We spend lots of time and money tuning, upgrading, improving, and replacing our servers, networks, and applications. Are these your most important assets? Of course not. Leaders universally believe that employees are our greatest assets. But do our actions match our beliefs? How much time do we spend tuning, upgrading, improving, and replacing the people who make up our organizations?
A more comfortable and common place for the performance improvement discussion to be centered is on “tuning and improving” tactics such as training, developmental assignments, mentoring, and team building. Undoubtedly these types of investments are necessary to ensure that people in your organization are reaching for and achieving their highest potential.
An equally important component of performance improvement is one that is often ignored – “upgrading and replacing” your most important assets. Procrastinating or ignoring troubling performance indicators on your production server or network may cost you big bucks and inflict major headaches. Why then do we ignore troubling performance indicators among members of our team?
I believe it is because we hate confrontation. In fact, many leaders would rather wait until there is ample cause for an employee termination than deal with the time and discomfort of focusing on performance improvement. The problem with this procrastination is two-fold: (1) it sucks the life out of a workplace environment where achievers are shouldering the burden of underachievers, and (2) it presupposes that people cannot or will not improve their performance when confronted.
My experience is that, in fact, substandard performance often will not improve when confronted. But sometimes it will. And what we do not confront, we validate. Since most substandard performance does not lead to employment termination, we leave it unchecked in our workplace. The result is not pretty.
The cornerstone of a high performance culture is virtually unfiltered performance feedback. Tell your top performers that they make your work life a beautiful thing! Reward and recognize their contribution. But also do not fail to give the stars and the non-stars an opportunity to know and correct their shortfalls. We must have the courage to confront destructive behaviors and attitudes. People are too important not to do this.
The company I work for is known as a great place to work, but this does not mean it is a great place for everyone. We hold the performance bar high, and we hold each other accountable. We have some great success stories of problem performance being addressed and corrected. We can also point to instances where underachievers in our organization have been confronted and they have self-elected to leave for another environment that better fits their strengths.
And, we fire people. We do so with the highest regard for the value of the person impacted, and we do so after candid communication and collaboration about the need for and the opportunity to improve. We believe strongly that the best thing we can do for our fellow employee-owners is to be sure that those who are not pulling their weight are challenged to change. If they can’t or won’t change, the best thing for all parties is to part ways.
If feedback is the breakfast of champions, I fear that many in today’s workplace are malnourished. If your greatest assets are in need of tuning, upgrading, improving, or replacing — among your peers or within the team you lead — who are you doing a favor by not taking action?
Larry May, President