Am I implementing change the right way?
Are these the right people to help our team and company make the changes needed to survive?
Is my team growing or staying steady?
How can I provoke people to build a growth mindset?
What is the right thing to do with low performers?
How can I understand if someone is a low performer and what is the right thing to do?
If my team is not winning, is it my or their responsibility to change?
I asked myself the above questions when I faced low performance for the first time. And I am sure that I am not alone. According to a Nielsen survey conducted via LinkedIn, thirty-one percent of the leaders ask themselves similar questions.
In a fast-paced and always demanding environment, we often miss deadlines, struggle to deliver expected results, and fell into the role of the constructive or negative feedback receiver. But as much as the leader needs to focus on delivering sustainable and increasing results for the company, he has one other vital element. And this other element is the team member as a personality, productivity, and expertise. No wonder that so many leaders fail in retaining people. According to an Inc.com article from 2019, forty-three percent of the newly promoted leaders share that they do not know how to deal with what they identify as low performance. And if you think that the percentage is much different from the experienced leaders, think again. The same article shares that thirty-one percent of the leaders with more than four years of experience in leadership share the same scaring lack of knowledge and expertise. It is not surprising that companies lose some bright talents and roll the dice for the next person to join the team, to lose another person in the next week, month or quarter.
I do not say that low performers must stay no matter the price, but not making an effort to help a person performing below the expectations is even more dangerous than dismissing him at the moment. People who are leaving a team or a company and feel that no one has helped them change can create more damage than those who stay and do not perform by the standards established.
The leader must start with help, then move through demand, and at the end, if nothing works, help the team member find what suits them best, even if it means ending the relationship between the team member and team and the company.
Here I am offering you three T’s, I have learned from one of the first mentors in my life. These three T’s have helped me with my teams during professional development and with the goals and achievements, I have delivered.
We all have bad days, not very successful weeks and even months. Everything can happen. Maybe the team member who cannot deliver toward the established standards lacks knowledge or skills. Maybe his beloved ones are suffering from something. Perhaps they did not have enough funds to pay for education or training or did not have anyone who could be there for them and help them grow. Many things may have happened, so the first step in the interaction should always be tolerance. During this step, it is the leader’s responsibility to understand what causes a lack of knowledge and skills. That is quickly done by sitting with the person and providing honest and timely feedback. During it, both sides must share how they understand their roles, what is happening and what is still not happening and get to the root cause of the problem. To tolerate the lack of knowledge is a starting point of the journey for total transformation that can make both sides – leader and follower/employee – winners.
While the first step the leader must go through is collecting and analyzing the information for the status quo, the next step is to move to action. It is the most challenging step because it is natural and pushes both – the leader and the follower/the employee – for taking the initiative. The crucial element in this step is how the leader transforms the person from not educated or less skilled to someone able to meet the company’s established standards. Paying for training or specific education is the least the leader must arrange. What matters most in this step is the close work with the employee. During the transformation period, the follower/the employee is most vulnerable. Most people understand and accept that they do not know enough to be productive and efficient. Some fail into the trap of sadness and depression after learning how much they have missed their work. The leader’s role is to be there, support the learning, foster implementation of what they know in practice, notice all the positive steps the person is making and create moments of celebration for each of it. Human beings are social and driven by fear. That is why the role of the leader in the transforming stage is to help the follower/the employee “get on the stage” and play the best role they can. Being negative or giving only constructive or negatively pushed feedback during the transformation period can damage the process.
The leader’s important element of behavior and role is to stand up and say at one moment when it is enough. The efforts to change the team member are not always successful. No matter the plan, its execution, expectations, and hopes, sometimes things do not work. What many inexperienced leaders do is to get directly to this step, missing the first two. But this last step is an option after you are sure that the person will not change no matter the efforts. There must not be any guilt or shame in this situation. You, as a leader, have tried what was possible to help your colleague change for good. Things did not work. You have expected them to work, and now you, the leader, must support the follower/the employee to find the next suitable place outside the team or the company. The termination step is where the leader messes with all things. To make it “quick and painless,” many leaders just start the conversation hoping that the follower or the employee will be responsive. But often, starting quick produces the opposite effect.
When ready for that last conversation, the leader must prepare with consistent data and information, work well, and need improvement. Then slowly move to how what was not learned or achieved affects the work process and hurts team dynamics. The last part has to focus on how what happened or did not happen has formed the decision for termination.
While this last part is emotional, the leader must offer guidance, based on his observation of the person’s behavior and actions, to help the follower/the employee easily focus on finding the next best place for him soon.
As I am working in HR, I have never had a problem with labor legislation in my country, but many leaders are not familiar with it in their countries. If not sure how to proceed, it will be better for the leader to invite someone from the HR department to ensure that the proper steps will be executed.
After this last step, the leader must focus on joining the team the next best fit to help him achieve the result in a balanced way.
The leadership role is one of the most complex roles in today’s organizations. Traditional management from the 20th century has relied chiefly on control, demands, rules, punishments, and distance from the team. The leadership role has to be close to the people in the team and help them grow in their unique way while at the same tie delivering results for the more important team goals. There is now a need for the leader to focus more on understanding the employee nature and specifics in behavior and performance and build a plan to help this employee learn how to deliver better results. Dismissing employees, like in the last century, is more than reckless in the 21st century. Before getting to this final step, the leader must be sure that the employee can not contribute to the team and company success. Anything else is just a “quick fix” with no intention to focus on developing potential but managing and controlling performance from a distance.