I taught an introductory class in Project Management last month and we got into discussion about motivating team members. I mentioned that I take every opportunity I have to recognize people for their work. I was surprised at the reaction of the class. They were evenly split into two camps. Half agreed with me. The other half thought people should be rewarded only when they do something extraordinary and should not be recognized for just doing their job. There are obviously merits to both approaches. What are your thoughts?
As a leader, you will inevitably inherit a poor performer. I have had my fair share of them over the years and have built a reputation for being able to raise the performance of both individuals and teams. As I tend to have a knack for raising the performance of others, I am going to share some observations and methods that have proven useful to me over the years.
First Things First
If you have a poor performer, the first thing you need to do is to determine if this person is salvageable. This requires sitting down with the individual and putting on your detective hat. Here are the things should be trying to ascertain:
Is this person really a poor performer? If you haven’t seen the movie Remember The Titans, go rent it. There are a lot of great leadership tips in the movie and one in particular is relevant here. The movie is a true story about a high school football team facing integration during the 1960s. In one particular scene, the team captain (Gary) is challenging another team leader (Julius) to step up. The bottom line, poor performance, is sometimes caused by poor leadership. Is this person really a poor performer? Or – is lack of leadership the real cause?
Are there extenuating circumstances contributing to poor performance? How are things at home? Are there financial concerns? Is this person healthy?
Getting the Right People on the Bus
I really enjoyed Jim Collins’ book, From Good to Great. In it, he says that you need to get the right people on the bus. If after meeting with this individual you determine that this person is not salvageable, then you need to let him or her go. Too many managers dodge this responsibility. You owe it to everyone involved to let poor performers go after they have been given a reasonable chance.
You don’t want to make a project of someone who can’t be saved. It is a waste of your time that could be better spent elsewhere. Remember, you cannot “make” someone want to be a high performer. In the 1960s, McGregor developed what has come to be known as Theory X and Theory Y with regards to motivation. Theory X says people are self centered and lazy. Theory Y says that people want to perform, they only need the chance. Reality? Some people fall into the X category, and others into the Y. It is your job to figure out where this individual falls.
If you determine that this person is salvageable, here are some things that you can try that will help improve someone’s performance.
Lay out the facts. Be honest. In a non-threatening manner, tell the person that their performance has been called into question. Let them know that you think he or she can turn this around with your help. Ensure that any possible ramifications are laid out. If letting this person go is a possible outcome, they deserve to know that.
Show Respect. No one likes to be put down. You can deliver criticism in a way that doesn’t berate or belittle the individual. As a leader, you must continually observe your behavior to ensure that you are not becoming part of the problem.
Determine Roles and Responsibilities. Many times poor performance is a result of lack of clarity and understanding. Ensure roles, responsibilities and expectations are understood.
Display trust. Once roles, responsibilities and expectations are set, give the individual the opportunity to prove themselves. Don’t micromanage them but give them enough room to let them know that you trust them. Funny things happen when good people know they are trusted.
Don’t be overly critical at first. If someone feels like a poor performer, they will perform poorly. Meet with the individual regularly and give both positive and negative feedback.
Promote the individual positively (if warranted) to others. People gain a bad reputation, sometimes unfairly. Others get into the habit of reacting to certain people in certain ways. You need to help break this cycle, by letting others know that the individual’s performance is getting better.