Have you ever noticed how we tend to hire fast and fire slow in organizations? That’s because leaders shy away from managing the performance of their under-performers. They avoid engaging in the process, instead choosing to shove their heads in the sand waiting for the wind to blow past them and everything to get better on its own. Have you ever had an under-performer who actually got back on track simply by figuring it out on their own?
Ostrich management, as it’s often called, simply doesn’t work. Underachievers aren’t likely to get better on their own. If they haven’t figured it out yet, what makes you think they will now? Under-performers don’t turn things around and become star performers without focused and intentional training and management intervention.
I have a CEO client whose direct report has not been meeting expectations for quite some time. Business has fallen short of the stated targets, and until very recently this team member – who is himself a C-level executive – didn’t even realize the company was consistently delivering unprofitable work under his leadership!
When this executive first came on board, the CEO would meet with his direct report one-on-one at least weekly, if not speak with him daily about their various growth opportunities and business challenges. For the past several months, though, the CEO has been spending noticeably less time with him because it was too frustrating to watch him fail. Do you think business has improved with the CEO pulling away and communicating less? Did this senior executive recognize his need to address these challenges without his boss there to hold him accountable? How do you think this executive feels about his contribution to the company, do you think he’s inspired to work harder or differently? Of course not to all of these! Business has continued to suffer, and the team is just now finally beginning to make some critical changes.
To be clear, this executive is a good guy at heart with strong moral character and personal values. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons why the owners of this legacy family business hired him. His values are aligned with that of the family’s values, and because of this he wants to produce strong results for the family business. He’s simply been focusing on the wrong things and operating at too high a level to address the real issues in any meaningful way. Giving this senior leader more space, however, is not going to deliver a different result.
If someone on your team has a performance issue, you have two real options.
- Lean into the problem and support your team member in learning what it’s going to take to turn things around, or
- Coach this person out of your organization so they can find a better fit somewhere else, and enable another team member to step in
This may sound callous, but I assure you that your under-performers will quickly become toxic to your other team members if they aren’t already. Whether it’s driving higher turnover with your star performers or perhaps role modeling bad behaviors for others to adopt, an under-performer can’t go unchecked for long. And assuming you aren’t going to immediately fire someone for delivering some bad results, it seems leaning into the problem and finding out what’s really going on is your best course of action.
Assuming you agree, start with recognizing the team member’s strengths. We want to accentuate their true talents and capabilities, and in doing so better understand any potential limitations or deficiencies that may exist. Once we’re aware of these gaps, then we can offer direct coaching and mentoring to help them get on track. Near-term, this might mean daily or at least bi-weekly check-ins to review key targets and specific goals. In other words, more time together rather than less. It also means establishing more defined timeframes to achieve these stated objectives. In other words, again, more accountability and active performance management rather than less.
Realistically speaking, even with your best efforts to be a better leader, some under-performers won’t succeed in turning things around. That’s why it’s critical to have a contingency plan in place and determine when you might need to change course. Are you going to wait or work through 30-60-90 days to see if you’ll get better results? Do you want to begin a search process now so that you’re better positioned to hire a replacement if your under-performer doesn’t improve? There is no wrong answer to this…as long as you don’t shove your head in the sand!
Do you have an under-performer on your team who is dragging you down? Need some help structuring an effective management intervention? Give me a call at 310.589.4600 or email me directly, and let’s discuss how best to approach this challenging situation head on. You can also visit the Executive Coaching page of our website for more information and some key resources for developing your under-performing leaders.