I’m sure many people reading this are going to be quick to point out the negative aspects of managing results over relationships without reading further than the title.  Those of you who are familiar with my work are well aware of my passion for people, so this title may come as a bit of a surprise.  You are also likely familiar with my propensity to discuss the ugly side of organizational leadership; the types of situations that don’t make it into the final cut of the many best sellers out there.

We have all been taught, early in our careers, that if you have a great team, great results will just “happen.”  I used to preach out of that hymnbook myself when I was younger, but over the years I’ve learned that it just isn’t true.  Great teams will still require some level performance management to achieve great results.  Obviously, performing at a high level is virtually impossible without a great team, but the idea that results will just “happen” as a result of that is bull.  There is always going to be a balance between managing relationships and managing results.  For me, when things are going great, I spend around 80% of my time managing relationships.   At any given time, however, I could have a situation that requires a different approach, where the results come before the relationship; and that’s what I want to talk about today.

These situations happen most often when there is an organizational change, leading to a leader taking over a new team.  Throughout my career, when this happens to me, I’m typically acquiring a team that is under-performing, which requires a transformational leadership approach.  The odds of a situation like this happening with someone on a team you have had for a long period of time are rare, and typically happen as a result of an unexpected and major change in the performance and attitude of someone on your team.

When taking over an under-performing team, the vast majority of your problems will be fixed just by educating, supporting, and providing structure to the team.  Most of the time, when someone is under-performing, it isn’t the fault of the employee.  It usually happens as a result of poor leadership.  Some people will just need to be made aware of the issues, guided in the right direction, and supported along the way.  Others will just need someone to reignite their passion for the business.  Some people on the team will already be performing well, as no team I have ever seen consists solely of poor performers.  Occasionally, however, you will find someone who is just a bad apple; and this is when you have to manage results without much concern for the relationship.

How do you know who these people are? It’s pretty simple really.  You owe it to everyone to give them everything they need to be successful.  I handle this by doing three things.

  1. Communicate how performance is measured in your organization, and show them how they are performing in comparison where they need to be.
  2. TEACH them everything they need to know in order to be successful.
  3. Make your expectations fair and clear, and cover very early on what the consequences will be if these minimum expectations are not met.

This can happen in a meeting with a group of people, or in an individual setting. Either way is fine, and it will not take long to make sure that all three of the conversations and actions above are complete for everyone on a team.  Once that has been done, it’s now on them to perform or not perform.  Yes, it is your job to support them, find gaps in their behaviors and do everything you can to help them be successful.  If, however, after doing all of these things, you are left with someone who clearly just isn’t willing to put in the work needed, or lacks the passion to even want to improve, you have to start managing their results.

These situations are not fun to deal with, but too often we ignore them until the right person comes along to fix the situation.  This approach is not good, as your ability to protect your organization from a catastrophic event can be jeopardized if you don’t take action.  Yes, you want to find a good fit for the position, as this person needs to be managed out of your system; but you don’t just let it burn until that person magically appears!   There is a huge difference between turning around a C-minus situation and trying to fix a complete failure of a business unit.  You will have a difficult time avoiding a revolving door of “troubleshooters” if you let the situation get to that point, which is exactly what ignoring the situation will lead to, in much less time than you would expect.

This is when you should focus almost solely on results.  This is when you micro-manage situations to keep you from having one of those horrible events that could damage the entire company.  You are not looking to achieve greatness here, only minimum standards that keep you from having a “911” type of situation on your hands.  You have to figure out what that means in your organization, and be careful not to set the bar too high.  This is when you become the type of boss everyone hates.  You over-communicate with this person.  You let it be known that you are watching everything, always.  Essentially, you are forcing them to perform without much concern for their future.  Doing so will allow for a much smoother transition when the inevitable replacement for this employee takes over.

Nobody likes to do this, but sometimes we have to do this.  It’s as miserable for the leader to do these things as it is for the employee, but we have a responsibility to our organization to keep them safe, and by upholding at least a semblance of organizational standards, you will greatly improve your chances of finding a permanent fix in the near future.

I want to be clear about something.  You should NEVER put someone on your team in this category until you KNOW for sure that they do not care.  Sometimes you may think people don’t care, but they are just overwhelmed or perhaps have something going on in their personal life that will pass.  The absolute best case scenario, and one we should all aim for, when taking on a new challenge, is for everyone on the acquired team to stay and find success with you.  Great leaders do not replace entire teams, they find a way to get the most out of people, and people are inherently capable of much more than we initially presume, but we have to help them to see it for themselves.