This blog is born out of the interplay between Leadership, Development and Management and the ‘frustrations’ of line managers, directors, CEO’s and other roles that ‘manage’ teams. The ‘frustration’ I’m alluding to is that which you feel when you believe you have done all you can to help an employee and they are still underperforming… where do you go next!
To offer context to this conversation and for the purpose of this blog I am defining:
- Leadership as – setting the vision, purpose, mission and goals for an organisation (or department) and identifying the values which people will align with in service of this. These may be developed alone or in collaboration with your team – either is good for me they just have a different impact (particularly around ownership). Guiding teams to success.
- Development as – working closely with staff to identify individual needs in line with required knowledge, skill, confidence and motivation to do their designated job. This often takes the form of a coaching approach, offering opportunities and helping people to make sense of these in the context of their world
- Management as – establishing clear ways of working for all team members in service of individual and collective goals. Creating, or supporting the creation of plans to deliver project outcomes, providing access to resources (financial or otherwise), controlling for risk and putting in place measures for progress and success. And managing poor performance.
Often (particularly in smaller companies) these roles are played by the same person. This may well be the source of our frustration. Can we ‘play’, perform in each of these roles. Is it playing or ‘performing’ or ‘delivering’. The semantics may not matter to you but they could make a difference to how you operate.
When guiding and Coaching hasn’t worked
I’ve observed on numerous occasions the challenge felt by line managers when their team (or individuals within the team) are not performing. In their eyes they have:
- set the vision and motivated – Leadership ticked
- provided knowledge, skill, experience – Development ticked
- created plans, allocated resources – Management ticked
So why is the work not being done? We know there could be multiple reason for this. But lets assume its ‘desire’ or lack of. Lets assume the ‘will’ to do a good job (or any job) is missing within an individual or team. Lets assume you have done all the guiding and coaching you can, you have exhausted your resources in this space. You may have even employed external coaches to develop your team (or individual) and still progress is slow, non-existent or the proactive nature you desire within your team (or individual) is just not there. THEN WHAT….
This is when frustration kicks in. We either see an avoidance to deal with the situation – perhaps preferring a ‘management by workshop’ approach. Where we hope that by sending people on further development opportunities they will suddenly come back to the workplace ‘fixed’ and raring to go. Or go in too hard, listing all the things we have done in support of the individual/team. Asking hard questions and demanding responses.
The first approach doesn’t work, management by workshop does not uncover what’s going on and therefore we will never see the outcomes we desire from this approach (also people are not things to be fixed).
The second approach doesn’t work either, going in all guns blazing providing a list of inadequacies, missed deadlines and poor work is only going to push the individual or team into fight, flight or freeze mode (attack or defend).
So what do we do? We start the management conversations sooner. At the beginning of the relationship, not when things go wrong.
Creating Consequences Together
It seems that there may be a culture of avoidance in some businesses when it comes to delivering against the last line of my definition of ‘Management’ – to remind you:
“….managing poor performance.”
No one puts their hands up and says, yes me please. I’d like to have these conversations. I’m not sure if its because the interplay between Leadership, Development and Management can’t be in harmony.
Maybe Leaders don’t want to lose their connection with staff by being the manager (giving bad news), maybe developers don’t feel they can wear both hats (coach and manager), maybe as developers they don’t want to muddy the field of play (I’m here to grow you, not manage you). Maybe manages feel being too developmental is to be too ‘soft’? who knows. What if you have to play all 3 roles!!!
What you don’t do is race in, switch without warning from coach to (performance) manager. Going from 0-60 in 1.3seconds like some race car. The frustration you are feeling is likely born out of something that is your own doing. You didn’t have the ‘management’ (performance management) conversation soon enough.
Outside of simply sharing, ways of working, expectations, procedures to follow, systems etc sit down and talk about consequences – here’s some questions that you may like to use:
- How do we get the best out of you?
- How will I know you are not doing your best work, what are the early warning signs?
- What nudge to you want to offer me to let me know you need help?
- If you are under-performing how would you like this to be acknowledged?
- Should your performance be below standard over time what should we do?
- When levels of performance are severe what would a consequence look like?
These questions are not perfect and will need evolving for your context and the stage of the relationship you are in with your employee or team.
But what they can do is ensure the conversation about ‘poor-performance’ has happened. Its not a dark secret as to what happens when performance is slipping, there will be no surprises when the conversation occurs (should they have to) and with this they should be more balanced and less emotive.
Having these conversations early should mean you will get early warning signs of things slipping, therefore should be in a better place to rectify the situation sooner. The response can be quicker and more developmental – not a ‘3 strikes and you are out’ approach.
I personally am a great believer in ‘coaching for development’ as a strategy to ensure we help people (to be in the best place) to get their jobs done. However there comes a time in every ‘managers’ life when they have to MANAGE.
Don’t get frustrated, if the conversation about poor-performance and consequence is in your head. Share this with your team sooner. Create early check points, have early warning signals, even come up with low level acknowledgements for slippage e.g. quick check in e mails that get to the point (but have been agreed).
And when the conversation happens, talk directly to… what skills do we need to develop within you, what new knowledge do we need to acquire, what confidence do we need to grow… and where is your motivation (your will/desire).
You can do a great deal about the first 3, but the last item around motivation firmly sits with the employee. And if it’s not there, its also ok to ask – is this the right place for you?
I thank Mike Fisher for asking me this in a performance review once. It was just the provocation I needed to move forward with my own career…
Give me a shout and lets chat if you are interested in this space. Don’t be a stranger – get in touch email@example.com or via the contacts form.