Success in business comes down to managing people, according to Abbotsford, B.C., consultant Trevor Throness. Indeed, he boils it down to a crisp formula:
1. Find the best possible people for your team.
2. Tell them clearly what they need to do in order to win in their role.
3. Let them know how they're doing and coach them on a regular basis.
In his book The Power of People Skills, he calls the formula "ridiculously simple" but adds: "Have you ever worked for a company that followed these three rules?"
He can help with some tools to evaluate the people you lead and an approach for coaching them to success.
At the core is the notion of stars: Businesses that have "A" players in every key seat dramatically outperform others that don't. So you need to turn your key people – all of them – into stars, and he insists it can be done. "A weak culture tolerates chronic underperformance," he says in an interview.
"You need to develop people who are not 'A' players to be their best."
Start by assessing those team members, writing their names on paper and asking four questions to determine how effective they are:
- If you could do it all over again, would you rehire her?
- Does he take your stress away?
- How would you feel if she quit?
- What if everyone in your business was just like him?
Evaluating your team can seem very subjective, but those questions make it more systematic and fair.
Recently, short of time, he had the leaders at a client company use just that first question about whether they would rehire various individuals and it was very revealing. The question about stress is also vital: Your subordinates should reduce, not heighten, your stress.
Don't take too long on these evaluations. Use your gut. It's not meant to be definitive for performance evaluation, but a preliminary to a coaching conversation with them.
As well, sit down and figure out what attitudes should be at the centre of your operation. This is simpler than it seems: Talk about people on your staff who are admirable, and why. As you list those qualities, a pattern will emerge of what you value. Pick three attitudes to focus on. Don't rush out of that meeting, however, to pronounce the anointed behaviours, as if you were Moses coming down the mountain with tablets. He suggests writing them with pencil, and watching for six months to check you aren't missing something important.
Another tool is a "Star Chart," a matrix in which you will again evaluate key players, this time on a scale of zero to 10 for effectiveness and having the right attitudes. That will sort your team into four groups:
- Stars, who are high on effectiveness and attitudes.
- Potential stars, who are high on attitudes but somewhat lacking on effectiveness.
- Wrong fits, who are poor on attitudes and performance.
- Productive but difficult people, who accomplish a lot but display the wrong attitudes.
That points to your coaching tasks for the next 12 to 18 months, in which you want to increase the number of stars on staff and help those who don't fit to find work elsewhere. Don't shy away from that last part: He notes often people who are unsuccessful in one domain can be very successful elsewhere.
Reward and develop your current stars, so they will be even more effective. Coach your potential stars so they, too, can become stars, giving them support, clarifying expectations, and changing roles where needed. Keep in mind that star players want to work with other stars, particularly their bosses, or will leave; so if you or other leaders don't fit the bill, action must be taken.
Navigate the wrong fits, facing up to the situation. We all make hiring mistakes and that's probably what occurred with them. "Don't let your fear or your pride prevent you from dealing with the situation. Take action, learn from what happened, and then get over it and move on," he writes.
Finally, deal with your productive but difficult people. This will likely be the toughest task, but, again, you have to face up to the situation. Reprimand them so they know the score and then coach them if they are willing to change. If they won't, help them to exit with dignity.
"The biggest hurdle in business can be an unwillingness to address underperformance – we don't want to believe it or don't want to wade through what's needed to change things," he says in the interview.
So maybe it isn't all that simple. But it's crucial.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter