One of the biggest challenges leaders face is having to make tough decisions with regards to members of their team. How many chances do you need to give to someone before it is best for everyone to just part ways and start afresh? In this article, we are going to look at the best way to manage tough decisions but also, we are going to discuss a few things to keep in mind before any snap decisions are made.
Firstly, as a leader your major priority is your team and the performance of that team. No one individual can come above the team. We have seen multiple times in sport where individual team members have tried to get their way in either the removal of a team leader or wanting to be paid more than anyone else in that team. At the end of the day the team will always out last any individual and so any decisions based around an individual need to be done so with the health of the team at the centre of that decision. However sometimes, the decision about an individual can actually be about when is the best time to let them go if their performance is lower than expected for a prolonged period of time.
No leader who is genuinely driven by the success of their team, enjoys firing or dropping team members. A good leader invests in each member of their team and so the decision to turn your back on one of these team members feels like you are turning your back on all of the time and investment that you have given to them. So, before you do make that final call, it’s important to consider a few things regarding your own role in their development and behaviours. A lot of your success as a leader is based upon your own levels of self-confidence. Now there is a massive difference between and arrogant leader who becomes a bit of a peacock and a leader with self-confidence. A self-confident leader has the ability to lift the mirror up in front of themselves and ask whether they gave that member of their team everything they could? An arrogant leader will only look externally for reasons as to why that team member is underperforming,
It can’t be my fault, they just aren’t good enough or don’t want it enough…
these will be the thoughts of the arrogant leader.
Looking in to your role in more detail, one of the first things you need to do as a leader either when you inherit a new team member or recruit them yourself is to understand the person that they are away from the desk. One of the ‘hats’ that we discuss in other articles and during our training programmes that a team leader wears is as a ‘mentor’. As a mentor, you want to invest time in your team members ‘away from the game’ to get an understanding of how they think but also how they receive and process information. This one on one time away from the desk enables you to have more in depth conversations about challenges or their personal motivations that they may not want to openly discuss in front of the rest of team. It also gives you the chance as their manager to ask them what they want or expect from you in order for them to achieve their full potential. From experience, it is much easier to manage an individual once you know their story. What are they motivated by, where are their buttons to press and what do they need from leader in order to perform at the highest level consistently? These types of conversations do not need to happen every day because otherwise you would never get any work done but if you block out 15-20 minutes a month for each member of your team then it will enable you greater influence back at the desk where they will spend the majority of their time. At the desk you want to be able to give short yet effective feedback, both positive and developmental. This time away from the desk will enable you to work out what needs to be said and what doesn’t, because sometimes things that are not said publicly can be just as impactful!
You are managing a team of individuals, manage them as team of individuals not just a team.
If we think about successful leaders in sport, probably the most successful ‘mentor’ was Sir Alex Ferguson. Every single person who he managed in his 20 years at Manchester United all continue to sing his praises even to this day as the manager that had a big, if not the biggest impact on their careers. He had a superb ability to know who needed an arm around the shoulder and a boost of confidence in order to improve performance and who needed the infamous ‘hair-dryer treatment’. There is no single blue print to what makes up a high performer, the way they receive information, behave and function under pressure may all be different from one to the next.
One of the biggest factors about why people leave their job is because of the managers they work for. If they feel as if they understand them as people and invest their time and energy in the right way then someone is more likely to not only stay but also feel that human need of reciprocity. They want to do well not only for themselves but also because they know that their success is directly linked to yours. That feeling of trust will also mean that a team member under pressure is more likely to put their hand up and ask for help, which means any problems or challenges can be quickly addressed and then the relevant solutions be implemented. Without that trust and ability to speak up, then an under-pressure consultant is more likely to go in to their shell, and then reinforce the behaviour that has created that challenge in the first place. Thus, leading to a greater problem and then ultimately the potential reason why you are making your decision on to whether they are worth keeping on.
As people, it is natural to make assumptions on a situation when we don’t know all the facts, we try and fill in the blanks ourselves. If we see a team all of a sudden underperforming and retracting within to their shell, then without knowing the information or having that strong relationship which allows honesty, we are likely to start thinking that they no longer have the commitment to the role or just plain aren’t good enough. Again, the arrogant leader would focus externally and think ‘well if I was them I would be staying later or working harder to rectify those numbers’. One of the biggest pitfalls that new leaders fall into is that everyone thinks like they do. As humans, we naturally ‘like’ and build rapport quicker with people who we see a projection of our own self-image in. What this means is that we can start to develop unconscious bias towards a person, both positive and negative. Although you won’t admit it, if you were honest and thought about the team that you manage now or team you work within, you will have favourites in that team. If they are 30 seconds late in the morning you are probably more likely to turn a blind eye, or if they spend a few minutes too long away from the desk. However, when you naturally develop a negative bias towards someone because they approach things in a different way to you or carry themselves in a different way you will pick up on these cues to almost reinforce your own negative perception in your mind. ‘See, that’s why he isn’t hitting his numbers, he is never on the phone…’. Just because someone approaches something in a different way to you, does not make them wrong or suggest they don’t care as much. If they still end up where you want them then their journey there should not matter.
The last thing that you need to consider in terms of your own impact on a team members performance is whether they all know what you expect from them. Do they know what your vision is for the team? Do you have a clear vision for your team? Having clarity on what their role is in achieving the team goal is equally as important as their own competence. If they know what their role is and what your expectations are of them and have had the investment from a competency perspective, then they have no reason to not deliver. Consistently successful teams are made up of thinkers, people who have clarity on where the team is going and how they are going to get there. Not a team that is made up of people who are fully dependent on their team leader to direct them on an hourly basis. If there is doubt in what the right thing to be doing is then the majority of people are risk averse, and so will be more likely to again retract a little because they don’t want to stand out if they think they may be in the wrong.
To conclude, making a decision to remove a team member is one of the hardest parts of being a leader. So rather than basing it purely on a gut feel and emotion, it is important that first you look at yourself and your own impact on their performance. Have I invested enough time in the character to understand why they are here? Do I know what they require from me? Have they got the confidence to put their hand up and ask for help on their BD calls or pipeline conversion? Am I thinking negatively about them because they aren’t like me and so it would make my management life easier if they weren’t here? Or finally do they know what I expect of them and where this team is going? If you can answer all of those questions confidently and you have done all you can to drive their greatest levels of performance, then the decision becomes a quick one. Do not waste time making a decision if all the facts point in one direction and their behaviours are having an impact on the overall team performance. That’s enough second chances!