The Pain of Round Pegs in Square Holes
Passion is essential but it doesn’t solve everything.
About a month ago I invited one of our lead people to take on a new role. It’s not working out and it’s my fault. They were passionate; but now I see frustration. They’re out of their sweet spot.
Passion isn’t omnipotence or aptitude. For example, I’m passionate that initiatives are completed efficiently with spectacular results. That doesn’t make me a great organizer. I’m learning; but I look to others for that expertise.
It’s my fault when the right people end up doing the wrong things. My job is to maximize the potential of people in my care. I failed this person.
A basic premise:
Dynamic organizations consist of energized individuals doing things they love. When dedicated people lose their passion leaders take action.
It only took a couple weeks to realize I’d blown it. I went to “Joe,” not his real name, and said, “I want you doing things you love doing. I think you’re great at short-term projects but long-term organization frustrates you.” He concurred.
I reiterated our commitment to create an organization where people do things they love doing.
Finally, I committed to him that we would figure out how to keep him focused on things he loves doing and protect him from things that frustrate him.
Since then, I’ve be working to reassign and better leverage our talent. Two people are shifting focus and one is stepping into new responsibilities. Joe will be in his sweet spot.
Personal struggles may temporarily cool the passion of an otherwise passionate employee or volunteer. When that happens support them. On the other hand, cooling passion may be your fault. In either case, leaders always take responsibility to fuel fires.
What do you do when the right people are doing the wrong things?
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Round pegs in the square holes is mismatch. And mismatch inhibits full result even if you apply your full effort. Similarly, right people at wrong place may affect the passion. I could be priority or need for people for time being, but it does affect personal passion. People can be motivated to meet their needs but that motivation can not make the people passionate. I think, passion is inside out driven initiative and motivation is outside in driven action.
So, right people doing wrong things depend on circumstances. Personal belief and characteristic play major role. People with weak values do not realize their potential and fall into doing wrong things. The way to put right people doing right things is to provide them opportunity and realize them. Many a times, people do not know whether they are doing right or wrong things. Most of the times, it is our ignorance and ego that create block in our mind. So, it is the personal belief and perception that can help people to put right people doing right things.
I counseled a client in this exact scenario yesterday. Since the duties that the best employee has been given don’t match his strengths, he is avoiding those mis-matched functions and blaming things on another manager (least preferred coworker). The antagonistic relationship is taking the energy out of the entire 12 employee system. As of next week, new job descriptions for both, a meeting with the two about “synergy” and a week with the owner at national conference. Both will return with new accountability standards and if things don’t improve there will be a basis to consider making personnel changes.
@Ajay, I like your comment about weak personal values. Huge contribution to workplace frustration. #leadership
Enjoy the weekend!
Great story on “The Pain of Round Pegs in Square Holes.” I especially like when you recognized giving your employee the wrong role and discussed how to give him a project that will match his skills and personality. Wow! What a great boss.
I love the MBTI for team building and identifying strengths and weaknesses to create balance among team members and employees.
This is a must read for all professionals in a leadership role. Thank you. Kim Marino
This is so true an hits close to home. I recently made this mistake. I failed to act as quickly as you because I mis-diagnosed the fit issue. My desire to be a compassionate and patient leader caused by employee to do a job she hated and so would never be great at. She continued out of a sense of duty because she had made a commitment to me. In the end ibwas bad for us both. Lesson learned.
Pivotal moment Dan…to first apologize to ‘Joe’ for putting them in that position without the right tools. While there does need to be a level of discomfort so that we do not stagnate or regress and do grow, too much too long and we drown.
Walking in Joe’s shoes…how extremely uncomfortable/vulnerable he must have been as he wanted to succeed and show you he appreciated your confidence in him. Ouch. He trusted you.
At the same time, what a great opportunity to learn and also apply leadership skills. Huge appreciation to Joe for being willing to step out of his comfort zone (with another apology from the leader of course). That he is willing to risk is an asset. So what does he need…skills and a touch of shared wisdom perhaps. If he is not too raw, this is a time to see what else Joe might consider or want to build skills in…intermediate term projects? Or linking short term projects? This again a time to share the learning with Joe from what you learned and that you value a learning environment for all because that helps an organization stay vital and true to vmv.
Here’s what I really love about this: the assumption of responsibility by the leader for the success of those in his/her charge. So many ‘Managers’ are obsessed only with how others in their charge reflect on them positively. An enlightened leader understands that when someone is not performing to their potential, it is his/her obligation to do something to improve that situation. And guess what? THAT is a positive reflection on leadership!
I am reminded of the theme of Flow, when it comes to performance. This was obviously not a sweet spot in that individual’s work at mastery. But the key is _ recognizing _ the issue and acting congruently and appropriately and not tossing in some Blame Frame.
One of my tools is the concept of Square Wheels (and my ears perk up when I see the word “square” in some context of performance). The wagon rolls on wooden Square Wheels with a cargo of round rubber tires. Thump thump, thump thump. Just like it always does.
The KEY is stepping back from the wagon to view things objectively and only from that dissociated position is it possible to see what is happening. Some of us work in the “associated” position nearly all of the time, making it hard to see things from a different perspective.
I love Dan’s writings because he is always pushing us away from the work to change our perspectives and possibly see things differently. This is another such example. The employee is not to be blamed since it is the context of the work that is at issue.
Good person + bad job = poor performance.
Find good people work that they can perform and allow them to become masters. It benefits everyone. And some training can also round off some of the corners…
Simply consult and convince them to stop doing wrong things. If it doesn’t work then bring the force to change their course of action exercising leadership powers. They may otherwise do more damages and that can spoil the organization culture and result in the downturn. Very serious matter to be handled with care. But, never ever neglect or allow the time lag or else the right people would do more of harm to themselves and to the organization without fail.
Hi Dan, I have a slightly different take on the situation. There is no way for leaders to always know all of the talents an individual has, some of which they may not realize themselves. When there is a blanket of trust, pushing people out of their sweet spot as you say can actually uncover hidden traits which although may not suit the project does give everyone knowledge for future reference. We will never know our potential if we don’t leap out of comfort zone. A culture where failure is recognized as a stepping stone to improvement will facilitate an attitude of not necessarily “can do” but one of “let me try.” Also being capable of doing the “job” does not always equate with maximum satisfaction although I have discovered over time that improving on doing the “job” leads to gratification and can eventually lead to passion. Most people end up loving what they are good at even if it took a while to get there. If I was Joe, I would be honored for the implied confidence and relieved to find out that although my strengths did not shine at the moment my Leader would continue to explore options for me. Skills can be taught, values modeled but attitude is solely under our control and a winning attitude if pervasive can lead an organization to greatness never fearing but embracing failure. As I recently read motivation is something that happens to you while inspiration is something that happens IN you. True leaders inspire a lot more than they motivate, The former grips the Vision while the latter hugs a goal.
Skills can be taught, values modeled but attitude is solely under our control…ka-ching Al!
Having been the round peg more than once, this one hits close to home. I applaud your awareness of the situation, willingness to act and openness to sharing what you learned. From my experience, the standard response has been to swing the hammer harder in an effort to make the peg fit. This dampens motivation and creativity, severely limiting the contribution the “peg” is able to make. Helping these individuals find an opportunity that rests in a more optimal intersection of their interests and skills, is likely best for all involved. Having them grit it out may lead to desirable results, but resignation can’t possibly be an optimal solution and won’t unleash their full potential.
Thanks for sharing!
I think a key element, which your organization embodies in the example you give, is that it is okay to try new things, not succeed, and yet still have a positive role in the organization. If this culture isn’t clearly established and embraced then employees frequently will not concur that they’re in a mismatched role – the risk is too high.
Appreciate this one!