Memorial Day weekend. The unofficial start of summer. And my garden in desperate need of attention. My son Bryce, home from college, knew he needed to help out with some family chores. Well, that was a start. As he joined me in the garden, I told him the area he needed to clear out and weed – a dry riverbed filled with rocks, leaves and weeds. I returned to where I had been working. Then the pain set in. Not his….mine!

I turned to see how he was doing. He was sitting. Moving slowly. Body slumped. No energy for his task……imagine my thoughts at that moment.

Let me pause there – is this a familiar scene? Not in a garden, but at a desk? A staff member – hanging over their desk, not engaged, just moving through the motions and not making the progress you want?

What goes through your mind at that moment? My internal rant was, “Really? This is what I get? I just watched him work endless hours on a project for someone else – and then for me, I get nothing. Why?” That’s when it hit me. I talk with managers about managing poor performance all the time. Now it was time to heed my own advice.

  • First I had to change my mind-set. I had to move from frustration to excitement about figuring out how to manage the situation differently.
  • Second, I had to re-think the job. I thought through all of the tasks that needed to be done that afternoon. I identified which ones he might be better at, and how we could work together to make progress.
  • Third, I had to communicate differently. Giving him a large area, all by himself was too much. Instead I walked over and cheerfully said, “Hey Bryce, I changed my mind. How about you start by just moving the rocks? Then I’ll come through and get the weeds.”

And that’s how the afternoon went. He moved rocks. I weeded. I then encouraged his artistic talents as he returned the rocks to the garden. And by the time he completed the last step – spraying the rocks with vinegar to prevent weed growth (organic gardening tip) – he was having fun! And together we got more done than I expected that afternoon. Both happy. Both satisfied. And the garden looked great.

So what can you do when you see poor performance?

  • Pause. Catch your frustration. Establish a problem-solving mind-set.
  • Re-think the assignment. How did you assign the work? Can you break it into different pieces? Can you re-arrange the parts and assign it differently? Is there a different way the work can be done? Are there others to include? How can you engage the person in finding different strategies?
  • Change your communication. Know that showing frustration and irritation is not going to have a positive effect. Be curious about how you can manage the situation differently.

Reality is we all have work we don’t enjoy doing. Bryce told me “Gardening is not his thing.” And yet we still need to do these tasks. Be creative, finding alternate approaches and strategies to improve performance. Challenge yourself. It may not be them but you. Think differently – and happy gardening!

Take Action:

  • Identify a current situation where you have an employee not performing well
  • Spend time re-thinking how you’ve assigned the work
  • Challenge yourself to seek alternative approaches to getting the work done
  • Engage the person in a positive way to work through new strategies
  • Watch my LEAD Talk on Managing Performance for more tips
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