From Elizabeth: Perhaps you’re leading a team for the first time in your career, or for the tenth year in a row. Regardless, you’ve probably already had the experience of team members not performing up to snuff, botching assignments or failing to generate high-quality work. What should you do about this?
I’m a big believer that problems with team performance usually bleed down from the top. Leaders who are poor communicators will have team members who don’t understand assignments. Leaders who are bad with deadlines will have team members who don’t stick to them either. Leaders who can’t manage stress in their own lives will have stressed out teams with poor morale.
As a result, our leadership is critical to growing our teams to perform at their highest, including to rescue poor performers when possible. Here’s the advice I give to my leadership coaching clients on how to grow their teams to grow their leadership.
Lead by example
If you want to have a team that performs well, has great morale and communicates effectively, you as that team’s leader need to model that behavior first. Failing to model what you want in terms of performance is, in essence, communicating to your team that they must “do as I say, not as I do.”
If you are stressed out, adopt stress management practices now that allow you to model cool efficiency under pressure. If you struggle with communication, hire a leadership coach to teach you the necessary skills. If you don’t want your team to gossip, don’t do it yourself.
You are the most immediate role model your team has for their performance in the workplace. Be a model to look up to, rather than to shun.
This one is particularly important (and usually very difficult) for Type-A women who are used to being overwhelmed. If you do not delegate effectively, you will not be able to grow your own career and your own leadership and you will also end up doing a lot of work below your pay grade.
So what does it mean to delegate effectively?
First, you must communicate assignments and expectations with clarity. Do your best and then have your team member repeat back to you their understanding of the assignment. This will allow you the room to clear up any misunderstanding before your team member gets started.
Second, set deadlines and stick to them. Check in with your team members to make sure that they are on track to meet the deadlines you’ve assigned before the deadline hits.
Third, allow your team members to correct mistakes. Swooping in to take over a botched project doesn’t allow your team member to learn and grow. It also adds more to your plate than need be.
Finally, communicate feedback early and often. Don’t wait for that annual review to tell your team members how they’re doing. I advocate providing informal feedback on a project by project basis, and occasionally post-morteming major projects after the fact to set strategies to improve performance team-wide.
The more you delegate, the more you and your team will rise to new heights of performance and leadership, and the more room you’ll have to grow as well.
Provide constructive commentary with respect at all times
Berating and arguing with members of your team when performance is an issue is a sure-fire way to lower retention and morale. Even in high-stress or poor-performance situations, speak to your team members with respect and clarity. Attacking poor performers puts them on the defensive and demotivates their growth. If you struggle with anger in the workplace or elsewhere, be sure to seek support from a therapist or a coach.
Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em
All this said, when you have led by example, delegated effectively to grow your team and provided constructive feedback with respect, you may still end up with a team member who fails to perform. In this regard, it is important to remember that each team member has a choice as to whether to meet the standards of their job. Team members who choose not to perform well may eventually need to be cycled out to grow the entire team.
If you have made efforts to rehabilitate a poor performer and communicated feedback effectively, performance should improve. If it does not, remember that old axiom: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Terminating a poor performer may be an unfortunate but necessary outcome. In this case, be sure to consult your HR department or company lawyer to make sure that you are following relevant employment law and communicating the termination carefully and as respectfully as possible.
Grow your team effectively, and you will grow your own leadership to new heights as well! Good luck.
Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump