Take on under-performers sooner, rather than later

Published November 9th, 2015 - 05:06 GMT

“I plan to talk to him about that in his end-of-the-year review,” stated the CEO, as if it is perfectly normal to wait to give feedback. When I challenged him with “Why wait?”, the surprised look on his face coupled with the questioning words “Talk to him now?”, made me wonder why leaders are so hesitant to tackle underperformance.

In rugby and football (American style), if you hesitate to make the tackle the other team may well score against you. The purpose of tackling is to stop an opponent from gaining ground towards the goal line. So you physically wrestle the player in the opposing team who has the ball to stop him dead in his tracks.

Really, it’s the same in business; you should tackle underperformance immediately and stop it from happening. OK, it doesn’t necessarily need to be done with brute force. But it must be stopped. Allowing any type of underperformance to exist a moment longer costs you.

When you hesitate, like this CEO was, then you allow underperformance to score.

He knew what he needed to tackle; one of his leaders was micro-doing. He was doing for others what they should be doing rather than allowing them to do it. Effectively, he became a well-intended performance blocker by trying to help everyone else by doing their work for them when he should’ve helped by building their capability.

Instead of tackling this, the CEO was allowing underperformance to sprint down the field. Frankly, I don’t get why a leader would ever wait. With every passing day, the damage gets bigger as the roots of the underperformance set in more.

The logic of his thinking was that he would address it at the annual review. But the annual review was an entire quarter away. Too many leaders think the end-of-year performance review is the time to address underperformance.

But by then it’s too late — the year’s over. You should tackle it early so there is a chance to improve it. Don’t allow your team members to lose because you hesitated to tackle.

Additionally, there should never be surprises in a performance review. Everything discussed in the review should have already been discussed. It is after all a review, which means it’s the time to review what you have already discussed.

If you’re waiting till the end-of-the-year review, then you’ll become the reason for their sustained underperformance. Instead, help them succeed. After all that is your job and what is mutually beneficial.

Don’t surprise your team members by raising issues that you should have already tackled. Your hesitation shouldn’t ever become their problem.

Since it’s so clear that you should never ever hesitate to tackle underperformance, then let’s answer, “Why do so many leaders hesitate?”

Ironically, it’s for the same reasons that a player on the field would hesitate to tackle the ball carrier that’s trying to score on them. The first of the three most common scenarios is fear — both the fear of getting hurt and hurting the other person.

The next is, I tried to tackle before and I did get hurt and I don’t want to get hurt again. The third scenario is that the player is just too nice to tackle.

In business it’s the same, the fear of hurting the other person or getting hurt causes leaders to hesitate when it comes to giving feedback. The irony in this thinking is that the pain of under-performance is much greater for both of you than the perceived difficult conversation ever will be.

Perhaps you’re hesitating to tackle under-performance because when you tried before it went horribly (or even mildly) wrong and you don’t want to repeat that experience. Then just like the player who made a bad attempt at a tackle heads to the practice fields, learn how to give feedback better.

The nicest thing you can do is to address under-performance and help others succeed. So, resist the errant temptation to be nice by doing nothing.

Not tackling under-performance simply can’t be tolerated. Who wants to play with the kid who will not tackle? Tackle under-performance now so you can maximise the end of the year sprint.

By Dr. Tommy Weir


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