Change People, or Change People?

As a leader trying to get the best performance from your organization, you often need to decide whether you have the right people. This often occurs when a key member of your team is under-performing.

To get better results, do you try to change the person’s behavior, or do you replace the person? Getting someone new into the position is often time consuming and expensive, but so is leaving a poor performer in place. What considerations should guide your decision?

While it’s just like a consultant to answer a question with a question (may I borrow your watch?), at least a few questions are necessary here that can lead to a good answer for you.

  1. Is the person going through a temporary difficult external situation? For example, are they having difficulty with their significant other? If the answer is “Yes,” then perhaps you can help them get the resources they need to deal with this situation more effectively so they can deal with it more effectively and return to full productivity. If the answer is “No,” then go to Question 2.
  2. Is the person in the right role? Is the performance problem due to having a quarterback play lineman? If the answer is “Yes,” then put them in a role that they enjoy and that plays to their strengths. If the answer is “No,” then go to Question 3.
  3. Do the person’s core values match those of your organization? For example, do they value integrity, or do they subscribe to the “make a buck no matter who gets hurt” philosophy of business? If the answer to the question above is “Yes,” then perhaps they just need some training and coaching to improve the skills necessary to succeed in their role. If the answer is “No,” then replace them as quickly as you can without hurting your organization. You have a “terrorist” on your hands who will create untold damage on the internal and external customer relationships in your organization.

It’s relatively easy to train people in technical skills that help them succeed in their role, assuming that they enjoy the role and have the basic strengths required to succeed in it. On the other hand, it’s a highly risky undertaking to try to change people’s personalities (longstanding recurring behavior patterns).

The probability of success is very slim to begin with, and most organizations don’t have the expertise or resources to engineer this kind of behavioral change. In business lingo, it’s got a poor Risk/Reward Ratio with a very poor Return On Investment. Just remember that many times it’s easier to change people than to change people.

High-performance habits

  1. Hire people who have the strengths, passion, and values you need for the role and for your organization.
  2. Determine whether a performance problem is due to temporary circumstances or to a longstanding “personality” issue.
  3. Don’t hurt yourself and everyone else in your organization by tolerating longstanding poor performance–the quality of your organization will never be any better than the quality of your team.
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