How to Spend Less Time Solving Performance Issues and More Time Delivering Results

It’s tempting to prioritize poor performers and neglect middle and top performers.

Leaders believe small improvements in poor performance make a big difference. They’re right, but how likely is progress?


The trap:

Leaders fall into the trap of dedicating too much time and energy to poor performers because poor performers:

  1. Waste resources.
  2. Frustrate team mates.
  3. Have tons of lost potential. You hired them because they were awesome.

The personal side of spending too much time with poor performers:

  1. Ego boosts. You feel important, perhaps superior, when dealing with poor performers.
  2. False compassion. You avoid tough conversations under the guise of compassion.
  3. Pressure. Higher ups expect you to do something about poor performers.
  4. Savior syndrome. You love riding in on your white horse. (See ego boost.)

4 rules of thumb for dealing with poor performers:

  1. Don’t ignore poor performers. Ignoring poor performers sends the wrong message to everyone.
  2. Institute progressively aggressive short-term interventions.
  3. If, after repeated efforts, there’s little improvement, change direction. Don’t employ the same strategies and expect different results.
  4. If, after repeated efforts, there’s progress, keep it up!

Don’t declare victory too soon, when you see small improvements.

Three overlooked reasons for poor performance:

  1. Misdirected passion. Everyone has passion. Poor performers are passionate about other things.
  2. Arrogance. They don’t need to improve. Others are the problem.
  3. Lack of self-awareness. They don’t see themselves as they are seen.

Dive deep to solve nagging performance issues.

Training won’t help when passion is the issue. Setting goals won’t help when arrogance blocks progress. Encouragement won’t help when lack of self-awareness prevents growth.


Deliver tough feedback kindly.

Lack of self-awareness – administer a 360 degree assessment.

Misdirected passion – explore authenticity and purpose.

Arrogance – practice humility. Seek and adopt advice from teammates.

The joyful middle:

Middle performers represent the greatest opportunity for improvement.

What are some overlooked reasons for poor performance?

How might leaders overcome the trap of spending too much time with poor performers?

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