Sooner or later every leader will deal with staff, for whatever reason, that is not performing to the expectations of the job. Spoiler alert: By Ignoring the situation and doing nothing you could potentially bruise your people, hurt your culture, and harm your organization:
The Wall Street Journal reported that doing nothing about poor performance matters:
- Reduces a client’s or member satisfaction by 17%,
- Decreases overall staff productivity as much as 30-40%
- Increases staff turnover by 23 percent, and
- Consumes up to 7 hours, or approximately 18% of a manager’s workweek.
There’s a much better outcome for your organization. . . .
I want you to see how to effectively address performance concerns. It’s a strategy I learned from Tara VanderSande, Staff Development Director at Willow Creek Community Church whose culture of 350 staff from seven campuses has experienced a flourishing transformation.
The strategy Tara shared with me stems from her character, professionalism and passion to equip and release people’s God-given potential is unwavering: “As leaders, we’re entrusted with God’s most precious resource, his people, and how we select, develop, deploy and transition people who are called for a season.” Keep these words in mind as you read on.
“When it comes to what we call “fit concerns,” says Tara, “initially we often see outward symptoms.”
A fit concern is any type of decline in attitude or performance due to a misalignment of the individual’s passions, skills or the organizational need for the role.
Tara equips the leaders to “seek to understand” to get at the root of the “fit concern.”
“Fit concerns fall into one of four categories:
- Scenario: Growing negativity, sarcasm, and/or low energy mark a shift in the person’s attitude and work quality.
- Seek to understand: Leaders need to ask into the person’s life to better understand what he or she may be carrying inside. Ex: Caring for an elderly parent, marriage stress, the loss of a team-member, or change of a boss.
- Evaluate: A reasonable timeline for identifying the root within 30 days followed by a plan for a change of behavior.
- Scenario: The person is not meeting expectations in one of our ten “performance dimensions” such as quality of work, timeliness and self-reliance.
- Seek to understand: Is one or more of these dimensions happening more than once? Is there a pattern? Seek to ask and understand is the person struggling with a skill, or a motivation?
- Evaluate: Options can include a competency assessment, 360 review, verbal and written feedback and coaching and a performance improvement plan to discover intention, ability and capacity to learn new skills to see sustainable results in 60-90 days.
3. Role bigger than the skill
- Scenario: The right person with the right skills is hired for a small office, or new initiative in a growth phase. Over time, the job increases into a new set of responsibilities, requirements and skills, and the person hasn’t kept up.
- Seek to understand: Is this still the right person for the right season? Where are they in their competencies, and what do they need to grow? Can you help them close the gap by microwaving some situational training and management? Do you want to retrain them and potentially explore other positions in the organization?
- Evaluate: In six to nine months, the person achieves a sustained ability to adapt and use new skills.
You are the steward of the vision and the mission God has given your organization.”
4. New challenge needed
- Scenario: A strong performer who loves what they’re doing over time plateaus and starts to wane over time.
- Seek to understand: Competency assessment can help point to reasons behind boredom. Reassignment in a new cross-functioning team can reveal a person’s desire and capacity and unhinge their gifts and talents.
- Evaluate: Assess and redeploy in four to six months.
Whatever the fit concern may be, Tara offers two practical encouragements:
- “Fear is at the heart of addressing fit concerns. We fear we might harm a long-term friendship. We’re unsure how to move through the uncertain waters of work performance issues. Yet fear shouldn’t have the final say. Whether it’s a redeployment within or beyond the organization, often I’ve seen that God has something new for this person, including a new season of ministry. Once the decision has been made, you can pastor this person as they navigate their next steps.
- “Grace and truth should be the banner we carry into every conversation. The kindest form of management is going to be the truth. And truth has a lot to do with receiving and giving feedback. We would be spared over 75% of our most difficult interactions if managers engaged in ongoing, specific, actionable feedback.
Certainly, not all conversations involving fit concerns are going to go well. Emotions, decisions, careers, and salaries are all in play, and it can be delicate and messy. Yet, sometimes a success story, like the one Tara shared with me, can allow us to savor the fruit of our labor:
“Several years ago, a manager came to me and said he was at his wits’ end. He said he was ready to terminate a staff member who was creating a lot of strife among the team, while the quality of work was declining.
I asked this manager, “How can we seek to better understand this situation and learn some new perspectives to the root of attitude and behavior shift?”
By listening to the employee, we learned he’d been on the receiving end of a very hard conversation in which he felt dismissed and overlooked. He now harbored some unforgiveness, causing some interesting team-and-boss dynamics. Through some intentional, follow-up conversations, he and his manager were able to reconcile. Over the next 18 months, by incorporating a plan of constructive, ongoing feedback and skill development, the person was given new and greater responsibilities. Today, he’s in a highly influential leadership role at our church.”
“If we had given up on him out of frustration and hadn’t asked the hard questions that revealed the root cause of his struggle, we would have lost him.”
Lesson: Every time you address a specific fit concern with grace and truth, you increase the likelihood of discovering God’s best for both your employees and your organization. In all of this, remember who you are:
“Be the shepherd and carry your sheep,” says Tara. “You are the steward of the vision and the mission God has given your organization. You are ultimately responsible for making sure that vision comes to fruition. You are stewarding people, resources and time, and in that you are also a shepherd. You can be both the protector and the pastor at the same time! In doing so, you’re making sure your mission is being fulfilled and your people are being pastored along the way.”
It’s Your Turn!
As you reflect on what you’ve read, has a specific work situation or person come to mind? What are your biggest questions and hopes as you seek to move forward?
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