“He is very competent and I really want to keep this employee. However, the work management is not satisfactory. What can I do?” I am asked in coaching a team leader. “If he leaves, we will lose his knowledge and it would take a long time to find a new, qualified person. Especially because it’s so hard to recruit skilled people in this field right now.” The worst thing the team leader can imagine is that the employee quits. She therefore asks me: What can I do to keep the specialist and at the same time increase her work performance?
Despite sprint planning, work packages are not completed
The manager tells us in the coaching that they use the agile SCRUM method in the company. In Sprint Planning, the work packages are selected and the duration for the tickets is estimated together. In the dailies, the tickets are defined for the day and per person, and questions and obstacles are discussed. At the end of the one-week sprint, the review of the results takes place. It regularly becomes apparent that a colleague is not meeting the self-estimated processing time.
The manager asks for an appointment with this employee in private. In the conversation, she shares her observation and asks what the reason is that the estimated time is so often not correct. The employee admits that he gets distracted a lot and sometimes becomes so engrossed in a program that the planned duration is wasted in no time. Other tickets then remain unprocessed.
Developing solution ideas in dialog under 4-eyes
In a one-on-one dialogue, solution ideas are developed on how to reduce distractions for him, e.g.: Less home office and more office presence so that the children do not attract his attention after school. Starting work earlier because there are no distracting phone calls yet. But after a few weeks it becomes clear that these resolutions are not practicable and that work performance continues to lag behind expectations – i.e. the common schedule. So what now, on the one hand, to keep the employee and, on the other hand, to point out the persistently insufficient work performance?
I look at the model of “situational leadership” according to Hersey/Blanchard with the team leader so that she can reflect on her leadership style with the employee (picture only in German, sorry).
The employee is very competent so that “giving orders” is out of the question. Actually, the “handing over/delegating” is exactly suitable, here the distribution of the tasks (tickets) in the sprint planning and the dailies as well as the acceptance by the team and each individual team member. However, there is a lack of implementation responsibility on the part of one employee.
In the situational leadership style “guiding” she finds motivating employees attractive, but controlling partial steps does not correspond to her understanding of leadership. She trusts her employees.
So is it all about “supporting”? Sounds plausible. But in what? After all, he is competent in his field, so he has a high problem-solving ability. She thinks about it. Probably the employee needs support in his time and self-management, i.e. his self-organization!
Trust is good, control is better. Or?
I therefore ask how it would be if you contacted the employee more frequently and asked about the processing status – even sometimes in the middle of the day, for example after 3 hours. My coachee, the team leader, feels that this is control, not support. She trusts her employees, even the low performers! She herself would not like to be controlled all the time. OK!
On the other hand, she does not perceive the question of her boss, how the project xyz is going, as control. She finds this question legitimate and unproblematic. Aha! So the choice of words makes a big difference whether it is perceived as control or as information or interest. And “to inform”, to be interested in something, is legitimate and even perceived by most people as appreciative. So now she’s practicing that very phrase. Not “How far along are you?” but “How’s it going?”. If a motivating praise or an offer of help follows, depending on the answer, it doesn’t seem like control but like genuine interest and need-based support.
How can I manage employees with poor work performance?
- Address your observation in a planned one-on-one conversation in a pleasant atmosphere and in an appreciative manner.
- Ask the employee about possible causes. Take your time and ask several times (What else?).
- Look for solutions together and in the “as a team”-mindset.
- Arrange an appointment in one to two months to reflect on the development together (be sure to mark it in the calendar right away!).
- If the work performance remains unsatisfactory, try different, situational leadership styles. Pay attention to interdisciplinary competencies such as frustration tolerance or time and self-management. For example, ask the employee more frequently about their progress and offer support.
Situational leadership according to maturity
Situational leadership means that different situations require different leadership styles. The situation refers on the one hand to the task and on the other hand to the maturity of the employee: How motivated and competent is the employee? In this context, look not only at professional competence, but also at interdisciplinary competencies such as social competence, communication competence, or – as in the case described above – competence in time and self-management.
In agile working environments with Scrum, the focus is on the self-organization of the team. In retrospectives, the collaboration is reflected and optimized. Individual development may be neglected in the process. Therefore, as a leader or Scrum Master, pay attention not only to the maturity level of the team as a whole but also to the maturity level of each individual team member.
Above all: stay flexible in your leadership style.