In my experience most managers spend much of their management discretionary time working with their stars: those employees who are really up for the job and always willing to take on new assignments as they look to develop their careers. The rewards of working with this group are seductive – but not without risk.
Firstly they are not representative of the majority of your employees. It is easy to believe (or hope) that they are, and that what works with them can be extrapolated successfully to the wider team. For example, crafting an internal communication about the latest management initiative with this group can often result in sending out a message that others find naive.
Secondly this group are unlikely to REALLY challenge you or give you the unvarnished truth. This group are ambitious and want to do well. They will see you as a gatekeeper to career development and are unlikely to risk rocking the boat.
I see managers spending some time managing under performers but usually only when things have become really critical and the issue can no longer be ducked. Instead of actively managing the very first signs of under-performance and getting things back on track quickly, most managers wait until the problem is almost irreparable. When they do act it is usually pretty drastic. Managing under-performance is, in my experience, one of the most poorly executed management tasks and one of the most immediately damaging to both morale and performance.
This leaves a band of employees that get relatively little management attention.
These are the loyal employees, perhaps in their 40s or older who have decided that they don’t want to get to the top. But they do want to do a good job that they feel proud of. They want to work with good people and they want to learn how to do their current job better. Much better in most cases. Yet they often get very little management time.
In part this is because they no longer choose to get involved with every new project that comes along (they are not interested in being ‘seen’ by top management as a promotion candidate). And in part is because they will continue to work well with a minimum of maintenance – for a while. It seems that we can afford to neglect them and no harm is done.
Unfortunately this is not the case. Over time this group can become cynical and jaded as their contribution is rarely recognised or rewarded. They can easily become technically skilled but disengaged – doing just what they need to get by. This is one reason why this group should always get their fair share of management time. But they are also a tremendous resource in at least two areas. Firstly they have experience and technical skills. They are usually pretty good at what they do. This means that they could do a good job working with some of the less experienced team members and passing on what they know. Secondly, if you build the right relationships, and ask them the right questions they are far more likely to tell you the unvarnished truth.
- How much of your time is spent working with your stars?
- How much of your time is spent managing under performers? Do you do this effectively? Really?
- What about with that middle band of loyal employees that can so easily be allowed to retire on the job?
A well established programme of 121s, supported by effective team meetings and good performance management processes including feedback, coaching and delegation can go a very long way to helping you become an effective manager for the whole team.