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Shape up or Ship out!

June 18, 2010
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17:  A Science Muse...
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I recently came across a note about whether to invest time in turning around a non-performing employee, or just ask them to leave.

And it set me thinking, how dependent a lot of us are, on our managers. I remember reading a research report about how our first job experience sets us up for life, and the crucial role our first manager plays in our life. Get the right kind of guy and you’re set. Get the wrong ‘un and you’re in trouble! Not me, that’s what the research said!

So hey, coming back to the Q we began with. What should a manager really do, when faced with an employee who isn’t delivering.

First up, to share my experience of having worked with, trained, coached over 1000 people in the 18 odd years that I have been working. I have yet to recall even ONE, who had malintent, or who didn’t want to do a good job. Each one of us, when we wake up in the morning, want to go out there, and be known for something, want to be acknowledged, want to leave a mark, want to do a good job!

The guy who works for you, he thinks the same. Your boss (the lazy bum!) he thinks the same. That woman who sits at that desk, diagonally across from you? Same thoughts!

JANESVILLE, WI - DECEMBER 23:  General Motors ...
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So as soon as you encounter someone who isn’t performing. Remember the above. Remind yourself, that everyone WANTS to do a good job. So what are the various reasons that might be affecting your guy? Read on:

1. Goals, role clarity, expected outcomes – Does this person know what is expected of him/her? Do they have a clarity of what their role entails? What are their role boundaries? What they will be measured on, every month? What you expect from them? Is this clear to them? That’s a good place to start. Very often, just fixing this, will improve performance.

2. Fit for role – Assess. Does this person have the relevant skills or capabilities to do the role? If not, then does this person have some transferable skills that will enable them to do this role? If NOT, can they be quickly trained/coached? If this will take a long time, do you have the time? If yes, great. If not, then find a role that fits this person, and you will see them perform

3. Motivation/Will – Many times, in spite of everything else being in place, an individual is just not motivated to perform. There could be severals reasons – maybe they just lost someone, maybe they’re having a rough time at home, maybe they have some other problems. A demotivated employee requires nurturing, counselling, and some bit of regular monitoring. If however, you find yourself at a loss to turn this around, seek professional help, talk to HR. If you have a counselor coming in at work, refer this person. Finally if nothing else works, take a call.

4. Resources – Is this person adequately resourced? Does this person have the manpower, technology, tools, dollar allocations, travel permissions etc. to enable him/her to deliver?

5. External environment – Are there things in the external environment that are disabling performance? Is the market bad? Has competition come up with something that is a step change?

6. The ACID TEST! Is it ME? – Is your style? Your ability to lead? Ability to direct? coming in the way of motivating this individual? Have you provided adequate direction? Are you there for him/her, the way they need? This one is probably the most difficult for any manager to do. But it is a possibility!

Mirrored self-misidentification
Image by eqqman via Flickr

Once you have gone through all these possible scenarios, will you have a clear fix on what you as a manager/mentor/coach need to do, in order to help this person perform. And you know what? My own experience tells me that if you follow these steps, 95% of the time you won’t be asking anyone to leave. It’s worth it!

Aces Head Coach Eric Williams
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As managers, our key role is to Support, Coach, Seek to understand AND Work to make the incumbent succeed. Don’t test your team-members, help them to get A’s!

Hope this helps! And would love to have you share your experiences with managing teams. Please leave your thoughts/comments.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. aadesh permalink
    June 28, 2010 6:13 pm

    Great Articles Sir,

    It is very useful to us (for up growing managers)


    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      June 28, 2010 9:28 pm


      Thanks for the acknowledgement. My primary purpose of setting up this blog is to be able to help and inspire. Glad it worked for you!

  2. subrata permalink
    June 22, 2010 3:06 pm

    Hi gurprriet its a great article sure makes you think…had a thought which I wanted some clarity
    In the workspace usually we have more right brain people I mean focussed on logic data more machine like excelling in efficiency and gains rather than individuals who are more left brain focussed more on people relationship or creatively aligned, This leads to a work practice which focuses greatly on implementation execution operation and speed as the only pivot for success and bottle all innovation and the culture to think alternatives and build a higher pool of ideas..its evident when at interviews I ask tell me one thing which you have done which is different? The answers rarely comes atleast for sales persons..Is it that in organizations we are not being able to actively combine strengths and balance the two types. Well.. its like a company with the task of constructing a road the logic focussed company will Look at world class execution of the task with maximum efficiency the creative guy will think why road lets build a highway and start from a different perspective…How does Fit for a role work its a funny trait ? In my life I find a sharp difference between these two personalities whose starting block of approaching the problem is absolutely different

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      June 22, 2010 4:13 pm


      Great point!

      A lot of people ask this question about more people being innovative etc. And my response is look at the data.

      Entrepreneurs (who are largely innovators), are a small percentage of the population. Any population consists of a large number of followers, and a small number of pioneers/different thinkers.

      Large masses need control, processes, guidelines, structure. And hence you will see for example, a large mass like the armed forces, working within a highly regulated, bureaucratic environment. Whereas, the Marines, who’re part of the army, but have to be very flexible, rapid response, think out of the box, respond to ambiguous situations, are a different breed!

      So yes, you are right. These two types are different!

  3. June 20, 2010 12:34 pm

    This is indeed a useful article for young managers like me, who face this challenge while managing large teams. Thanks for sharing this thought.

    • gurprrietsiingh permalink*
      June 21, 2010 10:34 am

      It’s a challenge for any manager, Rishi.. Even senior one’s can fall into this trap!
      Thanks for the comment!

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