Keith, Rosen, in his article, “The Seduction of Potential,” (HR Magazine May 2009), talks about talks about why we are seduced by underperformers. We think that if we just give underperformers a little more time, they will realize their potential.
We think this even when we have little evidence of improvement. Yes, they had great references, a great attitude, and all the right answers, but little to show for it.
Love this from Keith. “Having certainty and confidence in people, supported by evidence, is a healthier, more productive model when creating new possibilities. This is what I refer to as authentic human potential” (emphasis mine).
Who’s working harder at improving?
My take is this. I have a quick assessment I offer managers. I ask them to ask themselves if they are spending more time on this individual’s improvement than the individual is. I know it is tough to know when you, as a manager, have done enough. But all you can do is open the door and offer opportunities and a plan for improvement.
If you find that you are losing sleep, reach out. If you are making it about what you are not doing, get advice. An outside party can help you identify a reasonable plan. Include a reasonable time period to see improvement. Don’t wait too long. Often we wait, get frustrated, and then want to let them go without evidence of a reasonable effort.
Why take the risk?
You are not doing anyone any favors by carrying an underperformer. I have heard many reasons for not acting. The payback of your avoidance is far outweighed by the price you pay in other ways. Examples:
- You may overlook the needs of your other reports.
- Your staff may overcompensate for the underperformer to pick up the slack. Resentment grows.
- They may spend work time kvetching that so-and-so is not pulling his or her weight. Productivity plummets.
Your staff may sympathize with your position, for awhile. This will change. You may avoid discomfort by putting off action around the underperformer. And then when you put it off you risk losing the rest of your staff.
You lose more of their time because now they will be complaining to each other about how you are not doing your job. You lose their respect for you. They don’t take you as seriously. They may start underperforming because clearly there are no consequences. They aren’t as willing to follow your lead. Your best people may even leave in frustration.
Make a move.
I know it is hard, but it is time to step up. Get training, get advice, research and practice, practice, practice. You will be doing your staff (and your career) a great favor.
A version of this post originally ran on June 30, 2009.