I am pleased to share this guest post from my colleague, Mike Figliuolo. In addition to being a well-known speaker and all around great guy, Mike is co-author of the new book, Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results. You can learn more about Mike and the book at the end of the post. Enjoy!
Dave has a great résumé with the right education and expertise from brand name schools and employers. When he accepted your job offer, you felt like you made one of the best hires of your career.
Since Dave got the job, however, his talents haven’t translated into the results you expected. He’s a smart guy with great communications skills – at least his verbal communication skills. He’s outspoken in team meetings and has many ideas, most of which seem to have potential. Interestingly enough, however, those ideas relate to other peoples’ responsibilities. Dave’s willingness to comment on how others are doing or not doing their jobs is drawing complaints from your team. He has much less to say about his own area.
You hate the thought of losing someone as talented as Dave, but his lack of results is alarming. His teammates have picked up his slack. You’ve dedicated more of your leadership capital than you’d like harping on him to get his work done. There’s no doubt that Dave is a “Slacker.”
Approaches for Leading a Slacker
Leading Slackers requires you to “Unlock Motivation” within them. Slackers have the capability to do their jobs well. If they applied themselves, Slackers could be Exemplars on your team. Turning a Slacker around reduces the team conflict they create when they talk about everyone else’s work instead of doing their own. To be sure you’ve got a Slacker on your hands, assess their performance and see if they’re delivering the results you expect.
To turn a Slacker around, first let them know their behavior isn’t acceptable. If they’ve avoided deadlines in the past, give them a real deadline to hit or face the consequences. Connect with your HR representative to start the performance improvement plan process. Document the expectations for the Slacker’s role, their performance against those objectives, and the specific goals they need to accomplish.
Set deadlines for completing their performance improvement plan and keeping their job. Make it clear that delivery of results is a condition of their employment. You’re not looking to threaten them – you’re merely explaining the cold, hard facts of their situation. Coach them that being smart isn’t enough. Reassure them you believe they have the ability to do the job – if they set their mind to it. Provide them a picture of what success could look like for them.
The painful first conversation with a Slacker might be enough to turn them around. Other times they say they’ll improve but they never do. That behavior requires you to escalate the situation and put them on a formal performance improvement plan.
After putting your Slacker on a formal performance improvement plan, have a frank discussion with them about how they want to rectify the situation. Don’t limit the discussion to their role on your team – discuss their career aspirations too. Let them know if they plan to keep slacking by relying on their smarts and reputation to get them through, they’re going to have a performance crisis that will be hard to recover from. If they don’t change their behavior, it will kill their career at some point.
If the combination of being put on a performance improvement plan and getting your frank assessment can’t motivate them to behave differently, ask them what it will take to get them to change. If they’re not interested in helping themselves, you can’t do it for them. These are potentially high risk, high return leadership investments.
Slackers have a decision to make that will determine your approach to leading them. If putting them on a performance improvement plan gets through to them, find the root cause of their problem. All that’s holding them back is their motivation. They could be bored with their work. Maybe they lack the skills required to plan their work and manage their time. Perhaps someone else on the team is stealing credit for their work. Your discussion about root causes could provide you insights on how committed they are to change.
If they’re not going to work hard in their current role, help them find their next one. Work with them, in consultation with your HR team, to see what kind of referral you can give them. For external referrals, you can point to the Slacker’s strengths. Leave it up to them to explain why they’re leaving their role.
Mike Figliuolo is the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results and the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC – a leadership development training firm. An Honor Graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.