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Ken Keller: Confronting performance reality and acting on it

Posted: June 10, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: June 10, 2012 1:30 a.m.
 

When contemplating Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower winning the 1952 election, President Harry Truman said, “He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike, it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.”

Truman understood that as an organization grows and people are added, execution slows. In fact, it can grind to a halt and the leader may not even realize it.

Every company has one — perhaps more than one — individual not meeting expectations. If I were to ask 10, 20 or even 100 owners who falls into this category, each one could almost instantly visualize a person in his or her organization; many would volunteer a name, title and length of employment.

Almost every owner would begin with, “I really like Mike, but. …”

When coaching owners, I respond by saying, “Let’s remove ‘like’ and focus on Mike’s performance.”
Freed of likability, the owner proceeds into a lengthy tirade, an indictment of sorts, of how Mike is not doing the job the owner wants him to do.

Asking clarifying questions, I almost always end by asking, “Why is Mike still on the payroll?”

This is the question most owners fear. They know the answer and don’t want to say it out loud. I would bet that all have vented to their better half for many months about their “Mike.”

Telling people they are not doing what you want them to do is difficult. Sometimes telling them what you want them to do is a challenge, too. Some owners expect employees to do the jobs they were hired to do, without providing a job description, training and orientation or setting objectives.

I am not saying that employees falling into the category of underperformance should be terminated. Some may ultimately deserve to be, but not until due process has taken its course. What I am saying is that having a “confronting reality” conversation with the Mikes in the company is paramount.

The person who is at fault for underperformance is not the employee, it is the owner.

Chances are the owner has never learned the tools to conduct difficult conversations about expectations, about underperformance and about potential consequences for failing to turn things around.

I’ve said this before in my columns, but no one can be a good employee without clear and measurable goals.

Otherwise, the company becomes a place where people are paid regularly but spend the day doing what they believe is important. That usually runs 180 degrees counter to what the owner wants.

When it comes to confronting reality, the owner needs to set the example and the owner needs to become the teacher. The lessons cannot be taught once and then expected to be understood and flawlessly executed.

People learn at different speeds and in different ways. This is also because most people don’t take the owner seriously. And why should they?

Most employees are going to ignore what the owner says based on the boss’ past performance. Underperforming employees know that the boss has a habit of saying something once and never following up, never inspecting and never holding people accountable for learning and execution.

The bark is far worse than the bite because there is no bite. That has to change.

Good employees want to know what is expected. They want to be measured against results. Good employees want to be challenged and they want to be rewarded. They also want the boss to inspect their work, give them feedback and give them an opportunity to improve.

Underperforming employees expect to stay on the payroll because the owner likes them. You are doing your productive employees a great disservice because of this paradox.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with companies interested in growing top line revenue. He can be reached at KenKeller@SBCglobal.net. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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