So often when we really want to help people become the best they can be we focus on the least helpful place – we focus on what they are doing wrong and suggest ways that they may like to improve. We are putting all their attention on where they are under-performing.
Let me give you an example – lets say you have an underperforming employee whose figures have been low for the last few weeks; he’s been returning poorer sales results and his motivation is nothing like it used to be. His quarterly review is coming up and you have a list of issues that need to be addressed. He will be aware of this and it is quite likely that he is now so anxious about this review that the words ‘get it over and done with’ are the only thoughts that can enter his head on the subject. Now ask yourself, is this looking to be a meeting with a positive outcome and where are both of you putting your attention? On his areas of failure or weakness.
You sit down to meet him, tell him about his poor figures, his underachievement, and your concern about his apparent lack of motivation. There are apologies and murmurs of agreement as you set targets for next review, and then the whole unpleasant process is over, and you look forward to what will surely be a much better review in three months time. But what is he focussed on? He is of course focussed on what he’s done wrong and what he’ll need to get right for the next meetings. The bigger picture is put aside, brilliant work is forgotten and rectifying errors are at the forefront of his mind. Have you changed his way of thinking so he can now work on positively enhancing his performance? Quite probably not! Outcome – an even more de-motivated employee who does not feel good about himself and has probably not owned the problems or the solutions!
Now, consider this. You hold the meeting, only this time you start off by talking about the areas where you know he does have strengths. You focus on how well he handles his customers and what excellent relationships he has built with them, how pleased you were with his last report. You observe that he is doing some interesting activities for charity outside work, and perhaps say you admire his commitment to doing things for people just because he cares. You then ask him where he would consider that he is not doing as well as he thinks – where he may be underperforming. He explains that he’s had far too much work given to him this month and he’s unable to devote the same amount of time to sales as he had been. You ask him what he thinks needs to change to allow him to be able to refocus on sales and which bits of the work are taking him away from his role. You also ask him what help he might need from you to allow that to happen. As he leaves you say how very good it is to see the old mojo back! He laughs and says that he feels very different and much happier.
Your employee is now focussed on the positives – you’ve made sure he knows what his strengths are, and what to play up to. Not only this, he now sees the meeting as the ‘support’ meeting you first intended it to be – rather than a meeting based on a list of his downfalls. Issues are likely to be resolved if you are able to help in some way and by listening to him help find the root cause of the problem – but if you merely prompt people to be better without helping them to work out the reasons behind the bad performance, you’ll get no change at all!
Please don’t hear me say that you avoid telling people when they are screwing up but keep thinking about what you want the outcome to be. If you want a highly motivated employee who is going to be motivated to improve performance and focus on solution rather than problem then getting them to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses is likely to have a higher hit rate. Getting them to articulate the problem and then help them find the solution will enable them to ‘own’ it and therefore be more committed to making it work. One of the things that I see happens a bit too often is that people find it very, very easy to praise their ‘stars’. These people therefore keep feeling better and better about themselves and consequently perform better – wouldn’t you if someone keeps telling you what you are good at? The ones who are underperforming don’t hear any praise just reminders about their weak areas that they need to concentrate on improving – how do they feel and how likely are they to be successful – their attention is in the wrong place. Outcome – the gap between the high performers and the low performers increases!
When you get out of bed in the morning just feeling really great how do things work out for you on that day? Easy answer – pretty well! So, if you knew that you could really help each person in your team focus on their strengths, feel great each day, what behaviour might you change to make that happen?
Penny has worked with businesses like Sage and Argos to inspire long lasting positive change within the company, in order to take steps towards success and leadership. Contact her at The Living Leader to book an appointment.