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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in emotional intelligence
Poor performers are costing you more than 2x their salary. Do you know why?

Work until you can’t work anymore…and then work some more

I was recently working with the C-level person who was struggling with the performance of his leadership team. He looked tired. He was working 60 to 80 hours a week and a couple of the other people on his leadership team were putting in similar hours. After exploring the bulk of the work that was driving those hours, we discovered that he was doing a lot the work of one of his direct reports.

 

What was the reason? You guessed it; this direct report wasn’t performing well. He wasn’t doing all of the things that this leader expected, and the work that he was doing was not up to standard. Rather than address the individual’s performance through conversation, everyone on the team just started doing more of this person’s work. The mood of the team had fallen into resignation bordering on resentment and the overall performance of the team as seen by the chief executive was starting to fall.

 

This is an all too common example of the impacts of poor performance on the team. And there’s only one way to deal with it: have a leadership conversation.

 

When people don’t cut the mustard

Teams are comprised of people who fill specific roles in the course of coordinating action to produce results that satisfy customers. Because were dealing with people, there are variations in how well people fill their role on the team. Not everyone can be a star performer. However, everyone has a role to fill. How well they fill that role and how well they work together as a team ultimately, is responsibility of the leader.

 

It happens. Sometimes people just don’t meet the standard. Sometimes it's a lack of skill, lack of capacity, or just a bad fit within the culture of the team. It happens. The leadership opportunity is this: what do you do when you find that somebody is a poor performer? What is the responsibility of the leader to address that?

 

Let's quantify the impact of "poor performance" a little bit. 

 

Give me $1 and waste $2.50

In a study done by Taylor Protocols, organizational leaders were asked to identify which of their employees were, as they put it, “A”, “B”, “C”, or “D” players. Then they assessed the productivity of each of those players. The results of the study were quite interesting. They found that the productivity of the "A" players returned between 3-5 times their salaries. "B" players returned between two and three times their salary to the organization. "C" players were essentially a breakeven; their productivity matched the cost to have them there. And "D" players actually cost the organization about 2 1/2 times their salary.

 

Let's be clear about the implications. Just having poor performers come to work actually reduces the overall productivity of the team in which they are working. Let’s say it another way.

It costs the organization more than twice what it is paying a poor performer just to have them walk in the door.

 

So what’s a leader to do?

The best way to deal with poor performance is to head-it off before it happens. Here are a few steps that leaders can take to head-off or address poor performance.

1. Inspire a commitment to a shared vision.

Communicate a vision and goals. Describe some outcome in the future, that you would like to create. This is just the first step, but it is an important one. This gives purpose to action. 

 

2. Ask for individual commitment

Ask your team if they are committed to make this vision a reality, and to fulfill their role in achieving that vision. Ask your team members to treat that vision, and the achievement of that vision as if it was their own personal goal. In my experience, when people fall into the status of “poor performer” one of the major contributing factors is lack of commitment. The job is just the job. I’m complying with what you tell me to do. Compliance is not commitment. Effective leaders ask for the commitment of their team members.

3. LISTEN

Listen to whether or not you trust the answer that your team members are giving you when they say they are committed. They may actually tell you they’re not committed to achieving that vision, or to fulfill their role on that team. If that’s the case; GREAT. Thank them and then help them move to find a team where they can commit.

4. Have the leadership conversations

Unlike wine, bad news does not get better with age. If someone isn’t fulfilling the role that they have agreed to fill your team, or if their performance doesn’t meet the standard, it is the leader’s responsibility and obligation to have a conversation with them. I can’t tell you how many times I’m invited into organizations to help solve a problem only to learn that I’m the only being told about the problem. Sure, I can help, but the first person that needs to know that there is a problem is the person with whom you have the problem. Have the leadership conversation.

 

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From the Mouths of Leaders

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Spend enough time in leadership roles or around leaders in organizations and you will hear people say things that will make you turn your head. Sometimes it's because you have heard a strong leader give exactly the right message to the right person at the right time. Those moments can be transformational.

Then there are times when you hear leaders say things so ridiculous that you have to turn your head to see if they were joking. Not long ago, I heard a senior executive make a comment that fell in the category of the latter. One of her staff members was leading an initiative that was transforming how a business unit would function. She said, "You're the leader. You stick to the strategic level. You don't worry about how it gets done."

