Seth Godin recently blogged about performance, and outlined four kinds: Bad, Good, Remarkable, and Personal. Here is the whole post.
In a world where we too often treat performance with labels like Right person/Right seat or A player / B player / C player – it is good to just use words that we all know.
Leading performance is about not walking by the work without letting people know what you see. It is about getting their view of the work and what they see in others. It about celebrating things being done, asking a few questions to plant seeds that might lead to a different view of the work, and challenging people to a different level of involvement and ownership. Try these:
- Where did you see passion in someone else’s work this week? How can we celebrate that?
- How did you personalize your work this week and who benefited from it?
- What work do you have in front of you that has a chance to be remark-able in how you do it? What will make it worthy of that label?
Of course you ask these questions, listen, and always revisit them.
Personally, I would drop Bad and Good in favor of Absent and Solid.
I like reading Seth – his thoughts are generally remark-able.
(note: Whenever I speak to groups I provide cards to them in case they have a question I cannot answer during our conversation(fyi: I call all my presentations ‘conversations’). My commitment is that I will blog answers in 2 weeks. This question was submitted to me after my Talent Scorecard presentation at the 2011 Wisconsin SHRM Conference in Madison. I do not edit questions – because my commitment is to answer what is asked.)
Question: What doyou do if your most successful sales employee and shareholder is the one costing leadership to lose money and sleep?
One of my core beliefs since working with many smaller businesses is that loyalty matters, and being slow to let someone go is okay. As I read your question two things come to mind:
- How is success defined for this person?
- When their performance is evaluated – are they judged based on WHAT they accomplish, as well as HOW they accomplish it?
I think back to a situation where the top technology person at a company struggled for years with alcoholism that caused multiple missed work days, missed deadlines, and bristled work relationships as he relapsed repeatedly at company parties, sales events, etc. All of this, and he stayed in place for many years.
One key habit that is critical for any organization is the CEO going down the list of their people and talking through each person in terms of what they provide, what success looks like for them, and how they are performing from a metrics as well as a culture standpoint. The key people/key role discussion that is described in the Talent Scorecard is critical to bringing focus to this issue. Since doing this with an internal HR person is often difficult, it should be done with a board group or an outside consultant. The value is a safe place to process information and ask yourself some tough questions.
Finally, the book SWAY made a point about irrational decisions. In studies of people, if they looked at a situation from a net loss perspective, they were less likely to make a rational decision. An example is investing: When people say to themselves – If I sell today I will lose 10% of my initial investment – then the are more likely to ride it down lower, even if the outlook is grim. People are the same way. When they start looking at people and saying – if we let this person go then our sales will suffer, or the knowledge they have will go away – then we keep them, even if all the other evidence points to it being a bad decision.
Anything to add based on your experience?
Good News! Getting B players more energized, engaged, and acting like an A player is not an expensive initiative. The reality? It will take a time commitment from leaders. Here are three moves you can make today to raise the energy level and commitment of your B players.
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Leaders need to spend time monthly talking about the performance of the business, quarterly talking about the near term goals, and yearly reviewing the goals and vision for the business. B’s are out there looking for leadership, some clear direction, authenticity, and something to get excited about – so give it to them!
2. Regular One on One Time: As leaders, we look at our solid players and give thanks they are low maintenance. When the demands on our time increases the common response is to take them for granted and slip into a more no maintenance mode. Nothing says you are valued more than time, and people need to feel valued before they will get excited . What if you sat down monthly with your B’s and started asking questions like:
- What challenges are you/the team experiencing this week?
- What questions are you hearing from people about the business?
- What do you see out there that needs fixing?
- What questions do you have for me?
After you ask a question just listen. If having regular one on one time is new be patient. It might take several weeks or months for people to open up because they need to see your commitment to them. If you listen and follow-up on any commitments you make trust will increase and engagement will follow.
3. Help Them Set Goals: B’s are generally doing the core part of their job very well. Use the yearly evaluation time or one on one time to affirm their value, offer support to help them grow to meet personal goals, and invite them to help fix a few things or guide some change. B’s are not looking for a 60 hour work week so they might appear hesitant. If they have some personal constraints that restrict them from giving the business extra time get creative. Whether it is testing a new system, meeting with customers coming in for a visit, or taking a new person under their wing to help them learn – there is untapped potential with these solid team members.
Remember, LOW maintenance is not NO maintenance. Pay a little attention, be authentic, and invite them to jump in. What would be the impact on your business if 50% of your B players poured some extra energy into solving one problem, finding one more customer, or identifying and implementing one efficiency improvement?
*this is an excerpt from a frequent publication by The trU Group called trU Tips. To view past topics click here.
What I’m hearing
A friend and mentor sent me this question “You’ve given advice on how to handle the strongest and weakest performers on a team, but what about the B players?”
What it means
First, let’s quickly define who the B players are: they’re the people who get the work done, have limited aspirations or potential to move higher in the organization, and likely have a nickname around an adjective like “Steady Eddy,” “Reliable Ruth” or “Dependable Dave.” Having these people around is priceless yet frustrating because they do their jobs but often aren’t looking for more work.
We hide people in this category, so just saying “B player” is often misleading. A client described a person on his team who was solid, knowledgeable and dependable — and everyone in the office was afraid of her (including her boss) because she was also domineering and abrasive. Yet she was a solid performer in his eyes. We HIDE too many people in the “B” area because they are “valuable” or “knowledgeable,” all while creating fear in peers and negatively impacting the team. So I would expand the definition of “B player” into three categories:
- B-plus: Content in their current roles but willing to share their vast knowledge to mentor new people. They contribute to teams looking to innovate and optimize what work is being done.
- B: Solid contributors who are not interested in or capable of growing others at this point in their careers. They generally build positive relationships with teammates and consistently get things done.
- B-minus: Solid to exceptional contributors who get the work done but build few, if any, positive relationships with people around them. They do not cultivate expertise in the group, but give direction instead.
What you should do
People need to hear the truth, and the performance evaluation process is the perfect place to challenge B players — who likely comprise 50 to 60 percent of your workforce — but in a different way than you would A or C players. Don’t rewrite your form, but include the following items as post-it addendums if needed:
- Three to five things you see them doing extremely well.
- A list of adjectives that come to mind when thinking about what they accomplish but how they accomplish it. Include words that describe how others perceive them.
- One request, in the form of a goal, that they could accomplish that would help the overall strength of the team —mentoring, permanently fixing a process, cultivating a key customer relationship, etc.
That third item can provide you with an opportunity to divide your B players up a little and challenge them to move the team forward.
B and B-plus players have a place on the team. They have ideas, and may respond to challenges in a way that will surprise you. Those who fall into the B-minus category have to be put on notice, and as the leader you need to be bold enough to have that conversation.
Want to hear more? View the video supplement on YouTube.