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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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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