Every leader has at least one person in their team who isn’t performing. You really want them to do better, but do you sometimes sabotage their progress that by managing them like underachievers? Well perhaps there is another way?
A leader always wants their people to perform at their optimum level. It’s good for every one involved in the team and drives organisational performance. Regardless of the leader’s personal intentions – whether they want to look good as a leader or they want to drive their business forward, all a leader wants is for their people to do their best at work.
As team members start to under perform, start to let the leader down, the leader’s initial impulse is to take back some control. Decrease team members responsibilities, control some of the project, or even micro manage them with a long screw driver just a little in order to make the leader feel more comfortable. This is human nature. After all a successful outcome is being threatened, so the leader naturally re-assumes control. Good leadership some would say and in certain circumstances that is the right thing to do for the task although it may damage the individual team member.
But stop a moment lets reflect on how this impacts upon the under performer doing the work?
You lead top performers very differently from those under performers and perhaps that may contribute to their lack of success. Two completely different approaches which achieve different results appear logical on the surface; however, it seems ludicrous when you think you are applying methods that inhibit under performers from learning and developing. Let’s break down the logic:
You do something new – and someone performs really well you give them control and let them get on with it with the belief and freedom that delivers success.
However you have someone that isn’t performing well doing the same new thing – and you really want them to do well – so you do something totally different, you take back control pressurising them and hindering their opportunity for learning and development
In other words, we manage high performers like high performers. And we manage underachievers like underachievers – even though we want everyone to become a high performer for the sake of the team and the outcome.
And a big component of this is the leader feeling in control. When we take control away from people, their ability to think critically, to problem solve and to control emotions and behaviours is compromised. As leaders, we tend to give our high performers a lot of control and our underachievers a little. We are imposing our way upon someone who may have a better but different way. Someone who may just need to learn how to do it and the best way of learning is experimentally. Hence our imposition of control might end up driving a self-fulfilling cycle.
In a recent study a group of people were given a problem solving test and their scores were recorded. Each of the participants was then asked to describe a person in their lives that they thought was controlling. For 15 minutes, they were asked to describe the person, their actions and specific situations. After this interview, they were given another (equivalent) problem-solving test and each and every one of them performed about 30% worse.
Interesting that just the thought of someone controlling us decreases our ability to problem-solve by 30%!
But it turns out actual control by the incumbent isn’t completely necessary. In many research experiments using computer tasks, just the feeling of control can reignite someone’s performance. As with most things, perception is more important than reality. We call this ownership and its all about feeling ownership of an outcome. Effective communication by a leader should leave a team member in no doubt about the expected outcome to be delivered and the boundaries beyond which they have to seek permission to pass in pursuit of that outcome. This creates the impression of control although a good leader will monitor unobtrusively until they have total confidence in that team member.
So as leaders how do we develop our under performers through empowerment through the feeling of more control.
1) Be more organized in your delegation
To delegate well and give people control, you have to be more organized than when you simply do it yourself. You must clearly communicate expectations (the outcome) and boundaries. Give yourself and your direct reports realistic lead times, which allow them to get their work done, get some feedback and then redo it if necessary. When your direct report gets it wrong too close to the deadline, you have very little choice but to take it back and do it yourself but remember, if you can always, exploit a learning opportunity!
2) Delegate pieces of projects, rather than the whole thing
Remember people do things better if they like doing it. So you’re bound to find things that people are more proficient at. The most effective leader develops their team members using challenge and support – too much of either is a poor recipe for learning. If you do not have total confidence in someone give them pieces of the project that you are happy for them to control, rather than setting them up to fail by being over ambitious asking them to do too much. Time spent building trust and understanding is never wasted.
3) Create the perception of control
Ownership is important as people always need to feel like they control something. There are always things that we have no control over – such as deadlines. But there are also things that we can make sure people do have control over – that contribute to the way in which the outcome is achieved. Delivery of a small contributing piece of an outcome such as the provision of refreshments or even the colour of the binding for the final report without interference can afford a perception of ownership. These small things can actually make a big difference in the way team members perform whilst enhancing trust and cohesion.
People do their best work when they feel they are trusted; when they have a sense of control. Not when they are operating on fear or over worried about making little mistakes that make them appear stupid. They need to understand what they own and the expectations and boundaries and then be left to get on with it.
These simple things might just help your underachievers become high achievers and valued team members in the future. The value of experiential learning should never be missed!