On the way to school, my son asked me out of the blue, “Dad, if people aren’t good at their job, do they still get paid?” Having to always stay quick on my feet, I filtered my response to an appropriate, 9 year old level and said, “Yes they do, but if they aren’t good at it, someone should tell them so they can get better. If they still don’t get better, maybe they shouldn’t get paid…or they should find another job.”
After I dropped my kiddos off, I arrived at a workplace where people have been allowed to be mediocre for decades. Employees walk around like the undead, sucking the life out productivity, out of profits and out of people that actually want to work and perform well. Before you say, “Dang Justin, why are you calling out your company?” To that I’d say that we all have people in our organizations that are allowed to just exist. My company is no different than yours. There’s a universal lack of accountability and a “coast until retirement” mentality in every company that hinders organizational progress.
The more I pondered the topic, the more I realized that the blame for employees being lazy or unproductive doesn’t solely fall on them. I mean, who’s checking them? Who’s holding their feet to the fire to ensure they are projecting the image that we claim to have or creating a product that we can be proud of? The fact is, people will get away with what they are allowed to, and if management sucks, then why should we expect the employees they manage to always be on point? They follow the example of who’s leading them, so if managers don’t expect much they won’t get much in return.
In order to get the best out of their teams, managers must first know what they want great performance to look like. There must be a vision and a clear desired outcome, for if we don’t know what that success will look like, how will we know that we’ve achieved it or even how to reach it? Make a plan, map it out and figure out what pieces and what kinds of people are needed to reach it.
Second, find those pieces and people. In a perfect world we could go out on the street and find the perfect employee that knows how to get the right results and how to compliment those around them. In our real world, we have leftovers from previous regimes and people that need a kick in the butt. Be prepared to provide that kick if need be. We can not be afraid to have those less than pleasant conversations when people are not holding up their end of the agreement, employment contract or expectations. If the butt kick doesn’t move them, we must learn how to legally and permanently get them out of our company before they cause more damage than they already have.
Third, be prepared to admit when the plan isn’t working and be willing to adjust. Your ideal way may not be the best way. While you’ve formed the idea in your mind of what great performance looks like, the process to get there may need to be tailored to the talent that you have. Sometimes pride gets in the way and we suffer because we are so unwilling to do something different than the way we’ve been taught or experienced success with in the past. As times and employee’s skills and values change, so must our methods of motivating and executing.
Fourth, when your team achieves, recognize it. Keep your gift cards and pizza parties to yourself. At the end of the day, employees need acknowledgement and the satisfaction of knowing that their efforts are relevant, impactful and noticed. Pats on the back are free and make a longer impact than a $20 Visa cards. Looking people in the eye, being constructive and making yourself available for employees gives them security in knowing that they are supported. That support turns into them wanting to succeed for you as their leader. And when employees want to make you successful, you have done your job as a manager and you’re one step closer to great performance.