Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Performance Pill

Got a team member who’s a pain in the neck?  Struggling with an employee who gives you headaches?  Suffering some heartburn after hiring someone to fill a position on your team?  You’re in luck!  The clinic is open, and the doctor is in!

Much of the time, we address the symptoms of our problems (the pain in our neck, the headache, the heartburn) rather than their sources.  That approach gives temporary relief, but it usually creates more problems than it solves in the long run.  For example, taking an aspirin deals with the headache, but it does nothing to deal with what caused it.  The headache may have been the warning sign of a more serious problem.  A band-aid may cover up the bruise, but if we keep banging our knee, the bruises will keep popping up.  Dealing with sources rather than symptoms will lead you to better solutions.

I’m going to make a bold claim.  Any performance problem you are struggling with on your team can be traced to one of five sources.  Knowing these sources helps you to quickly diagnose your problems and prescribe treatment.  Together, these sources make up the Performance Pill, a tool for curing what ails your team.  Let’s look at each source individually.  (You’ll notice I’ve taken some rhyming license to make these fit together.  Please don’t accuse me of malpractice.)

Performance Pill

“Instill” problems occur when we fail to instill our performers with expectations, knowledge and feedback related to their work.  Many times, our expectations are silent.  We forget to make them clear at the beginning of a task, or we assume that the performer should know them.  Sometimes the performers don’t have enough information to do what we ask them to do.  And sometimes, we neglect to give them feedback about a task to let the performer know if they are on the right track or not.  The solution rests solely on our shoulders for this type of problem.  If we haven’t equipped our performers with expectations, knowledge and feedback, we’ve set them up to fail.

“Skill” problems occur when performers have not yet developed the talent to do the task.  The solution is simple.  The performer either needs training or practice (with lots of feedback).  But be careful…this is the most common misdiagnosis for performance problems.  Managers love to send their performers to training to “fix them.”  Why?  Because it’s easy, and someone else will do it for me.  It may be easy, but it’s also expensive – in money, in time and sometimes in your relationship (not everyone wants to be sent to training).

“Hill” problems occur when an obstacle (something they can’t get over) blocks good performance.  The obstacle could be a system problem, a lack of authority, a policy or procedure, a lack of resources…  Even other people can become obstacles to good performance.  Whatever the “hill” is, it’s out of the performer’s control.  Either you or someone else with the authority to deal with it must move it out of the way.

“Will” problems occur when a performer doesn’t want to do what you want them to do.  People are not motivated to perform in a certain way for a variety of reasons, but they almost always have to do with consequences.  Sometimes people are rewarded for doing the wrong things.  Sometimes they are punished for doing the right things.  Sometimes, it doesn’t matter one way or the other what they do, because no one notices.  And sometimes it may matter, but it doesn’t matter enough to the performer.  The solution for “will” problems is to make it matter.  Find consequences (both positive and corrective) that the performer cares about, and implement them.  If appropriate consequences are already in place, intensify them.

“Refill” problems occur when a performer does not have the ability to do the job or does not respond to increased consequences intended to improve “will” problems.  The solution is to “refill” the position with a candidate who does have the ability and the motivation to do the job.  However, avoid jumping to an early diagnosis in this area.  All other sources should be explored and addressed before coming to the conclusion that a performer is in the wrong job.

Feel better yet?  If not, take two and call me in the morning.


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It Was the Shoes!

It was 2006, and Kevin Mench was inching up on the competition.  The Texas Rangers right-fielder found out mid-April that he had been wearing the wrong size shoes for years.  “Shrek” (as he was known by his teammates at the time because of his size 8 head) wears a size 12 1/2” shoe, but he had been cramming into size 12” sneakers since he was fifteen.

The revelation came after a recurring sprained toe forced him to miss five games early in the year.  The ball club sent him to a foot specialist, who quickly diagnosed what was cramping Mench’s style.  After the minor correction to his footwear, Mench began to pick up his pace.  Having failed to drive in a single run during the first ten games of the season, Mench drove in 27 immediately following the half-inch upgrade.  Even better, during the same timeframe, he dinged ten home runs (seven of them in a row and two for grand slams).

People change.  Circumstances change.  Maybe yesterday’s “perfect fit” for your team is now confining to them.  Some team members may have outgrown their jobs and need new challenges.  We know from data gathered by the Hay Group (from 500,000 exit interviews) that the most common reason your top hitters will go into free agency (how much mileage can I get from this metaphor?) is because they don’t have enough learning opportunities to develop their skills.  But give them some growing room, and watch them start to hit for the stadium lights.

Take new measurements on each of your team members on a regular basis.  You may be surprised at how much they’ve grown!

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Filed under Change, leadership, learned helplessness, Productivity, Sharpening the Saw

Urgency Addiction

Remember the days before text messaging, cell phones, Palm Pilots and “Crack-berry’s?”  Me neither, but it did exist didn’t it?  I mean, we used to communicate face-to-face in entire sentences without someone reaching for their holster.  Ah…those were the days.  People actually listened to each other – really listened and focused their entire attention on the other person.

