I have the good fortune of working with lots of leaders, and often have the chance to talk with, teach or consult with them on a variety of issues including their role as a coach. The vast majority of those I work with truly want to be more effective and make a difference for their people and their organizations.
When the subject of coaching comes up, invariably the conversation moves to how to coach underperformers. This makes sense for a variety of reasons, including:
- Underperformers are on our radar screen and so they are top of mind.
- Some of the gaps in performance cause problems or even add to the leader/coaches workload.
- Often leaders are being told by their superiors to solve that performance problem.
- An underperformer is a problem – and leaders are usually good (and expected to be) good at solving problems.
So while it is logical that leaders would ask about these challenges, it masks the bigger question. The question I am always thinking, and sometimes ask is: “Hey Coach, why are you so focused on your poor performers?”
Am I suggesting that we should accept poor performance and let people continue to work at levels below the needed expectations?
Am I suggesting that your poor performers won’t ever cut it, so you should let them go and move on?
Certainly not immediately, or not without coaching and the chance to grow and develop.
What am I suggesting then?
Relook at how you are allocating time between coaching your poor performers and your top performers. Based on my experience and observation, most leaders are spending 70-90% of their coaching time, effort and focus on their poorest performers.
And that just doesn’t make sense.
- Top performers get more done, and as they continue to improve, their productivity will continue to rise.
- Top performers are likely the future of your organization – and therefore need ongoing support, development and coaching.
- Top performers thrive on coaching and desire it. If they don’t get it, they might leave to go where they can get it.
- They are already accomplishing more than others; don’t you want to support that effort and reward those results?
In the last several years, the concepts of strengths-based coaching and working on our strengths have gained much popularity. While sometimes misinterpreted and incorrectly applied, I agree with this line of reasoning – and my personal experience bears witness to its success. Here is the idea in a nutshell:
We should understand both our strengths and weaknesses, and spend at least as much time working on our strengths as on our weaknesses.
Most agree with this idea in concept, and it applies to our current conversation in the following ways:
- If we think of our team as people with both strengths and weaknesses, we can coach based on both. When we approach our poor performers from the perspective of strengths and weaknesses, it is likely that the coaching time we spend with them will be more effective and productive, so we might not need to spend as much time with them in the future.
- If we think of our whole team as a pool of strengths and weaknesses, we now realize we should be spending at least half of our time working on strengths (or top performers).
If you are frustrated with the overall results from your team members, or if you would like to increase the overall success and productivity of your team, think about where you focus your coaching efforts. If you are consistently spending most of your coaching time on poor performers, it is time for a reset.
Find ways to focus more time on high performers, even if it comes at the expense of some of the time spent with those currently performing below expectations. Do that and you will see overall increases in results even if it seems counterintuitive.
Next week, I will give you some concrete ways to do this, but don’t wait – take this idea and start implementing it this week.