Addressing underperformance the right way

Addressing underperformance the right way

As leaders, or leadership teams, start to think about how to handle performance on their team for the first time, they often focus on who they deem as underperformers first. As a result, you’ll see leaders begin targetting their underperformers openly or subvertly. Mark Zuckerberg warned his employees that they were “turning up the heat” on underperformers and added, “You might decide this place isn’t for you, and that’s OK with me.”

Not exactly inspiring for an employee or for the leader that has to carry out the direction from their CEO.  Great talent wants to be involved with great leadership and if you handle underperforms the wrong way, you may get rid of your least effective people, but your best people may bail on you as well.  It’s important to tackle underperformance professionally and consistently if everyone. 

Be clear on expectations from the beginning and make them realistic

Your expectations and goals for every employee should be crystal clear. Ask yourself:

  • What do they have to do to be considered effective in their role?
  • What are the expectations on their behaviors and how they conduct their work and interact with others? (Look to your values here) 
  • What resources do they need to be successful?
  • Are the goals realistic to meet?

This clarity helps immensely as you lead others. Setting a consistent cadence of conversation also helps. Performance conversations are less likely to bubble up or to be a surprise for anyone, which reduces drama and stress in the workplace. Think about how a conversation would go if there were no ambiguity in what the person needed to do and you were checking in with them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. 

If a person is struggling to meet expectations ask them for their input on the why. The goal may not be realistic to hit under the current situation or there may be outside factors that are influencing the work that you hadn’t considered before. 

Always talk to the person before taking action

I’ve shared over the years about my interaction with leaders who just wanted to let go of people without having a conversation. I get it; they are frustrated with their limits and just want to move on. A mature leader knows that you’ve got to have those crucial conversations with others.  They will actively listen (Show 303), and attempt to understand the root cause of the issue. 

Trust is very important to help this conversation land in a positive place. When the person feels psychologically safe they will be more likely to open up and share why they are struggling. 

Shows to help with trust building

Build a plan with a clear path to rehabilitation

There are a few types of underperformers and the approach to these people changes depending on what their root issue is.

Blockers: These are people that do just enough to get by, but how they do their work is not aligned with expectations. They are also typically resistant to any kind of change that impacts them.  Help these see the impact of their decisions on themselves and others. Frame up the challenges in a way that matters to them. They likely highly value respect and honor towards themselves, helping them understand how their actions are counter to that value as they deal with others. 

Inconsistent Contributor: These are people exactly as the name describes – inconsistent. Perhaps it’s in the work that they do or you are not sure what version you are going to get of that person on a daily basis. Dig in here to understand the root cause, tighten up your cadence of check-ins and get agreement from them that they understand expectations. Call out the inconsistently plainly. It is also helpful to provide extra support and resources to help get them back on track; this could be a mentor, learning opportunities, or additional headcount support. 

Detractors: These people may not be a great fit for the organization or in the extreme case, they are all out sabotaging the team’s success.  Make sure that you have partnered with your upline leaders and HR partners here as you walk this path. Have a solidly written performance improvement plan with dates on expectations. 

Potential Gems: These people may have been great and could be great again, but today they may not be in the right role. In these circumstances, help the person find a role internally that better aligns with their gifts, talents, and aspirations. They want to do their best and likely love the organization, but perhaps they took on a role because someone asked them to, or they didn’t realize the full scope of what the role would entail. 

Overall your underperformer will likely fall into the inconsistent contributor category with detracts and blockers being more rare and potential gems being the rarest. 

Address your underperformers with empathy and care as you help them back on track with expectations. Remember that they are people too and still deserve to be treated with professionalism and respect.  Addressing the underperformance the right way ensures that you and the other person have the best chance to turn things around. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

4 elements of a great story

4 elements of a great story

Storytelling is an art that a great leader and speaker know about. There’s a reason why you remember the illustrations that others share in their presentation and how you’ll often remember the stories and analogies from a minister’s sermon before you recall the points of the message itself. People love stories!

I certainly leverage the power of storytelling in my own leadership. Being a good storyteller helps you get your message across, become more memorable to others and raise your influence level across the team. We’ve previously talked about the types of stories (EP 124)  that you should have at the ready. Today, we’ll look at 4 elements that make a great story. 

