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June 3, 2019 //

Are You Wasting Time on Your Lowest Performers?

Let’s face it, good leaders want their team members to succeed.  After investing time, energy, and resources in them, it is very painful to concede otherwise.  And servant leaders, in particular, commonly hold themselves responsible whenever their folks struggle to meet organizational standards — ashamed that they are not doing enough to support their underperformers.

So…enter a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) – the Hail Mary for most traditional Managers.  And if you’ve ever been through the grueling process associated with PIPs, you know how much time and energy goes into setting up the PIP goals, objectives, deadlines, and consequences with HR, crossing/dotting all the legal t’s and i’s, painstakingly preparing for discussions with the employee, reviewing every detail of the PIP with the employee (often an excruciating process in and of itself), intensive coaching/training followed by monitoring/tracking of performance of the employee (who is likely experiencing everything from sadness to anger to humiliation to fear to shame), until it’s finally time (weeks or months later) to make the difficult (but virtually inevitable) decision regarding employee reassignment, demotion or termination.

True Agile LeadersTM, on the other hand, know there are two primary reasons that employees chronically underperform – and neither one should elicit shame from their managers (OR the employees for that matter).

ONE: The employees are simply not SUITED to meet their organizations’ expectations. Very often times, poor performance isn’t a function of an unwillingness to try harder; rather it’s much more often a function of POOR FIT with the organization. And no PIP, no matter how well considered or implemented, is going to change that.

TWO: The employees are simply not suited to WANT to meet their organizations’ needs. And despite how that sounds, that’s STILL a function of POOR FIT.  These employees simply do not share their companies’ core values; as such, they are NOT INTERNALLY MOTIVATED to meet the corresponding standards.  And when that happens, sustainable change is virtually impossible. Again, it’s not a function of being undertrained or under-coached… or even under-qualified… but rather it’s that those particular jobs do not INSPIRE those particular employees to WANT to change their behavior.

So, either way, it comes down to FIT. And you can’t fix fit – not with coaching, not with training, and not with begging.  And I have a drawer full of blue jeans to prove it.

As a result, True Agile LeadersTM say “Spend the majority of your time with your highest performers”. You’ll get more done, improve your own job satisfaction, and have happier, more productive, employees working for you.  And in that way, you’ll turn your highest performers into rock-stars; and your lowest performers will either rise to the challenge with minimal supervision or go somewhere else…somewhere they WILL fit…and, by the way, be much happier themselves. I mean, who wants to come to work day after day after day, and feel like they are being “monitored”, and then wait to see if they will have a job the next day?? How can anyone perform well under that kind of scrutiny?  It’s just not a sensible approach to management.

So here are my challenge questions:  

First– When’s the last time you saw a PIP convert a “below-average student” to a “scholar”?  My particular answer to that question is “never”.  I have never witnessed substantial OR sustainable change result from a PIP. Ever. 

Second– Have you been wasting your time on employees that don’t fit your organization’s values/needs?  Moreover, are you spending time that could otherwise be spent with your rock-stars – the ones you want to keep around at all cost? In other words, are you investing your time in the crops that are more apt to yield results or those that are more apt to die on the vine?

Give that some thought and reply below.  And for a bit of a comedic take on this topic, check out Episode 9 (“You’re Wasting Time on Your Lowest Performers”) in my Podcast series Mistakes that Traditional Managers commonly make.  OR perhaps you’d prefer to subscribe to the Center for Agile Leadership YouTube Channel, where you’ll find this, and lots of other videos on related topics.

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