Solution Saturday: High Performers Lumped in with Low Performers
I’m trying to make the argument that it is bad to admonish a team for performance issues exhibited by a subset of the team. This was a recent situation at my workplace.
We, on the team are required to use a form for submitting entries on project work. Some of us use the form as requested and some do not. Our supervisor sent a reminder to the team telling us how important it was to do.
I felt that it probably didn’t have the intended effect with the team members that aren’t using the form in addition to demotivating those of us who do. I suggested that they address such issues directly, in a timely manner, with the individuals.
As an aspiring leader, I’m curious if I’m correct, or if I am missing something.
You have made a significant impact on my life, so thanks for all you do!
Admonished with Everyone
You encourage me with your kind words. It’s a pleasure to be of service.
Aristotle explained justice as treating equals equally and unequals unequally. It feels like you’re in search of justice. The short answer to your question seems clear.
High performers want honor, not correction. They don’t enjoy being lumped together with poor performers.
Correct in private. Praise in public. (Usually)
Lumping low performers and high performers together, when delivering correction, elevates low performers and dishonors high performers.
Reasonable public approach:
Supervisors don’t have time to deal with every issue privately. This is especially true when groups are involved. There’s a way to honor performance and point out poor performance at the same time.
Acknowledge the good and point out disappointment at the same time.
Language that challenges and acknowledges:
“We have some on the team who are completing project forms. A few aren’t. Just a reminder that this is an important/necessary document. Thank you to everyone who is completing the form. I need everyone else to step up to this task.”
This may seem unfair, but when issues are young, it’s reasonable and efficient.
Don’t hide behind the team:
Supervisors often speak to the whole team in order to send a message to one person. It’s easier to correct the whole team in public than one person in private, even if it’s not the best thing to do.
- Less stress.
- Time savings.
- No pushback. Offenders remain silent when correction happens in public. The larger the group, the more likely offenders won’t push back.
The down side of lumping everyone together:
- Resentment. High performing team members resent both supervisors and poor performing team members when they feel dishonored.
- Disrespect. People interpret the ‘lumping strategy’ as cowardice.
- Demotivation. High performers wonder why they’re even trying if they have to be corrected with everyone else.
You’re on the mark with concern about demotivation. Supervisors often forget the impact of their words, behaviors, and body language while working to get things done.
Managing energy is a neglected skill. It’s awkward for many in supervision. I like to ask questions about feelings. It’s not surprising that supervisors haven’t thought this through. Some don’t care.
- How do you want people to feel in the meeting?
- How do you want people to feel after the meeting?
- How do you want people to feel about themselves? (Insert: the organization, the team other members, leadership, or you.)
You might use the above questions for yourself.
Thank you for your question.
You have my best,
What suggestions might you have for ‘Admonished with Everyone’?
*I relax the 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.
Great post Dan! Too many supervisors do this and much too often, offending the high performers.
Thanks Yanelle. Yes indeed.
Great question and response. When I first took a leadership position, I sent a blanket email out to people arriving to work late when in truth it was only two employees! A couple of my “best” performers talked to me about it and I have made sure the last two decades to never let that happen again.
Thanks Jay. Wonderful story. I’m thankful for your transparency.
Based on situation description, the answer is there. Use the forms no exception! The form is listed as a requirement as I read the scenario, the option not to use is disrespectful toward the team. Enforce the form or change the offenders.
Thanks Tim. I notice that sometimes leaders say things are necessary, but when people don’t follow through they do nothing. It makes me question if those things really are necessary.
That’s what I thought when I read your comment.
Dan, after pondering ” the form”, I see some critical points.
Is the form mission critical?
Does the form enhance the performance of the company?
Are we creating a paper trail of B.S.?
Since it is a team approach would not 1 form from the team be efficient?
How complex is theform, can we simplify items?
I am a paperless proponent, unfortunately when your in business you need paperwork, invoices, forms to verify what was done, etc., to get paid.
contracts turn into pages of forms to protect all parties in theory till one reads the fine print!
So the point is how critical is the form?
Have a great day!
Excellent, Dan. Superb. Thanks.
On the other hand, I outlined a post about dis-un-empowerment and the idea of Disruptive Engagement with the purpose of getting people to DO things rather than worry too much about the form and the policies and procedures and all that stuff that Admin and HR and T&D add on TOP of the work that actually can be innovated and improved.
Like the old ISO 9000 “quality” stuff that was about doing all the paperwork completely and accurately to insure what turned out to be CONSISTENTLY mediocre output. It got in the way of simply doing things.
And there was that post three days ago on Medium about appointing a Director of Getting SH*T DONE whose role was to challenge all the crap that got in the way of, well, getting stuff done!
I am guessing that there are LOTS of perspectives around this “performance problem” and intrinsic motivation and team motivation and all that. Wheeeeeee…..
Thanks Scott. Love your passion for getting things done. There are so many factors and forces working against work. I think Admonished shares your concern. It’s entirely too easy for leaders to make it difficult to get things done.
(And I do have that video we did called, “Godzilla Meets Bambi” that anchors some of the reasons that innovation gets “impacted” by organizations…
This sounds like what’s happened in education (i.e., too much paperwork means less time to actually teach). We often underestimate the stress/time it takes to track every detail. In a fast paced world, there needs to be balance between adequate/meaningful tracking and doing the work. I’ve found, if you’re willing to take the time, the team can be very helpful in finding more effective ways to track information. This is true particularly when it is framed in a way that shows you want to clear the way so they can get their job done. It’s also a whole lot easier to get buy in when they are part of the process.
Thanks Mim. If you expect engagement then you must engage people. Who knows how the team will find ways to make things work better.
I couldn’t help but think of the challenge of government involvement and the need for paperwork.
I use to do that because I thought that it was best. I didn’t point out the person who was failing and by not doing that I was thinking it gave them a safe way to improve. I was so wrong. You are correct the high performers were mad that I lumped them in the same group and the ones not performing just saw it as they got away with it. I also lost respect as a leader and was seen as weak and not willing to engage or afraid of confrontation and maybe I was. I now understand that confrontation is a leaders opportunity to deal with low performers. I will never let myself do that again. I love how your blog reminds me of my lessons and the commitment that I have made to myself as a leader. Thank you and those who give some amazing feed back.
Thanks Walt. It’s so helpful to read your story. You got me thinking about different kinds of low performers. Some aspire to be better. Deal with them with encouragement. Those who don’t want to improve, deal with their lack of desire. If it doesn’t improve, there isn’t much to do. When I say deal with their lack of desire to improve, we should remember that some people will come alive if their job is changed. They could be doing the wrong thing.
Thank you for the detailed sharing, high performance is a very complicated process, but you gave some good advice
Thanks for this insightful post, Dan. I’ve been lurking for a year or so and always like the content and reactions, and now I felt I needed to respond myself:
Aside from the usefulness of ‘the form’: You could also make it very clear that you give the team a shared responsibility: they either succeed together, or they fail together. Then the issue of a non-filled-in form is a team failure.
If you set it up like this make also very sure to give the team every opportunity and support to become a real team (ref. ‘Five dysfunctions of a team’, for example).
A team will always have some very good and some mediocre players, but mostly the mediocre players bring something else to the table that the very good players need to be able to be very good (yes, and you might want to get rid of the bad players).
I am enjoying the conversation. I would add an additional thought. In all my years in HR and in Leadership Development, this is one of the most common mistakes new supervisors make as it feels “right” and “less scary” than talking to the individuals. The problem is not only the feeling of disrespect from those that are following the directions/expectations, but that the individuals that need the message often ignore it because they recognize that the sup is not going to address him/her directly. Everyone else knows who should be getting the message. Really undermines the sups credibility. This happens often with dress code, punctuality, attendance, process, etc. Slippery slope!