In our conversations with first-time managers, one of the most common challenges we hear about is helping someone on you're team who's underperforming.
Just to make it harder, it’s a subject that can be difficult to get good advice on. The topic covers such a wide range of situations - different personalities, different sectors, different working relationships - that we find much of the guidance out there is too general to be of much practical use.
That was until we found this blog post from Roy Rapoport, a Director in Corporate Engineering at Netflix. He lays out ‘The Five Conditions for Improvement’ which need to be in place for you to help someone work on an aspect of their performance.
We don’t put it lightly when we say we wish we’d had this when we were first promoted to being managers. It’s an invaluable checklist for working through these issues with your team members.
The five steps are:
Does your team member agree there’s a problem? If they don’t think there’s an issue, you’re not going to have much success convincing them to solve it. Start here.
Does your team member want to see the problem resolved? They might be aware of the issue, but they might be fine with it. You’ll need to help them see why it’s important to resolve if you want to make any progress.
Does your team member see their role in causing the problem? Ah, so they might recognise there’s a problem, and that it needs resolving, but don’t see how it’s their issue. Again, no point going any further until you’ve got their agreement that it’s something they’re impacting.
Can your team member figure out a plan to solve the problem? Ok, we’re making progress. They’ve agreed the problem exists, needs resolving, and they need to take action. But they might not know how. This is where you might need to step in and offer some advice.
Can your team member execute the plan? Even if they do have a plan, can they actually make the relevant improvements? Again, as their manager this may be where you can offer support.
We’ve seen many cases of underperformance where a manager has simply skipped to points 4 and 5, and given the individual some instructions to improve, without ever pausing to consider whether they believe there’s a problem in the first place, care about it, or think it’s anything to do with them. This is clearly a recipe for disaster and happens…. well, it happens all the time.
So next time you need to speak to someone about making an improvement, just spend a few minutes thinking about whether these conditions exist. And if you’re currently struggling with one of these situations, just check the list to see if you’ve missed a step.