By Michael Gunther
You know how the story goes. A leader is having performance problems with an employee and is struggling to figure out how to ‘fix’ the employee. For a quick fix, he or she sends the individual off to a training program to learn new knowledge and specific skills that will surely improve the issues at hand. The employee comes back from the training program, after the leader has spent time and money to ‘fix’ the issues, and the performance continues to lag. At this point, it’s time for the leader to realize that the issue may not just be the employee’s competency level, but an organizational or management issue as well.
I have seen this situation unfold numerous times both in my personal and work life. The leader sends a subordinate to get professional business training without also addressing and changing some of the fundamental issues causing the problems.
This process was present in my family household growing up. My parents ran a pretty tight ship – how could they not when they were responsible for so many people. With strict rules and guidelines that had to be followed, we had a fairly high functioning and productive family unit. Because of this, we had aunts and uncles who would send their kids to our house during the summers so that my parents could ‘fix’ their children’s discipline and performance issues. Our cousins would come to visit and fall right in line with the rest of the family; they were good kids and just needed a different type of parenting (or management). By the end of the summer, they seemed ‘fixed’.
Our cousins would go home and lo and behold their old ‘undesirable’ behaviors would appear once again. This showed me that part of the issue wasn’t just a competency issue but a system or management issue. Since their household or family structure hadn’t changed and the parenting skills of my aunts or uncles stayed the same, my cousins fell back into the only way they knew how to operate in that environment. In the end, the summer program at the Gunther household didn’t ‘fix’ the issues.
At Collaboration, we see this often in our consulting practice. We offer management and sales training programs where business leaders send their key team members to attend, learn new skills, and gain strategies to become higher performing leaders and managers. Throughout the training, we sometimes have participants who struggle to implement the suggested changes within their organizations – which is precisely the thing the business owners sent them there to do. What we discovered is that the existing management systems were hindering the employee from implementing the necessary changes. The employees becomes frustrated, their performance stalls, and the business owners wonder why the person is not improving.
This experience taught us that it’s essential for the direct manager of the employee who is sent to training also be actively involved in the training process. We have actually modified our leadership training program so that the direct managers go through simultaneous training (okay, not as intense of training) as their employees go through their training program. The direct managers also receive updates on course topics and employee homework assignments. This has not only increased the success of the implementation of the knowledge being learned but also has improved the communication within the organization since the leaders are learning that their management style or structure has to be adjusted as well.
The lesson here is that the key to ‘fixing’ an underperforming employee is to not only provide competency training but also to evaluate internal management systems and structures. As a business owner, if you expect change from your team then your systems, structure, and processes also need to change to reflect just that.
The Bottom Line
If you plan to send your employees to a training course to develop their skills, take a closer look to determine if there is a system, leadership, or management issue that can also be improved to increase performance and productivity. Leaders need to understand that their roles and behaviors directly affect performance – for the better and sometimes for the worse.