In researching how people learn, and working with teams across the country, I find one of the biggest hindrances for improvement is the Performance Prejudice of the staff’s leaders.
Now I know prejudice is a word that can strike individuals to their core. “I am not prejudiced” and I can hear this ringing in rooms as people read this.
But understand what I mean. Throughout the educational system, we categorize children based on grades and how they learn:
– “You pick things up quickly”
– “You are a little slow and need help”
– “You are average”
– “That’s all we can expect from them.”
This prejudice becomes ingrained in these children as they grow into adulthood. Now they are part of your business team and they believe their limitations.
One would love to believe leaders would help break these barriers down to maximize their employee’s potential, yet many manager’s base projections on similar performance prejudices sometimes without even knowing it.
Unknowing Prejudice is How You Train
Every quarter or in some cases every month improving the performance of your team is one of the main focuses for business leaders. Many times, there are frustrations because certain members of your team are just not getting better.
Those average folks — who always produce the same month in and month out — but you need them to do more. Can you get them there? I believe you can but leaders must understand they are the real cause of this stagnant performance.
“These five people are my average performers so I count on this production from them.” As you can see, this performance prejudice reinforces limitations and the individuals believe this is their production ceiling.
It is said, within 30 seconds of meeting someone we have already categorized them into buckets because it becomes easier to interact or manage them.
First we categorize young/old, male/female, shabby/put together and then by how they sound/accent/vocabulary we judge intellect etc.
Performance Prejudice or “bucketing” blocks any ability of the leader to properly identify how individuals on their team learn, where their strengths and weaknesses are and putting together an individualized plan to improve performance.
I can hear the defensive cries right now. “I tell them what to do!” “They were trained!” “They have been doing this long enough, they should know what to do!” If you caught yourself thinking this way, please give me a moment and read this to the end.
There are four basic communication types and each of us fall into one of them. The reason there are issues with employee performance is the leaders or trainers are expecting people to learn as they do. They do a lot of talking and telling when many of their team needs to see or be shown what to do or maybe leaders over-talk when their team needs them to get to the point.
The Four Communication Styles
Let’s review the four communication types and see if you can spot which category you fall in to. Then we will discuss what type many of your middle performers fall into and where the disconnect may be.
– Safe and structured or planner
Dominator: Can be blunt, to the point, wants to control conversations, likes to keep things moving.
Many leaders fall into this category. The way they have learned is “tell me what to do” and they communicate with their team this way. Bullet point lists are a common form of communication.
Conversationalist: Talkers. Story tellers. A bit impulsive. Want to be your friend. Fun loving. Many of your good salespeople fall in to this category. These folks learn better with videos and images. Leaders need to paint the picture for their team about how they will be successful. This takes time and many Dominators don’t have the patience.
If a Conversationalist is the leader they may keep painting pictures without a strategy to get there.
Calculator: Details, Details, Details. These employees know more than anyone, even some of the leaders. They understand how each department works. Some are in the group you need to improve because they get bogged down with the details. Training them takes time to communicate specifics, do not ad-lib.
Safe and Structured: This is the communication style most of your average performers understand. They do not like change and need to be shown what to do, not just told. One of the key traits is they want to please the leader so you cannot talk to these folks as you do a dominator who can take hard criticism. They will think you are going to fire them.
What I have found with this group is to take a methodical approach and hold them back until they are able to handle the correct amount of opportunities to achieve their goals. They are making sure every step is correct and double checking it many times.
This is your focus. Finding out how to increase their opportunities while holding on to their process execution. You goal is to get them to improve performance by one unit this month. This small step they can handle. Going up 20 percent or 30 percent seems insurmountable. Continuous small improvements win. Think Tortoise not Hare.
– Invest your time and map out exactly what you need them to do.
– Show them how to do what you need them to do.
– Follow up every day.
– Encourage their small wins.
– Have patience because it will take time
Once they are consistent at their new level, repeat the process. Go find one more unit. They will be happy to be a part of this new found success. This takes time and effort and some leaders are not willing to commit. Yet these same managers will be the first to complain about lackluster results. They leave it to the individual to improve yet their own prejudice is impeding success. Leaders need to understand they are impacting the improvement of their team if they continue to bucket employees with labels. It is time for managers to look at their teams as individuals and break down any barriers that impede success.