team. It happens. The leadership opportunity is this: what do you do when you find that somebody is a poor performer? What is the responsibility of the leader to address that?
Let's quantify the impact of "poor performance" a little bit.
Give me $1 and waste $2.50
In a study done by Taylor Protocols, organizational leaders were asked to identify which of their employees were, as they put it, “A”, “B”, “C”, or “D” players. Then they assessed the productivity of each of those players. The results of the study were quite interesting. They found that the productivity of the "A" players returned between 3-5 times their salaries. "B" players returned between two and three times their salary to the organization. "C" players were essentially a breakeven; their productivity matched the cost to have them there. And "D" players actually cost the organization about 2 1/2 times their salary.
Let's be clear about the implications. Just having poor performers come to work actually reduces the overall productivity of the team in which they are working. Let’s say it another way.
It costs the organization more than twice what it is paying a poor performer just to have them walk in the door.
So what’s a leader to do?
The best way to deal with poor performance is to head-it off before it happens. Here are a few steps that leaders can take to head-off or address poor performance.
1. Inspire a commitment to a shared vision.
Communicate a vision and goals. Describe some outcome in the future, that you would like to create. This is just the first step, but it is an important one. This gives purpose to action.
2. Ask for individual commitment
Ask your team if they are committed to make this vision a reality, and to fulfill their role in achieving that vision. Ask your team members to treat that vision, and the achievement of that vision as if it was their own personal goal. In my experience, when people fall into the status of “poor performer” one of the major contributing factors is lack of commitment. The job is just the job. I’m complying with what you tell me to do. Compliance is not commitment. Effective leaders ask for the commitment of their team members.
Listen to whether or not you trust the answer that your team members are giving you when they say they are committed. They may actually tell you they’re not committed to achieving that vision, or to fulfill their role on that team. If that’s the case; GREAT. Thank them and then help them move to find a team where they can commit.
4. Have the leadership conversations
Unlike wine, bad news does not get better with age. If someone isn’t fulfilling the role that they have agreed to fill your team, or if their performance doesn’t meet the standard, it is the leader’s responsibility and obligation to have a conversation with them. I can’t tell you how many times I’m invited into organizations to help solve a problem only to learn that I’m the only being told about the problem. Sure, I can help, but the first person that needs to know that there is a problem is the person with whom you have the problem. Have the leadership conversation.