What to do about mediocrity on your team

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The toughest test of a manager is not how they deal with poor performance — it’s how they address mediocrity.

Often executives opine in public about the need for “accountability” and “high performance,” then complain helplessly in private about one or two middling members of their own team. You have no moral authority to ask other managers to hold people accountable if you’re not doing so yourself. Are you sure you’re doing enough to push for high performance? What do you do when someone’s work is good but not great?

mediocrityonteam | Teamrecruit

Unfortunately, if you’re hoping for a silver bullet to address a mediocre performer, I have little to offer. Chronic mediocrity is generally a symptom of ineffective leadership.

But mediocrity is not destiny. In fact, I’ve even seen examples of government bureaucracies in tragically broken countries that dramatically turned around their performance in a matter of months. They do it through four leadership practices that lead to performance excellence. Each is a prerequisite for the next.

1. Show the consequences of mediocrity. Your first job as a leader is to ensure everyone is clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Mediocrity is typically evidence of disconnection between someone’s work and the consequences of their mediocrity.

Find ways to connect people with the experiences, feelings, and impact of good and bad performance. Keep the human connection alive by telling stories that illustrate work well done — or not. And avoid impersonal/bureaucratic language when talking about performance; frame your work in human terms whenever you can.

2. Use concrete measures as influence. Mediocrity often hides behind a fig leaf of absent, fuzzy, or excessive measures. In contrast, meaningful measures make poor performance painfully apparent.

Clear and meaningful goals that are in context with the work your staff are doing can dramatically boost efficacy. Including warm and fuzzy shared aspirations without translating it to a minimum number of meaningfully measurable goals, can result in the influence of your measures being limited.

3. Establish peer accountability. Mediocrity is also often a sign of strong supervision. That may sound counterintuitive, so stay with me here. My colleagues and I have found that:

On the weakest teams, there is no accountability. On mediocre teams, bosses are the source of accountability. On top performing teams, peers immediately and respectfully confront each other when problems arise. It’s impossible to see and address every performance gap. The harder you try, the more you’ll enable mediocrity.

Once you’ve helped the team connect deeply with what they do and why, and established meaningful measures, you need to build a culture of peer accountability – where everyone can challenge anyone if it is in the best interest of serving the shared mission.

4. Speak up. High performance is a norm that needs to be defended regularly. There will inevitably be times you will be asked to make sacrifices to defend that norm. What you do in these moments is a sign to the team of your commitment to high performance — and, therefore, your worthiness to demand it of them. For example:

A chronic poor performer is a clear impediment. How you handle this situation will let your team know whether your highest value is keeping the peace or pursuing your mission. If you shrink from or delay in addressing this issue, you don’t just lose that person’s contribution — you send a message to everyone else about your values.

Individual performance problems are far easier to address if you’ve done the work of establishing a norm of excellence. These four simple but important practices can rapidly and profoundly shift a group’s expectations in a way that leads to both better results and a substantially more rewarding work experience for everyone.

(Source: Joseph Grenny – HBR.org)

Teamrecruit is Australia’s most established recruitment agency specialising in truck, earthmoving and agricultural machinery dealerships in Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. Find out more about Teamrecruit and how we support employers and candidates in the dealership industry.

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