People are People

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Lyn – “Who has upset you now Alan?” 

Alan Partridge – “Just people”

This has been an interesting week. A theme has been emerging and it feels like an old friend…the performance and attitiude of individuals in the team.   So I thought I would share and expand on a few ideas (most of which will be familiar if you have read the book).

Firstly though you need to own the problem. You need to be willing to stare into its ugly face, understand its precise nature and then take committed action to deal with it. I see the time and energy that these types of problems cost you. The frustration and pain is etched on your face. Sometimes what is in essence a small problem can quickly overwhelm you and your thinking can turn it into a catastrophe of epic proportions.

 This is where a couple of tools in the Sleeping Tiger toolkit can come in useful to isolate and understand the true nature of what you are dealing with. This simple exercise is to get YOU clear on YOUR own thinking. It also provides a framework for you to have a discussion with the people in your team.

Step 1 – Precisely locate the challenges

List all your employees and then score each of them, on a scale of one to ten, against the three dimensions of performance :- Activity (the amount they do and the intensity with which they work), Approach (the way they do the work they do) and Attitude (the way they show up). Add the scores up and highlight the people who need attention.

Make some notes of examples and situations where each person has performed well and where they you have found their performance to be wanting.

Step 2 –  Contemplate your role in their performance

There are only four reasons why people don’t perform in the ways you want them to

1: They don’t know how or why? – have you clearly and unambiguously explained to them what is expected of them? Don’t really on ‘common sense’ here. It doesn’t exist. When it comes to servicing customers and measures of quality, everyone will have an individual perspective of what is great, good or shite. Make sure that the standard they use to measure performance is the one you have set.

2: They don’t have the skills, time or resources? – If they need training have you provided it and have you given them the tools they need to do the job? Are they genuinely too busy (we are all capable of doing more than we think we are) to do what you want them to, or are they making choices to avoid doing the difficult / uncomfortable stuff that comes with their role?

3: What’s the consequence of poor performance? – People will tend towards their own personal path of least resistance to get through each day. If there is no measurement or feedback standards will slip. Are your people even aware that their performance is not where it needs to be? The skill and challenge of managing people is to constantly share feedback (good and bad) and use a variety of positive or negative consequences to keep standards up.

4: They don’t want to – If you can honestly answer the above three questions positively then either you have the wrong people on the bus (or maybe in the wrong seats), or the individual has something going on in their life, or their thinking, which is interrupting their ability to access their optimum level of performance.

Step 3 – Take action

At this step you are well positioned to plan next steps. There are five action types:

Recruit – Go into the market place and recruit someone with the attitude and skills that you are looking for. The ability to recruit and retain the right talent seems to be the THE critical challenge for UK SME’s. You should always be recruiting and looking out for good people. Losing people is much easier to deal with when you have a pipeline of contacts to reach out to. You should also have mastery of the skill of recruitment so you pick the right people for your company (‘Hell Yeah, or No’).

Train – Undertake the necessary skills and knowledge training to get your people to a level of competence and expertise that matches the standard you want

Coach – Spend time with employees reviewing and exploring their performance. Use the data and share feedback from clients good or bad, in the spirit of helping them to identify and action improvements.  Make personal motivation and improvement their responsibility not yours.

Develop and Promote – Don’t just invest in your poor performers. Invest in those with the potential to go from good to great, or who could take on more responsibility

Exit – For those who are have neither the motivation or the desire to raise their performance the goal has to be to help them exit the organisation, both for their sanity and for yours. Human beings are able to self-calibrate. We are aware of when we are, and aren’t, giving our best. It wreaks psychological damage on us, if left unchecked. Sometimes the best thing we can do for the individual is to let them go.

Final thoughts

In my career I always felt a huge personal responsibility when one of my team had to be disciplined or dismissed. What did I do wrong in their recruitment, development and management that got them to this point? On reflection I had sometimes ignored the signals in my own system when recruiting them, avoided the difficult conversation or never gave the feedback I should have.

Managing people properly is not easy, especially against the backdrop of running a busy company.  It requires constant diligence, persistence and a high level of personal calibration. You need to communicate clearly, deal with things as soon as they become a problem, constantly ask the difficult questions of others and hold them in an uncomfortable space until you get answers.

Perhaps most importantly it requires careful analysis, soul searching and firm committed decision making and action taking.

What you can’t afford to do is ignore it and hope it will get better on its own.

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