Assessing people is one of the most challenging activities for managers and leaders. I used to co-lead a coaching class at Intel. We asked each participant to bring in a real life challenge they were facing. The most common one was the under-performing employee. It wasn’t the simple question of were they under-performing or not. It was that and who’s fault is it? Was it the employee’s or was the manager’s for not doing a good job managing them? This question tortured many people who came to the class.
Two key people related responsibilities
So why was this so hard? During the class, they generally figured it out. It came down to two things. One, their ability to set appropriate performance expectations. And two, their ability to assess actual performance and hold the employee accountable. Holding them accountable includes providing the right support to enable them to thrive.
When these assessments were lacking, under-performance was not addressed. The performance issues grew and then frustrations increased. Why weren’t they being addressed? All the while the manager is feeling more and more torn about how to address the situation.
A new challenge when companies change
In my life beyond Intel, issues related to assessing people people continue to crop up. Sometimes it is the classic version above. I also see a new variant. It occurs in dynamic fast changing environments. The employee is performing well and the company is changing fast, usually growing. This brings with it new challenges that require new skills. The employee hasn’t developed these and they start to struggle. They don’t get the support they need and instead are encouraged to work harder because they used to be a high performer. This leads to more problems and an eventual breakdown.
As I mentioned above, the answer lies in making good assessments. What are the performance expectations of the role and what skills are required? And, how well are they performing against them? Based on my experience, recognize expectations and skills will likely change over time. An employee may perform well when the company is in start-up mode. When it grows into a larger, more mature enterprise, different skills are needed. Some employees successfully navigate the transition. Others are better suited to the start-up world and need to find their next thing. Keeping a person in the wrong role doesn’t help them or you?
Are all your people in the right roles? Have they outgrown the role or has the role outgrown them? Are you hiring people with the ability to grow as the role changes?