(1) Positive Intent: Everyone deserves a chance to understand what’s expected of them. While perhaps you shouldn’t have to ‘tell’ someone this, in reality…you do. Clearly, you still care that these people are successful. That’s a good thing because conversations like this one need to begin with positive intent. You truly do need to hope that these people can be successful. You have to want them to stay for all the right reasons.
(2) Have a Conversation: As you open a dialogue with a peer, ask one or more of the following questions during your discussion:
- What is your perception of how things are going on the team?
- What do you like best about what you do?
- What do you wish you could do more of?
- What is your biggest frustration? (Followed by: How do you think you might alleviate that frustration?)
- When it comes to what you do, what do you think are the top 2-3 key expectations our team peers have of you? (Followed by: Which of those expectations do you think you do best? Worst? Why?)
- On a scale of 1-10 (1=Rock Bottom; 10=Outstanding), how would you rank your performance (or, your contribution to the team initiatives)? [Wait for a response.] (Clearly, you’ve given this person a lower ranking. This is a great question because it quickly demonstrates a gap, and you can have a conversation around why you gave a lower ranking than s/he gave himself/herself.)
(3) Prepare to be Honest: If this is a problem that bothers you and others, then be willing to address it vs. ignore it. That’s what’s fair. It also raises the bar on team accountability and sets an example. As the dialogue ensues, you should feel free to interject your own perspectives. Your honesty can be tempered with your positive intent—that you truly do desire the absolute best for the person. How other people accept your intent is up to them.
(4) Give Specific Examples: Be prepared to give specific examples vs. merely talking in generalities.
(5) Manage Your Own Expectations: The other person might become a bit defensive. Expect that rather than being surprised or intimidated by it. If you’ve approached it in the right way with the right intent, that’s all you can do. Many times, no one has ever bothered to tell the person how frustrated others are with his/her lackluster performance, and now you’ll be the messenger (suddenly, it might seem to the other person, out of the clear blue sky). While avoidance of an uncomfortable situation is usually the root cause, not having the right kind of discussion with a troubled peer has done nothing but engrain the very behaviors that others on the team find so irritating. Therefore, manage your expectations if the person becomes a bit irritated or seems surprised, etc.
(6) Personal Accountability: Before the conversation ends, clarify what the person might consider doing differently from this point forward. Sometimes people are simply overwhelmed; they succumb vs. trying to figure out how to prioritize and focus on what’s most important. If needed, be empathetic but also be willing to help the person recognize what s/he might want to focus on doing.
(7) The Framework: The foundation for any such conversation should be the organization’s Core Values (as clearly lower performers are usually not living those values). Some teams also have guiding tenants, or ground rules, for working together that align with the company’s values. Use those as a framework for your discussion.
(8) Don’t Get Hijacked: The individual might begin blaming others or pointing the finger at someone or something else. Keep the conversation focused by repeating (or rephrasing) what you just said vs. getting sucked into defending someone else, etc. Keep the conversation focused on solutions.
(9) Stop the Cycle: If other team members complain about the performance of others, it’s also good to ask them what they might consider doing about the situation. Raise the bar and get away from the cycle of complaining and instead create a cycle of “doing something about it.” What is that person going to do to help underperforming team members understand the frustration they’re causing?
(10) Create Mutual Accountability: In your Weekly Meetings, create mutual accountability by asking tough questions such as: Why hasn’t the needle moved on this project? What can we do to help you get unstuck? What are the barriers? Also, many under-performers try to justify their ‘performance’ by always statusing their success as “Green.” Things are moving forward! In reality, though, you and your team know otherwise. Don’t ignore what you see. Instead, ask questions as noted above. It could also be that the success metrics are set too low (or are simply the wrong ‘success’ metrics altogether). Suggest recalibrating the metrics to more challenging (although attainable) ones. Holding each other accountable is what great teams do.
In summary, Stephen Covey noted that every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it’s getting. If, over time, the under-performers don’t do anything differently…then it’s time for a discussion around the potential implications of continued poor performance. If there are no ultimate accountabilities, then you’ll likely live with the under-performers for many years to come. Caring enough, though, to have a meaningful conversation that is embedded with positive intent is the best way to elevate not only the performance of under-performers, but also of the entire team.