How can I turn around poor performance?
The overall performance of my team has been noticeably poor of late, despite my attempts to turn it around – what steps can I take to address this issue?”
The short answer to your question is that you haven’t found out what the problem is yet. That means you haven’t got the right solutions either.
You're Directly Responsible
The first thing you’ve got to remember about any workforce performance related issues is that ultimately they boil down to leadership – your leadership. There may be poor morale. It could be dreadful conditions.
Anticipation and Empathy
As a good manager – you need to be genuinely empathetic to the needs of your workforce. That doesn’t mean you always side with them, but you should understand what makes them tick. Regular productivity and objective meetings – pep talks, call them what you will, keep you in touch. An informal regular meeting (not one just when there are problems) will help anticipate productivity problems and bring out anxieties within the workforce – it’ll also help you identify opportunities too.
How Long to Wait?
Whether you’re a hands on or hands off type of manager, I would always step in sooner rather than later. Let’s say there are no extenuating circumstances, like holidays or illnesses, then if performance has been deteriorating for three consecutive months I would step in and start to find out why.
Get to the Root
Get your team leaders and line managers together and find out what they think is the cause. Listen and discuss. Next, try to get the workers together, without the team leaders and managers. You need to know what’s really going on at floor level. Are people worried about their jobs, is there an administrative, logistical or communication problem? People at the workshop level know only too well why performance is suffering or what problems there are and you should ask them.
So, do you know what the problem is yet? Is it macro or micro? Is this a market problem or an operational problem? It can be both of course, but you still need to identify them and address them.
In my experience, most progressive management teams are quite good at recognising strategic problems (if not solving them). Trends change, products are superseded, and competitors get stronger. These are often easy to identify and you probably have plenty of data to help you. The strategic problem can be parked as this is a different category and one you can sort out with a good management team.
At a micro level you can only solve performance problems by first understanding them. If a new incentive scheme isn’t fair it could be detrimental – but you need to know why it isn’t working. People being frightened about losing their jobs, is a classic performance inhibitor. Logically you might think that if people are fearful about their jobs they’ll work harder and more diligently. This is a classic mistake; they’ll be more resentful, less cheerful and less co-operative. Fear inhibits a workforce, it doesn’t motivate it. You have to do some detective work.
Lack of Leadership
A quick word here on leadership. People need leadership. They need recognition. You need to show it and demonstrate it. Never think that you can simply walk away from your workforce and let them get on with it – even if they’re doing a good job without you, you need to show them you know they are doing well. Even the best orchestra in the world needs a conductor.
Whatever the problem, you’ll have a better chance of solving it if you’re honest and prepared to make moves that everyone can see are right. Think of yourself in the place of the people you are managing – you’d know exactly what was the right move being made by your superior. And that’s where what I said right at the top of this article comes in – you have to empathise with your workforce. If you lose touch you’re in big trouble.