Here you are with a team of people for whom you are responsible. You have been successful in finding top talent, some promising but green talent; you also have a few low performers. Your job? Quickly improve employee performance without a lot of help from your boss or anyone else. What do you do? Through my work in assessing and coaching leaders, here are some step-by-step strategies that I have seen work most every time with workforce management.
First of all, you can't help people contribute more if you don't know what you want them to do. Here is a great mental exercise to help you clarify the results you want from each person on your team. Sketch out a simple organizational chart for your team without names -- just job titles. Then, write down the key results that you need from each role. In other words, if each person was performing terrifically well, what would be happening? Finally, write the name of each of your team members back into this organizational chart and ask yourself where they measure up and where they fall short.
This exercise is a quick gap analysis for your team. It helps you to see what you need to do, see where your team members are hitting the mark and where they are falling short.
Here is what you're likely to find:
- You'll have a few people (the A-players) who are achieving great results in their current role. You could probably write them into almost any box on your chart and they would be successful.
- You will also have some people (the B-players) who are producing good results but they could be better -- they need to get more effective and probably need more coaching to become A-players.
- You may have a few people (the borderline B to C-players) who work hard but don't have the right skills for the role they currently hold. In other words, they can be valuable but only in a more limited capacity.
- Finally, you have employees (C-players and below) whom you don't feel comfortable writing into any box on your chart without someone making sure they don't mess things up.
Now that you have figured out the gaps in your team, what do you do? Most leaders immediately focus on their problems (their B and C-players) and try to figure out what to do with them. Instead, I recommend that you start with your A-players. Most leaders under-invest in their best people. They take them for granted. As a result, they neither get all the results they could out of these top performers, nor do they develop the loyalty that helps them to retain top performers and build an A-player team around them. So, here are some steps to follow:
- Invest your time with your A-players first. You're familiar with the 80/20 principle, aren't you? It's often used in sales recruitment. 20% of the people produce 80% percent of the results. The single best thing you can do to improve results immediately on your team is to invest more time with your A-players. Think about their roles. Ask yourself how they can contribute more for your company and grow in their careers. Then take them out to lunch and talk with them about their work and their career. Trust me, these people are hungry to reach higher and accomplish more. Figure out what they need from you to do so. Schedule a regular meeting (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) to check on their progress. Give them permission to call you anytime they need your help to be successful. The key here is that time invested with your A-players yields a big payoff. Don't neglect these people because you have too many other problems to deal with. A-players are the solution.
- Provide your B-players with coaching and accountability. Often your B-players can be A-players if they get some help. Particularly if lack of experience rather than lack of ability separates a B-player from being an A-player, a great strategy is to team them up with an A-player. That way you give the A-player a talented, albeit inexperienced, assistant, while you give the B-player a great role model who can teach them the skills they need to contribute more. You'll need to oversee this superstar team, but you don't have to invest too much time in hands-on coaching.
You can turn some borderline performers into acceptable performers (at least B-players) by reducing their roles to fit their skills. We've all worked with someone who has good work ethic and basic skills, but they lack the talent to interface with clients, for example. So give them a job where they don't have to interact with clients. Too often leaders are unwilling to take this step because they don't want to fight with the employee and are unsure if the move will help or hurt their team's productivity.
The hardest characteristics to find in an employee are strong integrity, good work ethic and a commitment to do consistently quality work. If you find someone who has these characteristics but lacks other skills, see if you can craft a role for them that works for the company and works for them. I have seen this work out well.
- Start recruiting now to replace the C-players on your team. In my book, How to Hire A-Players, I focus on how as a leader you can find and hire the people you need to create a team of A-players by applying an A-Player Mindset. Most leaders tolerate poor employee performance issues and poor performers because they don't have anyone to take their place. So, before I tell you to bite the bullet and fire your C-players, I am going to tell you that you have to be committed to finding and hiring A-players wherever and whenever you can find them. You have to create an A-Player Mindset throughout your company and build a “Farm Team” of talent for your team. You have to adopt recruiting strategies that make recruiting a strategic commitment of your organization, not just a tactical responsibility that HR handles. Follow these steps and you'll have the talent to replace C-players with A-players and create the team you need to get the results.
If you want better results out of your team, you as the leader must be clear and focused on the results you want by:
- Strategically investing your time -- starting with your A-players -- to get more out of your team. Get more from your A-players right away by giving them the time, attention, and resources they need.
- Develop your team's talent by teaming them up with your best people.
- Make long-term improvements to your team results by finding more A-players to replace your chronic poor performers.
While not complicated, these steps are not necessarily easy. But if you're committed to improving results, they are the right steps to take.
Eric Herrenkohl is the author of the upcoming book How to Hire A-Players (John Wiley & Sons, April 2010) and is President of Herrenkohl Consulting. Herrenkohl Consulting helps executives create the organizations they need to build the businesses they want. To receive Eric's free monthly e-letter Performance Principles, go to www.herrenkohlconsulting.com.