Sales and marketing, Security Staff Acquisition & Development

Behind Every Problem Performer is a Problem Manager

Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence
Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence

In every organization, there are problem performers. People who, for various reasons, are not meeting performance expectations. They may be “C” players that need to raise their performance. They may be “D/F” players where other actions may be necessary.

Too many managers think it’s the person, the problem performer, that’s the problem. They blame that person for their lack of performance. They fail to recognize their role/performance in enabling problem performers in the organization. Stated differently, behind every problem performer, there is a manager that hasn’t fulfilled their responsibility with that individual.

Let’s dive more deeply into this. How do we “create” problem performers?

How Do We Create 'Problem Performers'?

  1. We’ve hired the wrong person. So much of problem performance is a simply because we have put the wrong person in a role. We’ve put a square peg in a round hole. This is a management problem–unfortunately, we find this out some months after we have made the bad hiring decision; we’ve hired someone, we’ve on-boarded them, then there is the time they spend in the job until we see their performance is off. One of the biggest faults I’ve seen with managers is their carelessness in hiring. They hire based on an impressive profile; great chemistry. They haven’t taken the time to understand what drives success in the role and to develop a competency model to use in the hiring/development process. With each sales hire, we are making a multi-million dollar decision, and it’s the manager’s responsibility to make sure they minimize the opportunity for a hiring error.
  2. Related to the previous point, too often we treat these hiring errors as “bad people.” We would never hire someone that hadn’t had a great experience or great performance in their previous jobs–that would be idiocy. What we’ve done is taken someone who has been a great performer, but put them in a role that’s a mismatch for them and us. One of the biggest errors I’ve seen is hiring a sales person from a huge/big name company and putting them in a start-up/small business role. That’s a hugely difficult transition to make. I’ve seen people who are top performers in their large companies struggle in this very different role. Again, the fault is less on the individual and more on the manager not taking the time to understand the qualities necessary for success in the role and matching the candidates to those qualities.
  3. They don’t understand the job. This is more than just saying, “Here’s your territory, here’s your quota, here’s your comp plan. Make sure you take your training and get out and sell!” This is principally the job of the manager, supported by sales enablement. Selling is not selling is not selling. With each company, we have different strategies, priorities and goals in our customer engagement strategies. How we get things done, how we hold/value the customer, how we want to engage the customer, creating value with them is different with each company. The tools, processes, systems and programs we use to effectively engage our customers are critical to maximizing the performance of each person in the organization.
  4. We all know coaching is critical in driving and improving performance. But managers invest too little time in coaching, and/or their coaching is ineffective. Managers may spend only a few hours each week coaching their entire team, we know that managers are not spending their time focusing on where they have the highest impact on overall team performance. Second, they are ineffective in their coaching. Rather than treating coaching as a collaborative learning/discovery process, they are in “tell” mode, instructing people on what they need to do. Coaching is the highest-leverage activity a manager can do to maximize the performance of each person on the team. Managers must be spending at least 50% of their time coaching. They need to coach everyone– from 'A' players through poor performers.
  5. Change management problems. Even the best performers suffer if they don’t change. Those things that created top performance two years ago may not be the most important things to drive performance now, and may be the wrong things to focus on two years in the future. Managers must constantly look at how to maintain the highest levels of performance and what changes are needed. They share the responsibility with sales enablement, but coaching is critical in helping manage change. Managers need to help their salespeople understand what’s changed, why and what they need to do to implement the change. As people struggle, as is natural, managers need to help their people diagnose the issues that impact performance and what is needed to correct it.
  6. Change fatigue. Sometimes, there is too much change, regardless of how much a person tries to adapt their behaviors and performance. For example, at an individual level, there may be a lot of things a person needs to change to improve performance. But they struggle with changing everything at once. I recall someone “coaching” me on my golf stroke. He easily identified the 10+ things I was doing wrong. He tried to coach me to change all those things at once; you know what happened. I ended up worse off than before. When I hired a professional to coach me, he focused on one thing. Once I mastered that, he went to the next, then the next. I quickly improved. As managers, there are a lot of things our people may have to change to improve performance. We need to identify the one or two things that have the highest leverage and impact, then help our people master that. Then we move on to the next, then the next. By taking these smaller steps, we actually accomplish more in a shorter period of time than we do by trying to drive a huge number of changes.
  7. Role modeling. One of the most underrated methods of changing behavior and driving performance improvement is demonstrating the behaviors and changes that are critical. For example, if a salesperson is struggling with high-impact customer meetings, managers should participate, setting an example to help the person see what great performance looks like. If we expect our people to use the sales process, the systems and tools that support top performance, managers must set the example by using these tools themselves.
  8. Letting performance problems linger/ignoring performance issues. One of the biggest issues I see is managers failing to address performance problems at the earliest moment possible. They let them linger until they reach crisis levels. It’s far easier to change behaviors and correct performance if we catch these problems early. Once they become embedded behaviors, it’s difficult to change them. But if we aren’t constantly paying attention to performance, we may miss them. Sometimes dealing with problem performers is unpleasant. We have more fun with, and feel like we have a greater impact, with top performers. We avoid the problem performers. It’s unfair to them, it’s unfair to the team, it’s unfair to the business. Our jobs as managers is to maximize individual and team performance. Avoidance is unacceptable.
  9. Systemic performance issues are less an issue of the people, and more about a poor-performing manager. Sometimes we see many people in a team having performance issues. The common denominator in this is the manager.

Maximize Performance by Focusing on the Manager

I’ll stop here. There will always be performance issues in any job. Even our best people sometimes face performance issues. The manager’s job is to maximize the performance of each person on the team. Managers share as much responsibility for performance issues as the poor performing people.

Author David Brock is president, Partners in Excellence. Read more from David Brock here.