Performance Management

Stepping Up Not Down

Our success in lifting another person's performance depends on our ability to read the situation correctly and then find the right motivational levers to have that person change.

Too often, we adapt and step down to match that person’s lower standard of performance. It can be easier in the short term to ignore the issue, placate and soothe the other person, rather than cause discomfort by asking them to do better.

We need instead to ask that person to step up.

When we, as leaders ask for more, the other person can do one of 3 things; step up, step away or step down. Stepping away or down will invariably elicit a response pattern rooted in defense, what I call the ‘3 D’s’.

Deny, Disperse and Deflect: What People Do When They’re Not Performing

The 3 D’s will present like this:

  • They can simply deny that there is an issue, their performance is fine, there is nothing wrong;
  • They can disperse the issue, which will look like blame. The fault lies with others, with the system and so on, or;
  • They can deflect the issue, which means they will bounce off the problem, avoid it and ricochet the discomfort on to another. The old ‘kicking the dog’ routine.

There is nothing wrong with asking people to step up, to rise out of their behavioural patterns and improve. But given the complexity of human behaviour, managing poor performance can be notoriously difficult. As a leader, developing your skills to counteract the 3 D’s, to get to the root causes of the issue, to know when to compromise and when not to, is crucial.

3 Takeouts to Help You Lift Another's Performance:

1. Don't Mirror the 3 D's

Your challenge when the other person is denying, deflecting and dispersing, is to acknowledge but not respond. Responding to their narrative and arguing and engaging in a dialogue will take you down the rabbit hole, with no resolution. Keep the conversation aligned to your key points through repetition and active questioning.

2. Discomfort is Uncomfortable

Understand that when you’re asking for something new of a person, it will make them feel uncomfortable. Your role as a leader is to hold the space for this discomfort, stay firm on your requests for change and follow through. Recognise the feeling for what it is and know that the discomfort is ultimately about the elements coalescing to form new norms for individual, team and business performance.

3. Know Your Non-Negotiables

Decide on your non-negotiables in terms of what absolutely has to happen for the person to step up. Compromising on your request for performance improvement may be appropriate for some aspects of the person's behaviour. What, as a leader, are you prepared to tolerate, forgive or let go? Think about consequence and evaluate with the team and business in mind.