Feedback to “Right Solution…Wrong Problem”

[If you just read the post The Right Solution to the Wrong Problem, just skip to the heading “Comments from My Friends.]

A post titled “The Right Solution to the Wrong Problem,”  was one in a series of articles about my experience working with leaders I call “big-hearted” leaders.  In my experience, those leaders often tolerate poor performers too long.  I believe they largely do that because of their admirable commitment to being responsible, fair and kind.

In this particular post, I sought to make one point.  That point was that big-hearted leaders sometimes work to help poor performers improve their performance when performance isn’t the issue.  The real issue is the employee’s behavior is inconsistent with and antagonistic to the organization’s values.

Because that post might seem to encourage readers to act rashly in firing employees, I sought feedback from a number of my friends.  These friends are all business leaders or HR professionals.  Typically they have 30 to 40 years of experience managing employee performance.  I believe the comments below are essential to wisely integrating my suggestions, but to include all their ideas in the post would have made it too long.

Thus, I provide them here.

 Comments from my Friends

From Han, an HR guy.

In the Nine-Box Grid, you’ll notice two things I got from HR guy Han Hoppe.  His first point was that the “real” grid of valued employees is a 2-by-2 grid.  So I put a thick blue border around boxes 1-4.  Those are the employees you’re looking for.  Han also objected to the specific PIP plans.  So I changed them from a specific number of days to Really Short, Short and Medium.  You decide what that means in your company.  Thanks Han.

From Bill, an HR guy.

My friend Bill shared his thoughts (“just between you and me”) that some of the survey items in the “character” column (#2, 8, 9 and 12) are too vague to be actionable.  Others (#1, 6 and 11) so stark they are grounds for dismissal. Bill adds other character issues can be addressed with counseling.  Bill also recommended a book, Figuring Things Out.

From Bob Adkinson who I mention in the article:

To answer your question related to the 9 Box, I suggest calling out Values and not Character. Here’s why: Performance is objective, based on documented goals and job responsibilities. For legal reasons and more, if the 9 box is a tool used for assessment, the other axis MUST also be objective.

The term “Character” is subjective. One manager might consider Jim to be of high character because he’s outwardly passionate and competitive. Another manager might feel those attributes are a detriment to the team, and therefore score low.  VALUES is more objective as nearly all companies have a values statement that reflects expectations such as: honesty, quality, the customer, humility, etc.

It’s much more effective to rank employees against a documented standard or expectation.

From William, an HR guy:

“Betty, it sounds to me like this employee wants your job. She is undermining you with your staff and is undercutting you with your boss. Maybe you should fire her?” Jim, you did not provide information about how you arrived at this conclusion. You only mentioned the employee was a poor performer, ergo I don’t clearly see how you got here from there.

Jim says:  William is right. I left out so much information from my Betty conversations (that employee had come up before) my retelling gives the impression my insight was essentially an “off with her head” moment. My retelling also implies Betty might have been robotic in acting on it.  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t and I know she wasn’t.

Ultimately the adjudication of performance issues or people/personality issues will vary from organization to organization. It was, is, and will continue to be a grey area. What worked at one company  doesn’t work at another at all as it doesn’t fit the culture, management style or attitude of management.

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