Too often, I hear successful leaders say that, even though they meet their objectives and budget quotas, they continually face one major problem: poor employee performance and low interest from their people. They describe this phenomenon as a gap between performance and maximum potential. When I ask them why and how they still achieve their goals, I get almost always the same answer.
"We meet our quota but at a very high price. There are a very few team members, such as myself, who do almost everything. I know my team can do better than this. I'm at a loss. While I don't expect them to shoulder the same level of responsibility as I do, I do expect them to show interest in their work and in the future of this company."
All these are great questions and every manager needs to ask them from time to time. But instead of looking for the answer to a question of "Why," you'd be wiser to look for the answer to a question of "What." "What is causing this lack of motivation, performance and dedication in my employees?" You might be surprised to know that research shows 80% of the time people do not perform at their peak because of their manager.
I know this may seem to hard to digest but if you want to grow a progressive team then facing facts is the first step to overcoming and moving forward.
I will try to illustrate my point with a real example that happened to one of my clients. I was hired by the Group Vice President of a sales division to sit in on one of their annual strategic meetings and offer my advice at the end of the meetings. Directors and technical representatives were discussing the company's future, its existing status and especially what was next, especially after the major layoffs that occurred over past months. They were left with a very unmotivated workforce.
I was listening silently and observing all participants. The tension was prevalent on almost everyone's face. They were passionate about their software product. They knew they had gained a good clientele that remained loyal to them for the past 5 years but they also knew that almost every other company of their caliber was forced to close its doors or cut its workforce in half due to the economic downturn. Something they had begun doing as well.
At the same time, customer complaints started coming. The company's vision was cloudy and uncertain, and the threat of closure was looming.
The Information Technology Director attested that "I know they can do better, this was not happening two years ago, they were more careful back then, anticipating software errors and responding to customer complaints immediately. All this has changed."
At the end of the meeting, I was asked to sum up the most important points that I saw and what they could begin working on immediately. The main points that I gathered during the meetings were that almost every senior manager or director was complaining about their employee's performance, low involvement in taking new projects, taking responsibility for their work, apathy, lack of initiative, and low levels of attentiveness and involvement.
As I was getting ready to speak up and announce my observations when I asked the leaders a question that drew silence for a few seconds. "What exactly are you trying to achieve and what do you really want your people to do to help you out?" Some of the leaders jumped in and gave me the typical business answers, "I want my people to be more proactive, care more about the business and of course be more empowered". Their answers triggered me to ask a second question "So, what are you doing exactly to breed such empowered people?" I also asked the following question "What are you really managing?" Half the room answered, "Our people", and then I went a step further. "Are you really managing, can you really manage people?"
We think that we can manage people; in reality we cannot! It is so difficult to manage our own selves you can imagine how hard it is to manage other people. What you can manage, and should manage, is the context in which they work. You can influence and raise their level of involvement by being a better leader and a role model that they will want to follow, but you cannot manage the person himself.
So what exactly can you do if you are faced with these kinds of challenges? How can you increase employee performance, levels of involvement, desire for responsibility, interest, initiative, and attentiveness?
I'll continue this case study and answer those, and other questions, in Part 2 of this series.