You may be the business owner, but do you really own your business? “What is the difference?” you may be asking. Well, it comes down to whether you are truly taking responsibility and accountability for making things happen— especially the making the hard calls, the tough decisions on performance, budgets, and priorities. It isn’t enough to be a “nice person,” although you certainly want to be. You also need to be fair. You need to be frank. You need to be up front when dealing with issues related to individual and group performance. Most of all you need to be acting in the best interest of the long-term viability of the business—for the sake of the business, your own interests, and the interests of the other stakeholders who are depending upon your results.

Your Ship, the Waters, and Your Role as Captain

Why was it that in the all the seafaring tales and legends the captain went down with the sinking ship? Because it was the captain’s responsibility to stay with the ship until every member of the crew was safely off the ship. Not to mention that the captain was responsible for the ship and every aspect of it, required to make every effort to save it until the final moment. As heroic, noble as this was, it’s hopefully not your story; short of an unforeseeable disaster or a force of nature, as captain of your business, you don’t want a sinking ship, so you have to deal proactively with the issues that can put the ship at risk. The high water of rising costs is filling the cargo hold? Start bailing and pumping out those unnecessary costs. Losing the wind in your sales? Change direction, set another course and come about to catch the wind by finding new customers and markets. Sailing into Dangerous rocks, sharks, and other competitive pressures? Find ways to navigate the dangerous times. Struggling through shallow waters with too much ballast (e.g., employees not up to the tasks, not doing the job, underperforming, not the skill sets you need)? Eliminate of the extra weight and lighten the load.

Failure to Perform? Walk the Plank

In today’s world, no one walks the plank when they fail to perform, but failure to perform should have consequences and not rewards. All too frequently business owners and managers, for many reasons including liking individuals personally, avoid dealing with performance issues. For instance, an employee is brought into the organization as business development/products manager. Once in the organization, which is a small business, the person doesn’t perform either because it turns out the person doesn’t possess the needed skills (either because the business hadn’t identified the needed skill set or had identified the needed skills but “liked” this person better during the interview process), or the organization as a whole serves as a roadblock to success.

Whatever the root cause, when the owner/manager realizes that the objectives aren’t being fulfilled and performance isn’t taking place, then something must be done. It may be tempting to shift the responsibilities to another employee and let the underperformer coast along, but you’d be sailing into even more treacherous waters … Why? Here are a few critical reasons:

  • Lost motivation: Other employees picking up the slack won’t appreciate the added load.
  • Lost employees: The employees picking up the extra load and being held accountable will feel the inequity. In expecting performance from some employees and holding them accountable and letting others underperform, resentment builds and may lead to key employees—those you’ve been leaning on to pick up the extra load—to abandon ship to where they will be appreciated. (Yes, you may appreciate them, but allowing underperformers to underperform and shifting the burden to your “go-to” people signals not your appreciation, but that you take them for granted!) Your performers will perform elsewhere.
  • Lost capacity and productivity: What could your employees be doing with the time they spend cleaning up, following up, and doing the job of the underperformer?
  • Lost dollars: Why pay for nothing? Do you like paying for nothing? When you pay for underperformance, you are essentially paying for someone who is giving you “nothing” at some point during the day because they are working at less than the capacity and productivity you expected and are compensating them for.

It’s Your Business; Expect Performance

Hopefully, you like and respect all your employees. So hiding behind the “but I like him/her” as the reason you don’t want to take on performance issues isn’t a real reason at all. Performance—or non-performance—isn’t about whether or not you like someone; it is about whether or not that person is getting the job done. Yeah, if you dislike someone, it is easy to be mean, but getting someone to perform isn’t about being mean. Getting someone to perform is about accountability and mutual understanding of the requirements, expectations, and outcomes.

Accepting a job and drawing a paycheck is about an exchange: performance for pay. If employees aren’t performing, then they should expect to be accountable for the lack of performance. Sustained non-performance means that their jobs are at risk. Businesses cannot afford to pay for non-performance. Businesses cannot compete and generate profits with costs that aren’t contributing to the businesses capabilities and processes. Underperformance is excess costs that the business cannot afford. Underperformance ultimately puts the health and sustainability of the entire organization at risk. What if everyone decides to underperform?

Remember, you “like” them all. Now what are you going to do? Expect performance. Communicate the expected levels of performance and hold each and every member of the organization accountable. When someone is underperforming, address the issue immediately—and professionally. Talk about the issues and the actions. Performance isn’t about liking or disliking the person. It is about getting the job done.

Copyright © 2008  Lea A. Strickland. F.O.C.U.S. Resource, Inc. All rights reserved.


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