Ask the Expert: V3 Issue 2

1. As a Department Leader I find that my team members even though empowered to do so, leave all the decision making to me and this sometimes results in unnecessary delay.  How do I address this problem?

Empowerment can facilitate team development but can be a failure if not introduced correctly. It is critical that …

  • You know what you wish to achieve through empowering team members: For instance you may want to increase sales or customer satisfaction or operational efficiency.

  • You ensure your team members fully understand what is expected of them: For example how much authority will they have to sanction customer refunds and replacements.

Next review how you have empowered your team members. Typically empowerment not only means “giving of authority” but also “making able”.  Check if your team members have the ability to exercise the authority given to them. If not make them capable before kicking off the empowerment process. Training in problem solving and decision making, will help them make sounder judgments. If the members of your team are capable of doing more in terms of problem solving and decision making and would enjoy taking on additional responsibilities then plan how to begin the empowerment process along with your team members. Ensure you have thorough knowledge of each team member’s skills and the tasks they perform in their current role before agreeing upon SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time bound) empowerment objectives.  Rewards for the team must also be agreed upon at the planning stage. It can be in the form of praise, bonus or salary increases.

Conduct periodic reviews to determine whether the objectives are being achieved and assess the benefits team has obtained. Do team members experience greater job satisfaction because they need less supervision and enjoy stronger support from their peers and colleagues? Do you have more time to plan for the future or work on strategic initiatives? Is there an improvement in the speed of decision making? Do not be disheartened by an initial failure. Discuss with your team and identify what went wrong and how it can be put right. Your objectives or timelines may have been too ambitious or there might be an unidentified training need or lack of motivation.

Be prepared for the change in your role on account of empowering your team. You must focus more on developing people, articulating the team mission, creating a climate of risk taking, providing appropriate resources, ensuring effective two way communication and promoting openness and cooperation across the team.


 2. I have team members in my team who are demonstrating different levels of performance. How best should I manage each set of performers and what support should I extend to them to ensure each group delivers to their potential?


Yes, you are absolutely right in saying that different types of performers need to be handled differently. There are basically three categories of performers. 80 percent of employees demonstrate average performance by meeting their goals. 10 percent of employees are excellent, demonstrated by consistently exceeding their goals. The remaining 10 percent of employees are at the bottom, reflected through regularly failing to meet their defined goals. Let’s look at how you need to raise each set's performance levels differently.

  • Coaching the top 10%: Your star performers don’t need much help in achieving their goals. But you must focus on harnessing their productive energies. Discover their motivations and tap into applying their talent in ways that will enhance their contribution to the organization. For instance, you might select your top 10 customer service agents and have them design the customer service training. Or you might make them mentors to new joinees. You need to create a win-win situation for them and the organization.

  • Managing the middle 80%: Within this group, some have the potential to be star performers. Your attempt should be identify such people and help reach their potential. The performance conversation for this group should focus on understanding the barriers inhibiting them from moving to the next level of performance. By diagnosing the barriers, you can develop mutually beneficial solutions to maximize their job performance. You must facilitate the removal of these barriers and assist the team members toward consistently achieving their goals. If the team member is asking questions, sincerely wanting to improve and has had some success, do continue to mentor and train them. Do your best in giving the person every opportunity to be successful.

  • Improving the bottom 10%: Your approach for this set of team members should be to have a performance improvement plan. The plan should include specific goals, with due dates and measurable outcomes. It should also be made clear that if they don’t achieve the goals, there will be consequences viz., continuation of the plan, suspension or termination. Alternatively assess the poor performer’s’ strengths, weaknesses and personality to see if he/she is better fit for another role. A creative person might not be a good fit for sales but can become a star performer in product management. You need to be open, flexible, innovative and supportive with such team members.

You can provide recognition to even a poor performer when he/she achieves the goals set in his/her improvement plan. But basically provide positive feedback to all team members when they achieve their specific goals to keep them motivated and engaged.


3. I lead a team of front office representatives. One of the representatives does not listen to me and takes every issue for resolution to my manager instead of coming to me or working with her other team members? My manager has clearly told her that she reports to me and needs to talk to me. But the officer is still escalating matters to my manager. How can I deal with this situation?


There are two things happening here. Your team member is not following the team norms and your manager is undermining your ability to lead. Clearly what the manager has told this team member has not had any effect. You need your manager’s support and help in dealing with both the problems.


Begin by holding a discussion with your manager. Ascertain your authority level in the department. Between the two of you figure out the reasons for the team member’s behavior and try addressing the root cause. It could be her not having accepted you as a team leader because she feels she herself is a senior member. In that case you could look at involving her more in team decisions etc. But basically both you and the manager need to decide on a plan of action to deal with this employee. Also agree upon what actions of this team member are unacceptable and the consequences for the same.


Next hold a discussion with this team member. Share the details of the consequences that will occur if she demonstrates certain behaviors as you and your manager have laid out in your plan. Explain to her that her behavior is going to determine the next steps in her career. Ideally the manager should not hold another discussion with her and in future should direct all her queries and issues for resolution to you. Stick to the plan of action agreed upon with the manager and regularly review progress.


Finally you need to also help this team member integrate with other team members. You can hold a meeting of all the team members to discuss how your department is dependent on all of you in achieving common goals. Highlight the strengths of each of team member and how you would like to leverage those strengths to make your department the best.