The First Bite of the Elephant
People can change and improve their performance. However, people change slowly and often with reluctance. Think of a bad habit you have. Have you tried to improve it? It’s tough to change.
But, on your team, you need strong performers, and those who can overcome their challenges and continue to move your business forward!
Improving performance can feel like eating an elephant. Starting one bite at a time is a nice idea, but that first bite is often very difficult to determine and often feels impossible to take. The reason this occurs is that we want to change things fast and therefore our first bite is the elephant’s whole leg.
- Pick a performance issue. Paperwork incomplete and late. A whole variety of industries struggle with getting employees to complete paperwork, on time.
Have you ever done this? “Andrew, you really need to focus on getting your paperwork completed and in on time. Last week, you were late every day. That’s really important you know – it’s how we get paid. I need you to focus on that.” Andrew: “Ok, I will.” (head nods) And no change in performance occurs.
- Narrow it down, and narrow it down again. Who? What? Where? When? What’s the real problem with the paperwork – is it messy? Are there blanks? Is there not enough detail? When do we see the most errors? Which piece of paperwork is most important? Typically they are not all created equal. Improving a habit/skill on one very important document could improve performance elsewhere when you succeed in actually changing performance.
3. Find the root cause. Ask “Why is that happening?” five times. Why is the paperwork incomplete? They leave off important information. Why? Because they forget to gather it? Why? Because they are doing many things at once? Why? Nature of the job. But – - who does this successfully and what is the difference in how they multitask?
Do they not have the information? Are they not sure what to write? Do they not have a paper or pen when they are receiving the information? Do they not understand its importance? Have they ignored directives in the past from managers about the paperwork or been told at some point that it’s just someone’s pet peeve? Do they not enjoy that part of the job? Do they feel it should be someone else’s responsibility?
***Keep in mind that being curious enough to find the root cause is not condoning any of these reasons for poor performance, but only understanding where the employee is coming from in order to meet them there – to be able to lead them from where they are to where you want them to be.
“They are lazy,” is not a real reason. We may all have a lazy nature deep inside, but it is magnified by a lack of goals and lack of accountability. “They are sloppy,” can be a character trait, but can also improve by focused attention from the manager.
3. Set a goal for the team. One bite at a time – one goal at a time. When you share the goal, explain why it’s important to the customer and the success of the team. Your profitability is not typically of concern to the employee completing the paperwork – but profitability typically stems directly from happy customers.
4. Have a plan of accountability. Put a chart on the wall. Go to where they are and observe the information-gathering process. Have employees report their own performance and progress. Celebrate success publicly (this does NOT have to include an incentive). Coach one on one through failure – with an assertive push towards the immovable goal. Be consistent with follow-up. What you focus on, they will focus on.
Implement fail-safe measures – to prevent mistakes from making it past the employee. If the paperwork must be turned in to a particular person whose job it is to make sure we have all the blanks filled in and necessary details before submitting it – as a double check – then the paperwork will go back to the employee responsible before they are able to transfer the responsibility to someone else. Or if you can move to a digital version of the paperwork, certain fields can be set as required before the form can be submitted, requiring that information is entered before it can be considered complete. These are simple examples, but small levels of accountability such as these in a process can remove errors that occur from lack of attention to detail or lack of focus.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader is to take your team on a roller coaster ride trying to bite off huge chunks of the elephant or eat the whole thing at once. People will not change major parts of their approach to work overnight. Pick a bite of the elephant that is foundational, important, representative of a systemic issue, small enough to chew on, and where success can be realized and expanded upon – and start there.