I couldn't believe my ears. Then it occurred to me, this is the kind of leadership that many organizations practice (and has led to their destruction). In fact, some very popular leadership books clearly state that the main job of a leader is to "inspire a vision" or that "the domain of leaders is the future," thus implying that real leaders don't function in the here and now. This is absolute HOGWASH.

Understanding Real Leadership

Real leadership doesn't happen in the future. Real leadership happens here and now. In reality, probably 80% of real leadership happens in the interaction between two or more people. It happens face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder with those people you hope to lead. Don't get me wrong, vision is good and is an important factor to leadership. But it is not the end by itself, and alone it is not enough

Leadership is about effectively influence others to a common goal. It's about getting the right people to do the right things at the right time for the right reasons. Dwight Eisenhower said it best,

"Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it".

If you can master influencing through effective relationships, you can learn to be a good leader. And, make no mistake, leadership can be learned. And the first thing that leaders learn is that trying to go it alone leads to failure. There is a futility in trying to be leader without considering those you are trying to lead.

You Can't Lead If You Aren't With Those You Are Leading

One of the most disappointing things I've seen that perpetuates this image is the successory quote about leadership. You know the one. It has the bald eagle sitting alone in a tree and ends with, "...In the end, leaders are much like eagles...they don't flock, you find them one at a time."

This is one of the most ridiculous images for leadership I can imagine. Whenever I'm coaching a leader and I see this in their office, I immediately know that I have my work cut out for me. It's stupid because it gives the impression that a leader is one person doing things by themselves, at their own will. It's like the idea that a leader just sets the strategy and vision and then disappears. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Successful leaders are found in the middle of those they are leading. They don't swoop in, do their business, and fly off to their lone perch. Perhaps a more appropriate image for a leader might be a wolf as it is leading its pack.

Leading The Pack

Leading the pack requires:

  1. Courage to know where to go. Sure this requires vision.
  2. Leading by example (walk the walk). You can't do this unless the team can see you. You have to be among those you are leading.
  3. The ability to influence the individuals in the way most effective to them. Build effective teams.
  4. Recognition that it isn't about you, it's about the pack.

Leadership, at its core, is about influencing people where they are and getting them to go where they need to go.

So, if you are a leader how are you influencing those around you?

Are you building effective teams? Are you making sure that your followers are also building effective teams?

What are you doing to build your own influencing skills? Do something today to make yourself a better leader. Read a leadership article (good start right here). Enroll in a workshop that will build those skills.

Find a coach or mentor to talk you through your areas of your own that need improvement.

The key is, never stop working on yourself. Your team deserves it.

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Posted by on in Tension

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The Utopian World?

It seems that we operate in a world where most people expect to go about their business in an ultra-professional, rational, controlled environment. In this utopian environment, people expect their leaders to give them nothing but calm, “let me work at my own pace”, conflict-free interactions in a workplace where nobody is offended or challenged?

Contrary to that perspective, that is not what leadership is about and it is not how leaders should operate.

2 Leadership Imperatives

In any organization, leaders need to do 2 things:

Bring a vision to inspire others and give them a direction to go.

Introduce the right amount of tension to get results.

Vision Alone Isn’t Enough

There have been volumes written about the importance of leaders setting a vision and inspiring others to adopt that vision as their own (Good to Great, The Leadership Challenge, etc.). Vision alone is not enough. As an old Samurai saying goes,

Vision without action is dreaming. And action without vision is wasting time.

And, as my father used to say,

If you don’t know where you are going, any old road will take you there.

It takes more than a vision and a strategy to get results. How do leaders get results? In a word: tension.

The Value of Tension

There isn’t much written about the need for leaders to bring tension to the workplace, but if it is results you want, tension is exactly what you will need. To get things done a certain amount of tension is required. A reasonable amount of tension leads people to act. Too little tension or too much tension leads people to inaction or inappropriate action.

Let’s get something clear. Tension is not by itself a bad thing. Tension is simply a condition that exists and that can be managed. This fact may surprise those of you who have always seen tension as something that happens to you rather than something that you can manage.

There are 2 kinds of tension: task tension and relationship tension.

Task tension is a focus on a particular assignment or something that needs to be done. This is generally accompanied with a deadline.

Relationship tension shifts the focus from the task or the assignment to the people doing or supporting the task. When tension shifts to the people who are involved, rather than the work that needs to be done, that tends to make things less productive.