But those days are gone.  Now we just have the illusion of focused attention.  As soon as ring tones sound or the belt starts to vibrate, we’ve lost our audience.  Even if they continue to pretend to listen to us, it’s obvious that their mind is on the incredibly urgent message that is just arriving.  You can tell by the vacant stare, followed by the eye-twitch.  If they don’t check their message soon, their eyes roll back in their head and they eventually lose consciousness.

What happened to us?  It’s simple, but it’s serious.  We’ve developed an advanced case of urgency addiction.  It’s understandable.  If someone needs us urgently, it makes us feel important.  We love being the problem solver.  And our teams, our peers, our bosses…they all love having us around even when we’re not around.  We are the poster children for dedicated, selfless team players.

Unfortunately, we’ve overlooked an important principle, and many of us are paying the price for it.  The principle is:

Today’s extra effort is tomorrow’s expectation.

In the beginning, everyone thought it was kinda neat that they could reach us whenever they wanted.  They appreciated our dedication when we took their call on our way home from work.  They apologized for contacting us during our training workshop.  They thought twice before using our cell number while we were on vacation.

But over time, our willingness to be accessible whenever and wherever raised the bar.  It’s no longer okay for us to get back with them after the meeting.  Now, they expect an answer within ten minutes or less.  If they can’t reach us by Blackberry, they call us.  If we don’t answer, they e-mail the person sitting next to us in the meeting.  If that doesn’t work, they call 9-1-1 and file a missing persons report.  When they find out we haven’t been kidnapped, they are indignant: “Where were you?  We ran out of paper clips, and work had to come to a halt until we found your key to the cabinet.”

This cycle never slows down.  The more accessible we are, the more accessible they expect us to be.  And like any other addictive disease, urgency addiction is progressive.  Our expectations get higher and higher.  We’ve developed a tolerance, and yesterday’s response time no longer satisfies.

And while we are busy being the hero, the dedicated team player, the always-accessible one…we don’t realize some of the negative side effects of our good deeds:

  • Our direct reports are developing a dependency on us and becoming incapable of independent thought.
  • Our boss, peers and customers (both internal and external) are making more and more invasions into our private lives.
  • We are growing increasingly resentful of the demands on our time.
  • We are actually creating more work for ourselves as we send out our responses that generate their responses that require our responses…
  • We are polluting our time – never being fully present for any event.

We’ve got to slow down!  The long-term prognosis for urgency addiction is not good.  Burnout, fatigue, increased errors, disillusionment, resentment, damaged relationships…  These are just a few of the ultimate consequences.  The longer you wait to break the habit, the more difficult your detox will be (for both you and your enabling codependents).  Good luck.  (I’ll say a “Blackberry Prayer” for you during my next conference call.)

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Filed under expectations, pressure, urgency

Passion and the Process

When famed composer Johannes Brahms was in his latter years, he announced that he would no longer compose.  His friends and adoring public were shocked and saddened by the news.  “Why?” they asked him.  “Why, when you still have so much beautiful music left to write?”

He explained that he was old and wanted to spend some time enjoying his last years. Who could blame him?  He had already given many years to his craft, making music that blessed so many.

And so, Brahms laid down his pen and spent his time visiting friends and pursing hobbies.  Those who were close to him said that he definitely seemed to have more spark since stepping away from the demands of being in the public eye.

And so it was that everyone was totally surprised a few months later when Brahms announced that he had just completed a new work.  “But we thought you were going to retire…” they declared.

“I was!  I was!” he said, “But after a few days’ leisure, I was so happy at the thought of not writing that the music just came to me without effort!”

Ever been weary of well-doing?  Sometimes the pressure to do the thing you love to do takes the passion out of the process.  Everyone’s expectations for faster, better, more have made you forget how much you enjoyed doing a task just for the sake of doing it.

Maybe all you need is a break.  Can you take a time-out for awhile, go on a vacation, delegate the day-to-day part of the task to someone else, get someone to take a piece of it that you don’t like?  Maybe you need to lower your customers’ (internal or external) expectations.  Tell them that you’ll no longer be completing the task each day (or week, or month).  Let them know that you are going to scale back on the quality, quantity or speed a little.   Often times, you’ll find that you only thought they needed it at the level that you were producing it.

It’s important that you maintain your passion.  If you don’t, the quality, quantity or speed are going to suffer anyway.  You’ll find yourself resenting all the extra effort you put into it.  You’ll feel trapped by your own standard of excellence.  Before that happens, step back from the task and create some new boundaries for it or step away from the task so that you can get a clear perspective.

If it’s worth doing and it’s worth you doing it, we’ll wait for you to sort it out.

(S – Parts adapted from Braude’s Handbook of Stories for Toastmasters and Speakers, Jacot M. Braude, editor, Prentice Hall)

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