I recently had lunch with a colleague, a business owner, who commented that his team’s productivity and  seems to have dipped in performance. He stated they had become lazy and complacent, and wanted to shake things up, to get their attention.  He wanted to know my thoughts on what do do, should he change the comp plan, should he require overtime till results resumed, etc.

Of course, I launched my “Columbo Routine”:

  • Really! How so? What do you mean?
  • How do you measure performance? 
  • What activities lead to good performance? How are these measured?
  • Has the workload dropped? What else has changed?
  • What’s been the impact to them?
  • What have you done so far? How has that worked?
  • (insert additional  Sandler “pain questions” here!) 

The net of it all that the drop in performance stemmed from the following:

  • The team is highly competent and well paid
  • The business owner had been consumed with other projects the prior few months, and the team was essentially self managing
  • There were no metrics or guidepost for them to self manage their daily activity
  • There was no reinforcement of the good habits that made them successful
  • There was little to no impact on the team as a result of the drop in performance (comp, recognition, etc.)
In most small team environments, the leader is so close to the action that an objective look is difficult.  When I recapped the answers for this business owner, he said “Duh…” and knew exactly what to do.
As leaders, we are all guilty of being too close to our team and the environment.  We develop personal relationshps and perspectives on the folks we work with – team members, clients, stakeholders – and lose perspective on the  dynamics that impact effectiveness. We are all guilty of “I didn’t change. I have a good team. What’s going on?”.
This is where we all need people in our professional networks who can help us view our situations objectively.  People we trust that will be direct and objective, and not worried about hurting our feelings.
If you don’t have such a person in your network, it’s time to get one.