One of the most frequent complaints I hear from managers is that their direct reports are failing to deliver on expectations. They feel at a loss about why this is happening and what they can do about it. They are likely to eventually come to the conclusion that the person is either lazy, lacks commitment or just isn’t up to the job.
On closer inspection though, there are many reasons that lead to this underperformance. Here are four of them.
1) They don’t know what to do
Especially in these days of rapid change and everyone running to keep still it’s easy to overlook the basics and to jump to conclusions that we have spelt out our expectations really clearly when we may not have done so. Think about someone you manage whose performance is not living up to your expectations. How confident are you that you have articulated really clearly and specifically what you want them to do? Rather than using vague catch all terms like, “present professionally in meetings” or “write up a comprehensive report” etc. you will need to spell out exactly what that looks like so that they can replicate it.
2) They think they are already doing it
In the absence of effective and timely feedback, people either decide they are doing fine or that you don’t care about what they are doing. Consider if you have really taken the opportunity to give specific behavioural feedback about what they are doing that works and what they are doing or not doing that doesn’t work. A simple model to use is Action Impact Desire. What action you saw, what the impact was on you, on others, or on the project and what you Desire for the future. This can be used for motivational feedback when they have done something well that you want them to repeat and developmental feedback when you want them to do something differently.
3) They don’t understand why they have to do it
Someone once said to me that CEO should stand for Chief Explaining Officer. Right from the top, down through the business, leaders at all levels need to paint the big picture and help people see how what they are doing contributes to that big picture. You have probably heard the story about one brick layer saying he is building a wall, while the next brick layer proudly said he was building a cathedral. How are you helping your people see how what they do, contributes to cross functional performance and ultimately to the performance of the business.
4) They think they could do it differently / better
On a similar vein, maybe they aren’t doing what you want because it doesn’t make sense to them. That could be because they don’t have the bigger picture or it could be that it really doesn’t make sense. They are closer to the front line than you and the chances are they will have ideas about how things could be speeded up, made more efficient, more user or customer friendly etc. Make sure you don’t overlook their expertise. Create the forum and the climate that encourages ideas and debate. Just because you are listening doesn’t mean you have to implement all their suggestions but it does help you keep your finger on the pulse, eases the burden on you to always know best and develops and values your staff.
I don’t believe people come to work to deliberately do a poor job. They may have different drivers and motivators from you but your role as manager is to bring out the best in those you manage. So, next time you are feeling frustrated that one of your people isn’t delivering on your expectations, ask yourself what could be getting in the way and how you might be contributing to the issue.
During difficult times it’s even more important that everyone in the company knows exactly where the company is headed and the reasons behind strategic decisions, in order to feel energised and motivated to contribute their best and make sure the business goals are achieved. Communication is the only vehicle that allows all employees to understand this vision and direction, which may be why my newsletter subscribers consistently place effective communication at the top of their list of priorities.
As a manager your role is to act as a conduit for information; ensuring that your team has a clear understanding of the company’s way forward and all the information that they need to be effective in their job.
When you think about any communication you need to be structured and consider:
- What are the key messages that need to be delivered?
- What are the best ways to deliver the messages to the individual or team?
- How will this be achieved?
- How will you measure the effectiveness of the communication?
Think of someone you know who is outstanding at delivering clear and compelling messages.
- What makes their communications so effective?
- How do they choose the medium through which to communicate?
- What is it about their personal style that works for you?
I look forward to hearing your comments.