There’s an expression in racing: new tires hide bad setup. When you first put new tires on a car or motorcycle that has been running poorly, it might perform like everything is great. In a short period of time, the rubber is worn down and performance starts to suffer. The setup issues that existed with the previous tires begin to manifest themselves again. The rider has the option to keep burning through tires and sacrificing performance or fix the underlying problems.
The same can be said of leading teams. New employees can bring new energy and ideas to the team. However, if the team has underlying issues that are plaguing their performance, they will likely affect any new individuals as well. When the underlying process, or “setup”, is broken, the issue is not with the people, it’s with the environment they operate in.
Process issues may manifest themselves as mistakes or errors, which could easily be perceived as a performance problem. Before assuming the fault is with the individual, leaders need to consider the source. Is this person a high performer or otherwise diligent in their work effort? Have the mistakes or errors been made by more than one person? It’s not necessary to wait for a new team member to come on board and experience issues to find them. Looking for trends across the team is a good way to unearth systemic problems.
During a recent discussion with a CIO, he shared his philosophy on performance management. “When I hear about mistakes, I encourage my people to look at the process. Even the most talented people can fail when the process is broken.”
When things go wrong, it might be tempting to look for “who to blame.” Sometimes the blame is not a who, but a what or how. As leaders, we are the ones to blame if we have broken processes, but focus our sites on people instead.
People are a leader’s most valuable asset. It takes a significant investment to bring someone new into an organization and replacing them can be a costly venture. To maximize the contribution of new and existing team members, leaders must look to unearth and fix underlying issues that stand in the way of their success.
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