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One Uncomfortable Truth About Building Teams That Future Leaders Must Accept

For a number of years in a previous leadership position I willfully ignored Marble’s (not a real name) underperformance.

Marble was one of those team members that was great to have around. Marble got along well with the other team members. Marble got along with our customers and with others in the organization. Marble showed up to work, more or less, on time and ready to go. I hired Marble and kept them around for a number of years.

Marble was one layer beneath me, and I heard about Marble’s progress, or lack thereof, on a regular basis from my leads. The chief complaint was that Marble’s production was way lower than it should be. Due to the needs of the organization, Marble would typically work after regular business hours and on weekends when the leads weren’t around.

When the leads would return to check on the work the following day or the following week, they could tell that it was insufficient. Then they would tell me about it.

See, the problem was that Marble was a 70 percenter.

Meaning, the organization consistently got about 70 percent effort from Marble.

And I, as the leader of this team, willfully ignored this reality for years.

Here’s how I justified ignoring it:

  1. “Marble is great with our customers so that counts for something.”
  2. “Yes, production is a bit low but Marble shows up to work these odd hours reliably and that is helpful.”
  3. “Marble knows the work, a new person will take so long to train.”
  4. “Well, what if we lose Marble and then get a brand new Marble in the process of filling the position?”
  5. “Being short staffed between losing Marble and getting the next person will make things difficult for us.”
  6. “Maybe Marble just needs more feedback and training. What if I haven’t done enough for Marble?”

The broken record of reasons playing in my mind about why 70 percent was OK was louder than my inner voice that knew what to do.

What I understand now, that I didn’t take to heart back then, is that sometimes¬†marbles need to be quickly rolled away.

For future leaders, the uncomfortable truth about building teams is that personnel changes need to be a more regular part of the playbook for the future organization.

“Personnel changes” sounds light but is still a negative phrase.

Let me explain what I mean.

In the scenario above, and in scenarios like this that play out in organizations around the world, nobody is benefitting. The organization isn’t benefitting as much as it could be if it replaced the marble with a spark plug. The leadership isn’t benefitting because they’re spending more energy than they should be dealing with personnel issues. The marble isn’t benefitting because it’s clear there is a fit problem.

Nobody is really winning, and likely the marble is unhappy about their work too.

We need a mindset shift when it comes to personnel changes.

The marble isn’t a bad person, the marble is in a bad fit. Work performance suffers when there is a mismatch between person and position.

Rolling away marbles to other opportunities isn’t about passing judgment, rather it is another step in the process to fit the right individuals with the right jobs in the right organizations.

Get the fit right and all parties benefit.

Personnel changes are uncomfortable. And, they are uncomfortable for days, weeks, or months depending on the situation. But the truth is, we owe it to ourselves, our organizations, and to our marbles to get people into the right job. In the longer term, it will better benefit all sides.

Question: What is the hard part about this concept for you?

by Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan is the Head Coach at Sandcastle Company, a Seattle-based leadership training organization. His first book, Future Leader: Rebooting Leadership to Win the Millennial and Tech Future [link], is now available. Jonathan regularly writes and speaks about The New Leader Way, leadership resilience, and the future of work. He has years of leadership experience in both the public and private sectors, a master's degree from Seattle University, and professional coach training from the University of Miami.

Filed under: Future Leader

Published on October 13, 2017

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