Sooner or later it happens to every manager and leader. The group you seek to lead has been doing what they are doing for so long that they appear incapable of change.
And yet, change they must. You see the writing on the wall. If they do not change the very existence of the organization is at risk. Unfortunately for you, endless downsizing, rightsizing, re-organization, redeployment, layoffs and other management initiatives have left the management “trust” account empty. You know, the account that you draw on when you have to ask people to do that which is unpleasant. But you know that you need their buy-in for the objective to be accomplished.
But now the account is empty. No more opportunity to withdraw. And there is no time to make significant deposits. You need action now. You know that the situation deserves a long-term fix, but the luxury of time is not yours.
It’s the kind of scenario that is played out all too often in corporate America these days. In order to address this issue we must start at the beginning. To begin with the “end in mind” may be good speech material, but this group has heard too many promises and “feel good” approaches. No, in a case like this, the only thing that will work is to start at the beginning – with the people.
There is no such thing as a group reaction.
Groups or organizations are nothing more than a collection of individuals. So it is very dangerous to generalize about the way a group will react. The group doesn’t react. People do. Now that is not to say that there is no such thing as corporate culture, there is. But what is culture? Culture is the habitual way a group of individuals will act. And habits are nothing more than an unconscious response to a situation.
Three types of employees.
In our experience there are three types of employees; the superstar, the average performer, and those who quit along time ago – but are still collecting a paycheck.
The danger in managing a group through change is that the average performers are often being influenced by the low performers to react to change negatively. The major reason that we have so many average performers in a typical organization is that the manager is managing for “average performance” not “excellence”. We spend all our time trying to bring those with below average performance up to the average. The theory here is that by improving the weakest members of the team we will shift the average performance upward. Our experience has been that this hardly ever works.
The Plan Of Action.
In order to get a change initiative into high gear, the leader must move decisively to:
Identify by objective measurable terms the criteria for membership in each group.
Determine which employees are in each group.
Clearly communicate the goals for “excellent” performance to all employees.
Give objective one on one feedback to all employees as to where they are now. Offer alternate employment to anyone who is unwilling or unable to improve.
Place the bottom 10% of employees on a “performance improvement plan”.
Use a “performance management plan” to communicate progress on their goals to all other employees. Focus your attention on the best performing employees.
Do not tolerate average performance for very long if there is not progress being made.