As this seems to be resonating with lots of people on Twitter and LinkedIn I thought it might be helpful to share in here. I hope you find it stirring some thoughts for you and where you work......
How often have you seen or heard this?
They're just no good at their job, I keep having to pick up the slack? I haven't got time to do my own work because they're incapable of doing their's. If only they could sort it out we'd all be better off. I don't even know why they're still here - they don't contribute anything.
Back in April and May it was #FeedbackCarnival time where the culmination of many brains showed just how challenging giving honest feedback can be and some ideas for how we can start to change that. Ian Pettigrew built on this with a great model for where helpful feedback sits - the top right of this 3-by-2 - where what you're saying to the person is true, and it's said with a positive intent to help the individual, as well as and the team or organisation around them.
Trouble is, that's not generally what's happening. What I see is people pointing the finger at 'those people over there' - They're the problem. If it wasn't for them we'd all be ok.
This feels to us like the best (easiest) option because it avoids us having to look at ourselves as a potential contributor to the problem – and therefore a potential solution. Looking at ourselves can be uncomfortable. And, if we don't feel safe and supported to do that, we'll just avoid it.
But not only are we pointing to those people over there and saying they're the problem, we're even giving them financial rewards (or positive feedback) that they're doing the job we need them to do. You can read about it in here, a piece shared by a fellow colleague who also cares about great leadership, Kay Buckby. My reaction to it was (a very eloquent) "Bonkers!".
So when people aren't performing in their jobs.
We point the finger of blame at them for all the ills of the world.
And we reward them for it, to make sure we draw an even thicker veil over the whole unsightly problem.
If doing the same things and expecting different results is a sign of madness then I'm not quite sure how to articulate this as anything other than Bonkers!!
Not surprisingly, underlying all of this, a seam of frustration bubbles away within the team, within the manager - and most importantly - within the customers on the receiving end of the poor service. The customers just won't stick around. They'll vote with their feet. The manager and team might eventually take evasive action from this person (if the person doesn't leave first) but, to begin with, their stress responses will be triggered.
This stress response narrows their perspective on the situation and drops their cognitive abilities, reducing the possible solutions they can see for solving it. It reduces their feelings of emotional generosity towards 'that person'. It causes them to look for evidence to back up their belief that they're useless. And, given that our thoughts and feelings show up in how we behave, their stress and frustration will leak out through their body language, their words and their actions.
One paradoxical result of this is that, despite their poor performance, the manager doesn't feel they can do without this person - better the devil you know, what if we get someone else and they're worse, how would we cope with a vacancy if we can't find a replacement?
All of these are fear-driven responses (and stress is triggered again).
So, what's the alternative?.......
…….A world of high emotional intelligence*.
I believe in a world where people are treated and behave like adults. Adults who can make informed choices and who can take responsibility for their own situation.
I also believe we all want to do a great job, but sometimes things get in the way of that which means our performance can dip. And if those things have been in the way for a long time it can be hard for us to remember what it was like to come to work and feel good about it. This means that, as adults, we still need support, guidance and feedback from others to keep us on-track. And we still appreciate a reward (verbal acknowledgement is often enough) for when things are going well.
In this world when a leader has someone in their team who’s under-performing, the first thing they do is ask what’s going on, then they listen and they ask questions. Partly to inform themselves of the situation, and also to let the person vent about what’s going on. They aren’t afraid of this venting. They know that emotions are the things that motivate us to make changes in life, and when they’re swirling inside us they can’t take us in any productive direction. The simple act of verbalising what’s going on straightens these emotions out and gives us a clearer sense of which way to go.
From this listening and asking, the result is often that the individual will spot a way forward for themselves. If not, the leader will have learnt enough about the situation to offer advice, guidance or training that will actually be helpful and relevant. Or they may be able to offer relevant feedback based on what they’re seeing of this person and in the wider team context.
All of these things help the person become unstuck and their performance improves.
And even if it doesn’t improve, the leader can look themselves in the mirror with the belief that they did what they could to help, and that perhaps this just isn’t the right job, or right business for them. Which means a parting of company on good terms, with dignity and respect – and without the need to pay out bonuses to hide a problem! All of which maintains great relationships with the rest of the team, and their trust in you - which means they'll also feel safe to share what's going on for them. Creating a virtuous circle!
And I know what you’re thinking.
When could I ever get the time to have these conversations?
Well, they don’t actually take that long. If we’re given the space to think and speak with someone who really cares and who really listens, our brain can be pretty effective at getting to the crux of what’s going on.
And remember, in having these conversations – maybe weekly – we get into good habits of processing what’s going on for us, and they mean the team’s performance will never get to the place of you compensating for the stuff they let drop, which automatically gives you back a load of time.
And if you really believe that your team are the key to your collective success then you’ll prioritise these conversations over anything else.
*You can find out more about the difference emotional intelligence makes to a business here.
Photo credit - http://redsarmy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/kg-head-in-hand.jpg