Simplify Poor Performance

My team is in trouble!  Poor performance in almost every measurable category.  Poor performance in the unmeasurable categories as well.  Many, (actually all) organizations and teams struggle with poor performance.  Mostly, there is an up and down tempo that varies in frequency depending on many factors.  The problem with my team is lack of experience at the first-line supervisor level.  Again, there are many factors at play; some are good in their supervisory capacity but weak in the operational and technical functions.  Some are the opposite.  Others are poor in both supervisory and operational tasks.  If I could fire a few of them, I would.  So, without the ability to fire the low performers, I have to move forward with the personnel group I have.  How do I get them to perform?

Simplify.  Over the course of the past six months, I have thrown much at these supervisors.  Increased responsibility, higher standards and expectations, a new work schedule, a revamped training program, new projects and initiatives, and a complete culture overhaul. It is too much for them to handle.  Many have and will criticize the amount of work I put on them and questions my leadership, but I am a deliberate leader, and from the start, I have been testing the waters.  Finding their strengths, their weaknesses, how hard can I push them, where do they naturally excel?  All of these questions have answers now, and I have to adjust my strategy.

I will still hold high standards, but the team needs to have a chance to succeed.  Right now, they are just keeping their heads above water (barely), as I continue to push for high-quality work.  Now, I have to slow the game down.  Bring them together and work collectively on what is important to them and me.  Once we have determined priorities and agreed on the expectations, we can focus on them.  Innovation must be put on the back burner; extra activities will join innovation. The focus is placed on the core competencies of the organization and the primary responsibilities of the supervisors and other managers.

I never expect perfection.  To do so is an exercise in insanity.  But I will continue to expect high-quality work and a great product or service.  Our customers demand and deserve our best.  So, we will slow it down and simplify the tasks; rebuild the foundation and then start adding bricks as we become experts in those areas so we can continue to improve.  Eventually, we will pull the extra activities and innovation off the back burner and focus in those areas, but for now, the team needs simplicity.

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Is Changing Your Mind Good Or Bad?

It’s Good.  That’s the answer.  There are always circumstances that will dictate whether there has been a positive or negative effect from changing your mind, but let’s look at this question from the general position of, should one be open to changing their mind.  And from this perspective, the answer is unequivocally yes!

In politics, this is called flip-flopping.  A term flung around like it’s a disease.  In real life, being open to the possibility that your initial position is wrong, takes much more strength than stubbornly grasping to that position.  Not to say this is an easy task.  Our decisions are based on many things that we don’t always understand, outside of some experts in the field.  Personally, I struggle with this as much as anyone, although as of late I have been making a deliberate attempt to get better at it.

What positive effect does changing your mind have?  The first thing it tells them is that you are willing to listen.  This is a vital skill for a leader.  The ability to listen to the people you lead and the humility to let them change your mind cannot be understated.  I’ve experienced situations from both sides of this problem and can tell you that feeling like your leaders are listening to you gives you a great sense of belonging, says you have a voice and encourages engagement from the team members.

Changing one’s mind must be tempered to ensure you don’t actually become a leader that can’t stick to a decision.  Going back and forth is detrimental any organization.  There should be a point that a decision has been made and the group moves on.  Then the decision can be readdressed later if the situation changes or the results of the last decision were not positive.

What negative effect does changing your mind have?  I previously had a boss that had zero original ideas and never made a decision until he could get some sort of consensus.  His decision-making capabilities don’t sound so bad as I type it, but trust me; he was a “go with the popular opinion” type of boss.  There were so many occasions where a person would have a conversation with him, and there would be an agreement only to find out they changed their mind after talking to someone else.  It was almost a game to try to be the last one to talk to him before the decision had to be made.

Be wary of phrases like ‘That’s the way we have always done it’ or ‘We tried that before, and it didn’t work.’  These are indicators that the culture of your organization does not embrace change.  Which probably means your leaders are not open to changing their minds.  It’s time to have these kinds of conversations in our workplace and show how being open to new options and changing a decision does not automatically translate to a negative.

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Leaders Need NO!

The biggest problem with positional power is that most subordinates won’t say no.  All of your ideas are good ones, all of the things you say, they agree.  Once you realize the problems, you tell everyone your ideas to fix it, and they tell you, your plan was what they were thinking.  They will always be the “idea factory”.

