I recently spoke with a supervisor at one of our client’s call centers. This person manages a team with QA scores languishing in the "good but not great" range. The trend chart for the team flat-lined about two or three points below goal a long time ago. We regularly report the team’s results and provide them with very specific ways they can improve, but the team’s response is generally a roll of the eyes, a crossing of the arms, and a blanket refusal to act on the information.
As the supervisor and I discussed the situation, a couple of things stood out to me:
- The supervisor told me that, for a long time, there were only two options on the supervisor’s performance management evaluation form: "successful" and "exceeds". This meant that the supervisor had no credible option for addressing a team member’s below goal performance when performance management time rolled around. "Good but not great" always had to be marked "successful". When you tell someone that their mediocre performance is "successful", why would they work harder to improve?
- Recently, when supervisors were finally given a "needs improvement" option on their performance management form, they were afraid to use it. They reasoned that they didn’t want their people upset. I imagine that they also didn’t want to deal with the conflict.
I wish that I could say this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. Many companies have adopted a philosophy of lowering standards as a vehicle to build self-esteem. The idea is that if people feel good about themselves they will perform better. While I believe that it’s true that people perform better when they feel good about themselves, it’s equally true that they only truly feel good about themselves when they know in their heart-of-hearts that they’ve worked hard for and accomplished something. In the pressure-cooker world of business I have never seen the "let’s all feel good about ourselves for being average" approach motivate anyone to strive for the next level.
When I have seen people really succeed at performing exceptionally well:
- Standards are high, and reaching them provides a true sense of pride & accomplishment
- Team members are equipped, encouraged and motivated by management to reach the standard
- Team members are given a realistic assessment of where they are in relation to the standard
- Strong performance and improvement is acknowledged and rewarded in multiple ways
- Weak performance is acknowledged and negative consequences are felt
Are you motivating people towards excellence or patting them on the back for their mediocrity?
Does your management tool-bag contain both a carrot and a stick?