By Marty Abbott
In my earlier article I used the sports management analogy to make the case for actively managing the skills, skill levels and composition of your team. In this note I’ll discuss the topic of how to manage those activities. For this, we’ll leave sports and use a gardening analogy.
Even a novice gardener would not expect to rake some soil, throw some seeds, pray for rain and wait for a beautiful garden. Your team is no different; you must undertake the same activities in managing your team as you would in creating a successful garden.
Selecting the right flowers for our garden means paying attention not only to how they look, but how they will interact with the other flowers in our garden; will they steal too many nutrients or will the soil properly support their needs?
Managers in hyper-growth companies spend a lot of time interviewing and selecting candidates but usually not very much time on a per candidate basis and even less time pondering where they’ve gone wrong in hiring in the past. Finding the right individual for your job means paying attention to your past failures in hiring and correcting them. We might interview for skills, but overlook critical items like cultural or team fit. Why have you had to remove people? Why have people decided to leave?
Candidate selection also means paying attention to the needs of the organization from a productivity and quality perspective. Do you really need another engineer or product manager, or do your pipeline inefficiencies indicate additional process definition needs, tools engineers or quality assurance personnel?
One final point here is that far too often we try to make hiring decisions after we’ve spent 30 minutes to an hour with a candidate. We encourage you to spend as much time as possible with the candidate and try to make a good hire the first time. Seek help in interviewing or add people whom you trust and whom have great interviewing skills to your interview team to increase your chances of a good hire the first time. Call previous managers and peers and be mindful to ask and prod for weaknesses of individuals in your background checks.
Feeding your garden means spending time growing your team. Of all the practices in tending to your team, this is the one that is most often overlooked for lack of time.
The intent of feeding is to help grow the members of your team who are producing to the expectations of your shareholders. Feeding consists of coaching, praising, correcting technique or approach, adjusting compensation and equity and anything else that creates a stronger and more productive employee.
Feeding your garden also means taking individuals who might not be performing well in one position and putting them into positions where they can perform well. However, if you find yourself moving an employee more than once it is likely that you are avoiding the appropriate action of weeding.
Also, feeding your garden means raising the bar on the team overall and helping them achieve greater levels of success. Great teams enjoy great but achievable challenges and it’s your job as a manager and executive to challenge them to be the best they can be.
While you should invest as much as possible in seeding and feeding, we all know that underperforming and nonperforming individuals choke team productivity just as surely as weeds steal vital nutrients from the producers within your garden. The nutrients that are being stolen in this case are the time that you spend attempting to coach underperforming individuals to an acceptable performance level and the time your team spends compensating for an underperforming individual’s poor results.
Weeding our gardens is often the most painful activity for most managers and executives and as a result it is often the one to which we tend last.
While you must abide by your company’s practices regarding the removal of people who are not performing (these practices vary not only by country but very often by state), it is vital that you find ways to quickly remove personnel who are keeping you and the rest of your team from achieving your objectives. The sooner you remove them, the sooner you can find an appropriate replacement and get your team where it needs to be.