3 Possible Outcomes based on tension

The right kind of tension brings a team of people together, focusing on a common outcome. The wrong kind of tension can destroy a team. Understanding and managing tension is a component of the Social Style workshops that I teach. In those workshops, we emphasize that there are three possible productivity outcomes from the level of tension in any interpersonal interaction. Here they are:

1. Low Tension/Low Productivity:

I call this the vacation mode. You don’t have anyone telling you where you need to be or what needs to be done. And there certainly aren’t any deadlines. Without something specific to do or a time to do it, not much progress is made. Ever have a project to work on like this?

2. Moderate Tension/High Productivity:

This is the optimum environment. Stress levels are manageable, tasks are clear and defined, objectives and priorities are agreed upon, and deadlines are realistic.

3. High Tension/Low Productivity

In this environment, people are working under high stress. Timelines are unrealistic, objectives are not clear, priorities compete with each other, and relationships are strained. This is the most unhealthy environment in which to work.

As a leader, one of your jobs is to create the environment in which your team can operate at the optimum level.

 

As a leader, you have to understand how to read the amount of tension among team members in any given situation. Then you need to adjust their behavior to influence their team members to increase the right kind of tension and decrease the wrong kind of tension.

 

Once you have managed the tension, then you will be more successful achieving your vision.

How about it, leader? Are you looking for better results? Bring the right kind of tension to your world and you’ll be surprised by the results you get.

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Several years ago, during the dot com boom, I worked for an internet startup company. During the company’s prime there was a desire to have the Account Managers understand what it takes to be a good Project Manager (PM). There was lots of talk about doing training to develop these PM skills. Despite the talk, there was never the time or the budget to get the Account Managers trained. After one particularly disastrous software implementation, the Account Manager admitted that he made promises about dates that were completely unrealistic, but he was hopeful the team would be able to “pick up the slack.” Even after this situation, there continued to be lots of talk but little action. Sadly, this startup company didn’t actually start-up (are you surprised?). Today I affectionately refer to it as “goingdownthetubes.com”.

Is It Really Important?

This scenario is not reserved for young, startup companies; nor is it reserved for inexperienced staff. It highlights what happens in the most elite of organizations and in your personal life on a daily basis. It highlights the foolishness of hoping for one outcome while demonstrating behaviors that do little to ensure it will happen. The result is frustration, counter productivity, and unintended consequences. And it is something that we can all relate to.

 

The Checkbook and the Calendar

This scenario highlights a truth called the Checkbook and the Calendar. I learned this model from a good friend and leadership coach, Croft Edwards. The Checkbook and the Calendar model is a simple and effective way to do two things. First, it is a way to validate what is really important to you. Second, it is a way to see what is really important to those around you (staff, peers, or superiors).

Here is how it works.

If you want to know what is truly important to someone, all you have to do is look at their checkbook and their calendar. People spend their time on those things that are important to them. Conversely, the things that people spend time on show what is really important to them. Similarly, people will invest (spend their money) in those things that are important to them and the things they invest in are what is really valuable. This is true whether it be a conscious or subconscious decision.

It is a cruel and brutally honest reflection of what is important to you. It is universally true and accurate. You can’t deny it.

Let me give you two examples to which most of you will be able to relate. Thinking of my college days, no matter how “broke” my buddies and I were, when the weekend came around we were somehow always able to come up with enough money for beer. It was fine if that meant we had to eat Raman noodles for a month. What was important was getting the beer. You could see that by where our money went.

Another example is a bit more current. I know that it is good for my overall health to exercise at least 4 times per week. My doctor has even confirmed that this is an important thing for me to do. Despite the validation from a medical professional and the logical argument purporting the benefits of this activity, it is relatively easy to see if I concur with the importance of acting on this. Just look at my calendar. How many days in a week do I set aside an hour to exercise at some point in the day? If it is really important you will see it on the calendar.

 

If you still have doubts about the truth of the Checkbook and the Calendar, then think about yourself. What’s happening with that unfinished project in your garage or the box of pictures that you are going to scrapbook when you got a chance? How much did you spend on that leadership development class you were looking at?

 

The beauty of the Checkbook and the Calendar model is in its simplicity.

It always tells the truth.
You can use it to look at yourself.
You can use it to look at others.
And others can use it to see what’s important to you/

The Checkbook and the Calendar model is a way to prove something that Stephen Covey says,

You can’t talk your way out of something that you behave your way into.

So, what is really important to you?

Do you pay lip service to developing the leadership skills of your staff or even yourself? Where are you demonstrating that on your calendar and with your checkbook?

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