A while ago, one of my direct reports told me that one of our front-line staff was not a good fit and couldn’t perform. When I probed, he stated that the employee just couldn’t handle the workload. He insisted that this employee simply couldn’t get the job done. I proceeded to guide this leader to ‘manage him up or manage him out,’ but I paused slightly as I heard myself spit out those last 3 words.
I knew this employee somewhat and I liked him. And I had a hard time understanding why we had hired someone who had checked all the boxes, and then a year later, couldn’t perform. I pulled the HR application and reviewed his CV. Fully qualified. I reviewed his recommendations. Stellar. I talked to the employee, and he was not very forthcoming. In hindsight, there was a chiasm of trust that I just couldn’t bridge. In hindsight, he was scared.
I talked to some of his co-workers. They liked him as a person but conceded that he wasn’t bringing it. Then, slowly, staff conceded that none of them were performing at their highest level. I probed further and discovered that they each felt that the local culture and work environment was not conducive to feeling good about the work, and it wasn’t motivating to the team.
In the end, it was the leader who was setting an autocratic tone and it permeated throughout his domain. This was my miss; I didn’t see it. I needed to own it, and I did. We worked to course correct and things rapidly improved, but it got me thinking about how we view the performance of other people we work with. Are they static performance models or are they fluid with both common and distinct dependencies?
It is my observation that employees (including myself) are neither all good nor all bad performers but rather have a performance capacity range which varies, in part, depending on their operating environment. A harsh, blaming environment will produce output which is the minimum acceptable product to avoid punishment. Conversely, an open, learning, and collaborative environment — where each person feels supported — frequently yields far more output than is required. It’s an organic outgrowth of staff feeling both trust and empowerment.
Our role as leaders is to bring out the finest in our teams. We owe that to them. And to the business. And to ourselves. Reflecting on this reality, what are we going to do today to create an environment which opens our teams up to performing at their very best?
This piece was written by Lee Milligan, MD, former CIO at CMIO at Asante. To view the original, click here.