Recently we read an article that recapped a talk by Dr Denis Cauvier in which he argues that managers should spend minimal time and resources on "weak-link" workers: "Never spend more than 5 per cent of your time with your poorest performers, and instead save 95 per cent of your time for people that really deserve it."
Quite a provocative statement that certainly caught our attention and made us raise a collective eyebrow. However, we believe it's probably dangerous to take such a simplistic view. First of all, there's a difference between poor performers and poor performance. They don't always go hand in hand, so deeming an employee a poor performer simply because of poor performance is like judging a book by its cover. Second, there are always underlying reasons for poor performance, sometimes due to an issue directly related to the employee but sometimes due to a systemic, organisational issue. So as a manager/leader, evaluate those reasons before making any judgments on how to deal with the issue and how much time to devote to it. You may ultimately determine it's only worth that 5%, but it could easily justify more.
Here are a few factors to be cognizant of, both before and during the process of dealing with poor performance:
- As we detail in how to motivate employees, there are three core reasons why people fail to perform: they don't know what the job is, they don't know how to do the job or someone or something is interfering with their desire or ability to perform. As a manager, you need to deal with each of these to ensure they are not inhibiting employee performance. If they are, you may be erroneously blaming them when the problem is actually you. That is, you haven't done your leadership job.
- When considering the three reasons, working from employee to employee, managers may find patterns that point to broader organisational issues. For example, if you find that a number of your poor performers are not confident about how to do their job, clearly specific training is required.
- Not all roles are equally important to a business' success. When determining how much effort to put towards a poor performer, managers should consider how critical the role is to the organisation and use that as a barometer for how much time and effort to devote to them.
- No quantitative measure should determine how much time you spend with poor performers – whether it be Cauvier's 5%, or maybe 20% or even 40%. Instead it's the quality of time that matters; without a clear purpose, interactions with employees are meaningless. So if you believe you need to spend only 5% of time with poor performers so that you can devote the other 95% to the "people that really deserve it", don't do it for the sake of doing it. Have a purpose each and every time.
Just as there are different reasons for poor performance, there are different ways to deal with it. So before making any judgments, before drawing up a course of action, before determining how much time you should dedicate to the issue, take the time to evaluate the cause. Otherwise, you'll end up making incorrect assumptions and blanket judgments. At best, you'll treat the symptom, not the cause... and things will eventually come to a head and boil over. And at worst, you'll treat the entirely wrong thing!
At Fortune, we define leadership as the skill of attaining predetermined objectives with and through the voluntary cooperation and effort of other people. We could dissect this definition all day, but for now we'll focus on the last part: How can a leader achieve voluntary cooperation and effort from their people? Or in other words, how can they influence them to act as they'd like?
To answer this question, leaders must understand the two factors that people consider before taking any action: the present situation and the perception of the future. If people believe that the future will be better than the present, they'll act. If not, they'll do nothing. This is true for any walk of life, in business or personal.
To influence people to act, leaders are usually confronted by two options: They can attack the present or sell a better future.
Attacking people's present position and approach may look like it increases the relative value of the future. It's easy... but it's also fleeting, like treating the symptom to a cold instead of the cause. By attacking what people have done up to that point, you're also attacking their intelligence, their confidence, their professional skills and their abilities. Have no doubt: People will resist this very quickly.
Selling a better future, on the other hand, is an effective way of getting people to act. Sell them (ie, communicate!) the company's vision – make the dream a tangible reality in their mind – and the fulfillment that this can bring to themselves. By doing so, leaders will get that voluntary cooperation and effort and maintain long-lasting productivity.
Trick question! Although most salespeople generally don't conceive themselves as such, the reality is that they are change agents.
Take a few minutes to read our most recent topic page on managing change in the workplace, which cites a few situations commonly associated with change management, whether it be introducing a new work process, communication protocol or work environment. These are the types of purposes that people generally ascribe to a change agent, and because of that, it's easy to have a paradigm in which they're now viewed as the only purposes of a change agent. As such, we often fail to acknowledge other roles in which professional success relies just as much on bringing about change.
In considering how salespeople are change agents, look no further than the primary theme of our articles on change management and creating value for customers. In the former, we emphasise throughout that in order to implement change successfully, managers and leaders must understand their people and the psyche of how they react to and embrace change. And in the article on creating value, above all else we stress that in order to create value, salespeople must first solidify their relationship with the customer so that they can understand their current business situation and their goals and aspirations for the future.
Another example of salespeople as change agents is in the communication of change and value. When introducing change, we recommend that managers and leaders communicate what the change is, why it's happening and how it's going to affect people – both professionally and personally. The same exact structure holds true for salespeople when they communicate value: what the product/service proposition will do for the customer, why that will help them and how it will solve their problems – both professionally and personally.
Salespeople: Do you view yourself as a change agent for your customers? If not, the next time you're working on creating value for a prospect, make a conscious effort to think of yourself as one. And leaders and managers, do you ever think of how you can create value for your people when *selling* change? In the end, it's all one in the same, but a different perspective may yield surprising results.