So, what does no mean to a leader?  Weak leaders see it as a challenge or as disrespect. They often have no vision and don’t think through their ideas.  If there is a “don’t question the leader” feeling or culture in your organization, you know you are dealing with someone that has poor leadership skills or has been promoted beyond their capabilities.  These leaders will rely on micromanagement to get their way or to cover up their failures.  Tread carefully with these leaders, so you don’t become a victim of their insecurities.  It is possible to say no, but it must be done carefully and a significant amount of time needs to be invested into building trust and a relationship before you will be able to disagree effectively.  In general, this is a good idea anyway, but a good leader will be ready to accept disagreement without feeling threatened even before a relationship is built.

I’ve heard so many examples when these “leaders” will complain that they can’t get their people to work hard or have high-quality work.  The big problem is they do not allow anyone to dissent.  This creates a divide between them and their people.  It keeps them from being a team.  The people are aligned against the leader instead of them working together as a team.  They cannot work on problems and make real change because the leader can’t see beyond their control.  They use words like compliance and fail to see how compliance can be a negative quality in a workforce.  Compliance is passive and disengaged.

We need to get better at picking quality leaders.  A quality and confident leader will see disagreement as an opportunity to either test their idea or strengthen it with reasonable debate.  A quality leader will know all ideas have flaws and it is better to figure out what they are before any action has taken place instead of learning of these problems during the process and having to come up with solutions on the fly.

We need no!  You all have a responsibility to dissent! We need to be respectful, and we have to be careful to keep from turning into the person that is always doubting everything.  The reality is, if everyone knows what you are going to say, they no longer need to listen to you.

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Work-Life Balance? Or Work-Work Balance…

Work-life balance is a tricky subject. Many believe that the right balance between work and your personal life is about 50 hours of work a week. I’ve heard this number several times in my career and through other conversations. So, if we break down 50 hours a week, you end up with about 10 hours a day if you take the weekend off. This seems reasonable, especially if you get paid for the extra 10 hours. A big problem is when you are paid salary and once you hit 40 hours, you’re mostly working for free. There are many arguments for and against this. For example, many salary workers are given other benefits and perks to make up for the extra hours they won’t get traditional overtime pay. Or time over 40 hours is given back to them in the form of additional paid vacation. No right or wrong combination will make everyone happy, which is the key to this article.
There is no right or wrong combination of work-life balance. Everyone is different; everyone has different circumstances, everyone has different beliefs and different needs. What works for you will most likely not work for others. This is why it is imperative that you figure out what works for you and then help your people work out what works for them. Many run into problems when their work-life balance works for them but not their spouse, kids, or other obligations. One thing to remember is you will probably do what you find most important. And sometimes it is to sacrifice early to make things better later on. This can be dangerous, because you may never be able to escape that frame of mind.
Organizational managers or the organizational leadership needs to understand how work-life balance works for their employees. There is a belief that employees display dedication and commitment in the amount of time they spend at work. That those employees that get to work at nine to five are not as committed as the employees that work from six to six. Managers need to articulate how much time they expect employees to stay at work. They also need to know that there is much more to life than work. And unless the employee is in love with what they do, they don’t want to spend all their time in the office. It’s more important than ever to know your people!

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They Quit…but Never Leave!

He is the guy that does just enough not to get fired.  Perhaps he used to be motivated, maybe even a top performer at one point in time.  But now he just can’t be bothered.  He rarely has ideas and is usually only passionate about not changing (anything) and making sure he is not inconvenienced with the job.  Mostly, they have quit without leaving the job.  How do managers deal with these people?  What kinds of things can you do to help bring them back?  Or perhaps get them actually to leave?

Engage and inspire them.  A leader needs to understand their people.  What drives them and makes them want to work hard?  It sounds like standard advice, but to be honest, you probably don’t have the capacity to understand and engage all of your people on an individual level enough to engage and inspire them.  What you do have time for is some of them.  The focus should be on your high performers and those you feel you can move into the high performing category.  Those people like the guy described above should not be the main priority.  As the leader/manager, you should be removing obstacles from your team.  It is in this capacity that you will need to deal with the poor performers.

Accountability is key.  Opportunity is also key.  Mostly we describe opportunity as the opportunity for success, but there is an equal chance for failure at every opportunity.  When an employee has quit, we need to engage and see if we can get them back on the team and performing at a high level.  If you can’t, give them opportunities.  Then hold them accountable when they don’t perform to the standard. You have to give them a final chance to show what they can do.  This, of course, assumes that you have effectively communicated to them about their performance and what the standard is.

What if you don’t have the authority to fire?  This certainly complicates things, but only means you now have to convince the person or persons who have firing authority to take action.  This is normally pretty simple.  Document the performance along with any failures to meet standards, and before long the HR department or other supervisors/managers will have to take action.  A big point to include when dealing with this situation is that having employees like this can be detrimental to the culture of the organization, especially if these employees are charismatic and influential.

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Dependent or Empowered Followers

Dependent and empower followers is leadership at two different levels.  The beginning level is where dependent followers thrive.  That first step of leadership is creating followers that are dependent on guidance.  The dependent follower is also at the start of their management and leadership journey.  The first level leader and dependent follower complement each other, they both fulfill the needs of the other.  The first level leader needs people that need them.  They need to experiment together and grow.  Many leaders do not graduate to the next level of leadership.  Some of this is because they’re trying to move to the next level.  They are most likely not even aware they are at the beginning level of leadership and are not deliberately trying to proceed to the higher levels.

The second level of leadership is where the leader begins to realize that dependent followers can be limiting.  This second level of leadership can be evasive as well because a follower that is becoming a leader already will give the leader the illusion that they are in the second level of leadership, but it immediately disappears when this follower moves on to be their own leader.  The second level of leadership is about removing the chains that keep the follower tied to the leader by empowering them.  Cutting the chains and letting them make decisions, run operations, experiment in their own leadership capacity, and learn from mistakes.

What can stop a leader from moving to the second level?  Many things, but mostly ego and pride!  When a leader refuses to let go of power (regardless of the type of power) it traps them in the first level.  The reasons are all the same.  They aren’t ready to lead.  I can’t trust them to do the right thing.  More often than not, the problem is the leader.  They want to feel important, and when you have empowered followers, they need you less and less.  The crazy part is that is a great thing!  Having followers that can perform at a high level because you trained and mentored them should be the goal.  How much more time will you have to grow as a leader and develop better ways to improve your surroundings when you no longer have to always direct your subordinates every move?

My position in the organization is one of constant rotation.  I am constantly faced with new managers and inexperienced managers.  Or managers that have resigned themselves to be micromanagers because they have never known a leader than empowers followers.  Once they trust me and know it isn’t a trick, they flourish like never before.

 

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Deliberate Trust & Conflict

It is great to join a new team when you have had education and training in leading teams.  Sitting back and recognizing what the team is doing even though they are unaware.  It can seem a little sinister or arrogant, but I enjoy taking a team through the stages of a team and making them a great team.  I am not what makes the team great; the team is what makes the team great.

Currently, I’m in charge of a team that has made getting along with one another a priority over everything else.  The team believes they are respectful and that they are a well-functioning team because of how well they get along. It was comical seeing the looks on all their faces when I told them they were a dysfunctional team and had not even started to perform as a team. Looks of skepticism, annoyance, and shock were all around.  I explained to them that it was perfectly reasonable and we would work on it.  They were not satisfied with that answer, so I told them “We need to be deliberate about creating trust and conflict.  We cannot be so worried about upsetting each other that it costs us growth, improvement, and team progress.”  Now I have their attention, and they ask, “So what do we do?”  “We create trust and conflict!”

Creating trust and conflict happens mostly at the same time.  Creating trust is easier than it may seem, but is hard if you are not deliberate in your attempt to create it.  The best way to build trust is to be truthful.  Many confuse this with the brutal truth or saying everything just because it is true.  You wouldn’t, or shouldn’t tell your mom her new haircut is bad, so don’t say it to your employees.  Follow through is a great way to build trust.  Saying you will do something and then actually doing it is very powerful.  On the other side of this is not following through.  Doing so will ruin the trust you have gained in an instant.  For those times when you can’t follow through on your words, be honest about it and own it.  Making excuses for your failure might make you feel better, but your people will see right through it, and this will further damage your relationship and reputation.

Create conflict. Creating conflict on purpose sounds counter-intuitive and can be tricky.  Most people/teams/organizations practice conflict- avoidance not conflict-management.  The key is to stop being so nice that you cannot tell someone when they are doing a bad job.  Like I described with my team above, everyone was so worried about avoiding conflict that they accepted mistakes and mediocre work.  I had to force some members of the team to see the harm it was causing the team.  I gave them clear directions on what questions to ask the rest of the team and coached them on how to handle the various answers.

The conflict came quickly, and the team is still working on trusting each other.  We have meetings scheduled, and over the course of the next few months, the team members will get to practice on how to be vulnerable with the team and receive constructive criticism.  I’m excited to lead their progress!

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