Shared Wisdom for Successfully Leading Organizations

Managing your team for results

As the CEO of a non-profit organization, you have a responsibility to provide the leadership that will inspire employees to give the organization the best of their talent. You will set the standard for management and make sure that the people responsible for a job have the resources, the information, and the support to do it. You want to benefit from people’s strengths and passions, and to remove barriers to their success. If not, you will most certainly have to deal with underperformance.

When you do have an employee who is underperforming, conduct a detailed assessment of the situation. Is the person missing any necessary skills or information? Are her or his strengths and interests well aligned with the job? Does she or he have the knowledge needed but not the drive? If the latter, you will want to discuss this with him or her and identify possible causes. If you find that the underperformance is a result of their skills being poorly aligned with the job but that they are actually quite dedicated, try placing them somewhere else where their skills are better suited (if possible).

Often you discover that the root of the underperformance is that no one ever provided them with the training or instructions on how to get the job done, or that they are not using the available tools properly, so what should take an hour is taking an entire day.

Sometimes it might not be a question of underperformance but of renegade behaviour. In other words, although the person achieves results, the process they use may simply not be acceptable, or may even be in violation of the values of your workplace. If this is the case, first try to address the behaviour without losing the value of their work. If it does not work, it is not advisable to turn a blind eye for the sake of results. You need to keep a high standard of performance but also uphold the values. If people are not meeting the performance standards or are not aligned with your values, let them go.

For people who are meeting and exceeding expectations, you should invest in their long-term commitment to the organization and provide them with continued opportunities to grow and develop. In general, all staff members, with the assistance of their direct supervisors, should create a plan for themselves with regard to their professional development. This plan should address their objectives both on how to grow within the organization and on their long-term career objectives.

In terms of performance reviews, the management literature will outline various approaches from the more traditional annual reviews to the currently popular 360-degree evaluations, where a large number of people are given the opportunity to provide feedback. In general, we would argue that the most efficient way to encourage and inspire your employees is to provide them with regular and timely feedback.

If your plans have clear objectives and measures of success outlined, you will know throughout the year what needs improvement, what is exceeding expectation, and what is failing, and you will know who is responsible. Employee performance is as dynamic as the performance of the organization, and you should not wait for formal moments to address it. An ongoing conversation with employees can both encourage and regulate their performance and development.

There is a great deal written about achieving a work–life balance, much of which is aimed at remediating situations where employees work long hours each day, some weekend days, and even holidays, not to mention failing to take all of the allotted annual holidays. Such extended work time can lead to burn out, health issues, and declining performance. Much of the blame is put on employers with a work culture that celebrates and rewards such work habits. Some of the blame is put on employees, themselves, who submit to such demands.

What we’ve discovered is that people are different in their approaches and appetites for work. Some thrive on the heavy hours and total immersion in the job. Others do less well and need to keep to regular and normal hours. Still others work best in a part-time or partial-week role. Your job as their CEO is to be responsive to the difference. Like the coach of an athletic team who knows that some players thrive on being driven hard, be aware of those who do better with regular breaks.

Of course you have to balance this with a real assessment of how much valuable work is being produced. Sometimes the “workaholic” spends many hours but doesn’t get much done. Or the person who works forty hours a week produces sixty hours’ worth of value. Or the part-timer isn’t very effective because, perhaps, he misses out on the collegial environment that may be important to his job. Similarly, you might find that some people work well at home while others do not.

It is your job to be aware of how each employee works best and to put them in the position to do his or her job as effectively as possible. While there is no use in trying to force a square peg in a round hole, it is also important to understand whether the square peg is what you need in the first place.