Stories don’t have to be long and elaborate

I’ve certainly been known to dial in a little bit of exaggeration or emphasis in a story to drive a point home or to land a punchline. Stories don’t have to be incredibly long, in fact, shorter stories are typically more memorable.  Here’s an example of a story that Mike talks about in our book recommendation shows:

Two friends started a computer company. One person was a brilliant engineer, and the other had a passion for marketing and design. Together, the two Steves created Apple in Steve Jobs’s garage where he lived with his parents. Together, they revolutionized the industry and made computers easy to use for the average person.  Later, Jobs was kicked out of his own company after a failed boardroom coup. A decade later he came back to pull the organization back from the brink of bankruptcy and made it into the organization that many millions love today. In 2022, the brand founded by two guys in a dad’s garage became the first U.S. company to be valued at $3 trillion.

117 words are all it took to share the story of Apple and it includes all four elements of a great story. 

It needs Structure

There are some great stories out there that have been buried by a meandering storyteller. Maybe you know a person like this; they just seem to go on-an-on with an illustration or example and the story never really ends.  There is a great episode of The Office where their branch manager Micheal (ep 289) finally has a great story to share and he just kills it by dragging it on and on until people lose interest. 

All great stories have one thing in common: they have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning sets the stage –  It’s the backdrop of the situation and introduction to the characters. The middle shines a spotlight on the conflict or obstacles and the end resolves the conflict or shares what the outcome was. 

Think about the stories that you want to share with others and visualize how the story plays out. Does it contain a definitive beginning middle and end? If so then you are already well on your way to a potentially memorable story. 

It should have Characters

Speaking of The Office, one of the main reasons that people love that show (or really any show) is because of the characters. They are memorable and unique, and oftentimes we can see a little bit of ourselves in those characters that we love the most. 

There are times when the concept of your story may be more abstract. Perhaps you are trying to capture your Mission, Vision, and Values. These abstract ideas can be embedded in your stories but the people or characters are the ones carrying the message. When I worked on a project where a company was relaunching its Values, we created videos where the executives came in and shared stories of what that particular Value meant to them or how they’ve seen it played out in the organization. We almost exclusively used the power of characters and stories to convey the message of the Values to those associates. 

There needs to be Conflict

People love good conflict in stories. It’s what keeps people engaged as they wait to hear what is next. Remember conflict doesn’t always have to be physical or violent. Other areas to think about in conflict include:

  • Time – a natural enemy to all people!
  • A breakdown in resources or communications
  • An unexpected twist to a well-thought-out plan
  • Nature or other physical barriers
  • Yourself
  • Technology
  • Society or government
  • Personalities

There are conflicts going on around you on a daily basis and it’s very likely that the basis for your story may have more than one conflict. Choose and highlight the one that best accentuates the point that you are trying to make to keep people focused and engaged. 

It needs Resolution

Every story needs to end. Give your story some closure. What was the point or lesson learned that you want to share? People enjoy hearing how someone overcame the odds or obstacles and to understand how the person or situation was transformed as a result. 

In many business-related stories, the story simply wraps up with a solution to the problem or conflict at hand. 

Craft great stories that include all the elements above. Practice and refine them with friends and family and then add them to your proverbial roll-a-dex to pull out at the right time in the future. There is quite a bit of power in storytelling as a communication tool and relationship builder.  Tell a compelling story that pulls people in and inspires them. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

Call Them In Not Out

Call Them In Not Out

There are some people that are really good at calling others out. They masterfully slay their opponents with clever comebacks and pointed wit.  It’s also popular. A subreddit called r/murderedbywords has over 2.5 million members where users share their best putdowns and callouts. 

The rise of calling people out isn’t given to just those with keyboard courage either. Look at the rise in popularity of the “Karen” videos; ladies that lose their cool while trying to belittle or call someone out. 

The problem with calling people out in leadership is that it serves no positive purpose in the end. The sense of winning, or dopamine hit, quickly wanes, and you are left with a relationship that is fractured. 

Calling people out isn’t always aggressive

Excluding others in our communication is not always done with intention. Sometimes it can be done through colloquials, jokes, or passing comments. I’ve interacted with leaders that felt that bringing attention to what they feel are light-hearted comments was unfair and overly sensitive. 

“Now we have to walk on eggshells all the time?” was a response I received once when I shared this idea. It’s not that you have to walk on eggshells and not have any fun at work, it’s more focused on being mindful of the words you say and how they impact others. 

Instead of calling people out and excluding them, you’d be better served to call people in and include them not only to build a better team but also to lift up and inspire people on a personal level. 

Call them in with benevolence

A benevolent person is one that truly wishes others well and shows a high level of kindness with those that they interact with. Take that same approach in your conversations with others. Show respect and kindness to others as you communicate formally and informally while holding true to the company’s standards and values. 

When people don’t feel psychologically safe, they throw up barriers and remain guarded and disconnected. By taking a benevolent approach, you help the person feel safe and as a result, are more open to feedback. Create a climate that makes people feel ok to be vulnerable, and builds mutual respect and care with each other.  You certainly don’t model aspirational leadership qualities when you don’t care what the other person feels or thinks about what you have to say. 

Call them in with understanding

Empathy. It’s a trait that is easier talked about than put into action. To be empathic, you have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and in order to do that you’ve got to have a solid understanding of the facts of the situation and the feelings/values of the person involved. Put all of your efforts into listening to the person and the situation. It’s one thing to know that your words hurt or have a negative impact on someone, but it’s entirely different to understand why those words hurt. You can’t fully grow in empathy until your build a true understanding. 

Call them in with curiosity and learning

It can be easy to pre-judge someone and come into a conversation with a predetermined disposition or destination that you think the conversation is going to go. You may even be correct whether it’s true or not!  You can unknowingly lead a conversation in a way that guides it to your own bias, or it can stop you from being fully open to hearing what the other person has to say. 

Take a curiosity-driven approach instead. Lead with the what and how and learn all you can about the person, or situation and discover the root cause. 

You can also learn a lot from how others interact with you. When someone calls you out (because someone will inevitably will) first, react in a positive way; don’t return fire, instead thank them for their feedback. Second, end the conversation in the best way possible. Third, decide how you are going to take the feedback and interaction. Should you apply what they said, dismiss the feedback or pull out certain parts that may be the most relevant?

Call them in with action

Actions really do speak louder than words. Once you’ve got grown in your learning and understanding, it’s up to you to put your new knowledge to use. Slow down and show others how you’ve grown as a leader and person by being respectful, accurate, and clear in your communication.  Your actions will be a behavior that others will model and it also solidifies what you expect in others. 

Be a person that calls people in. People will be drawn to you and your leadership. The change will be easier to navigate, team building moves more quickly and your results will only get better. There are no downsides to being intentional about including everyone that is in your personal and professional life. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

4 Mistakes that Impact Your Likability

4 Mistakes that Impact Your Likability

Everyone wants to be liked and validated by others in some form or fashion. From a young leader all the way to a tenured executive, our actions and behaviors can be driven by the desire to be liked. 

In our quest for validation, we can sometimes make some common mistakes that work against us. Here are 4 common mistakes that impact your liability and how you can address them for your personal success. 

#1 You talk too much

Talking and listening can be an internal push and pull for people as they navigate conversations with others. People love to talk and share about themselves and a quick way to be more likable is to listen much more than you talk when you connect with others. 

That intentionality in listening can create tension in the brain. It’s simultaneously focusing energy on paying attention while also alerting you to spots in the conversation to add your story, perspective, or other items to the conversation. 

When you let the balance between listening and talking tip far into simply talking, you can quickly become less likable with others. They may see you as self-focused, uncaring, or not receptive to feedback. 

#2 You ask too many questions

“Why?” It’s the question that nearly every parent of an over-curious child tires of hearing. There is a reason why the root-cause exercise is called the “5 Whys Technique” and not the 30 Whys Technique. 

Asking questions and showing general interest in another person is great. It’s one of the secrets that we recommend to help make you more approachable and likable with others. Just like anything else in life, you can take the questioning too far and wear out your welcome in a hurry. 

I’ve known several well-intentioned people over the years that have sabotaged themselves to various degrees by asking too many questions. Think back to the parent and child example; The parent is usually happy and even excited to engage with a little one when they ask a question in order to learn. It’s the continued line of questions that ends up getting the best of a parent and causes them to lose their composure. 

Be aware of how much you are questioning others. If you see their engagement drop off as you further seek to understand, know that it is a sign to wrap it up. Continuing to ask questions further lowers your chance to get an authentic answer and adds to the impression that a person has about you. 

#3 Weak storytelling

There is power in a good story. (EP 124) If you’ve ever been to a conference or religious service, you have a higher likelihood of remembering a personal story that they told instead of all three points that they presented at the time. 

Storytelling that is not compelling serves the interest of the teller more than the audience or is overly canned can turn your audience off. 

The story is not good: A good story should be one that the person can relate to on a personal level, short enough that they could tell it to someone else, and include something memorable enough that they could recall it a day later. Hone your stories and try them out with people you trust to figure out if it’s good enough or if it should be tweaked or outright discarded. 

Serve the audience not yourself: Last year we did a show about Micheal Scott from the show the Office (EP 289). Later in the series, Micheal quits and goes back to tell his staff about it. They are super excited because Micheal finally has a story worth hearing and they are interested in how things went down. Instead of starting at the point that immediately leads up to the interaction, Michael starts out with every little mundane part of his day. He loved the attention, but his audience hated all the filler. Know what your audience wants the hear and cut the fat that only serves your own ego. 

Expand your story collection: No doubt, people love an awesome story. They may even like it a second time. If they hear it several times, it loses power and actually can hurt your likability with others. The story will start to come across as insincere and inauthentic. Remember where and when you have shared stories with you aren’t constantly repeating yourself. 

#4 Debating others

It seems we’ve come into a love/hate relationship with debating others. Think about the pandemic, vaccine, political and social issues that have rocked the world in the last 2 years and it feels likely everyone is debating each other. I love what Benjamin Franklin said about this topic over 200 years ago. 

Say whatever you will, they’ll be sure to contradict you; and if you give reasons for your opinion, however just they may be or modestly proposed, you throw the other person into rage and passion. Though they may be unacquainted with the topic, and you are a master of it, it doesn’t matter. The more ignorant they are, the more sure they are in their standpoint. 

Well doesn’t that just describe a social media post you ran across in the last couple of days? Be willing to lose the argument to win the person  (EP 116) and not hurt your reputation in the process. 

You can grow your charm and charisma (EP 227). Listen to what others have to say and don’t expose their shortcoming. Be mindful of these traps that can hurt your likability and help have more enjoyable conversations with others. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

Alternatives to “How are you”

Alternatives to “How are you”

“How are you?” It’s a worn-out question that is part of a transactional greeting in many cultures. It’s even often said with no expectation for a real answer and when a real answer is given, it can often throw off the person that asked the question in the first place.

“How are you?” -You

“Honestly….not good” – The other person

“oh, ahhh… What’s going on?” – You (Meanwhile your mind is trying to grasp why the person answered you and what you are going to do next)

We can do better to have authentic greetings and conversation starters with others. Here are some tips and ideas to get you started in a few different circumstances depending on your level of relationship with the other person. 

Great for everyone

No matter the circumstance or the level of the relationship, here are some good starters that you can use in your greeting.

What’s been keeping you busy?
I love this one because it’s inquisitive, requires a response, opens a door to all kinds of other conversations and it is non-intrusive. 

What’s been the highlight of your day so far?
This kicks off the conversation in a positive way. It prompts the person to take a moment to reflect on how things have been going that day and the responses that are given are typically ways to connect with the person in a meaningful way. 

What’s something that you are excited about?
This is a great one for people that you are meeting for the first time because it truly allows for answers from all over the place. They may hit you back with something at work, their personal life, their favorite TV show going on right now, and even things coming up in the near future. 

For those that you already have a rapport with 
These are great conversation starters and greetings that work well when you have at least a little rapport with the other person. Maybe awkward for someone that you’ve never met, but not too intrusive for those you know. 

What have you been cooking?
We all love food. (And you can even find leadership in it PTB XXX) Sure food is about providing nutrition to our bodies, but it can also be a social event. 

How are your spirits today?
A twist on How’s it going. This one will likely throw the person off for a second because they aren’t used to hearing this question, but once they take in the question, they’ll likely respond with something true and real.

What’s been challenging lately?
While this one has a chance to be less positive than others, it does give the other person a chance to share how they’ve overcome something recently. If they do share a challenge that they are going through and it lands a little less optimistic, this gives you a chance to follow up with some encouragement, compassion, and care. 

Reconnecting with those you have a strong relationship with

There are lots of reasons we fall out of consistent touch with someone even without a years-long pandemic. These greetings and conversation starters dive right into an authentic and meaningful conversation

What have you learned lately?
For someone you are meeting for the first time, this may seem like an interview question. For the person that you’ve known a long time, it’s a question that shows your care and continued curiosity with the other person. 

Tell me about something exciting that’s happened to you since the last time we were together.
This one gives the other person a chance to brag about themselves or share some great news to accelerate the conversation. This one is wide open as well for responses from their professional or personal life. 

Tell me something that you’ve been grateful for lately. 
This one takes a more reflective approach and can touch on challenges that they may have faced that they normally wouldn’t just come out and say.  This goes straight for the heart of the other person. 

Elevate your greeting and conversation starter game by trying out different questions that get the conversation going in a memorable way. 

Make a better tomorrow.