What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Do you have anyone on your team or in your company who has lost his or her luster? I find that most employees deliver their most effective work within their first year or so of accepting a new job or transferring into a new position. The first month is usually all about getting situated. Then, it takes the next couple of months to establish the cross-functional relationships required to succeed. That means that months 3 through 9, or maybe 6 to 12 for some people, provide the best window of opportunity for individual leaders to prove they were good hires/transfers and make a difference in their new roles.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

I was speaking with a senior HR leader at a multi-billion dollar financial services company recently, and he shared with me how frustrated he was with a particular employee who just seemed to be a bad fit for his role. This operational leader was apparently hired to turn around a struggling work group, and within about 6 months he did exactly that! He stopped the previous bleeding from high turnover and inconsistent performance across the group. He was even recognized for the strong results he and the newly-motivated team delivered. That was a year and a half ago though. Since then, what has this operational leader done? Apparently, not much beyond giving this HR leader a headache everyday!

It’s amazing how many of these A-players deliver less-than-expected and less-than-stellar results over time. I’m not even talking about those employees who are later in their careers and may intentionally be coasting into retirement, waiting for their pensions to payout. I’m just talking about those employees who simply stop showing up as they did in their early days when they produced the results their hiring managers expected of them when they first accepted them into their roles.

So what happens to these talented team members after their first year of service? Especially when so many people, including many of the Baby Boomers still in the workforce as well as numerous Gen Xers who prefer stability over change, stay in their existing roles for years and years on end without moving on?

Managing employee performance to a higher standard of greatness rather than complacence and “just good enough” requires assessing the role requirements of every position and making sure that each employee fits that position. The operational leader I referred to before was a turnaround guy. He liked coming into challenging situations, rolling up his sleeves, and doing what most others could never dream of doing. That was his unique strength. In fact, I’d guess it was his passion. When his role turned into a maintenance job though, he not only lost interest but also his crisis management style of leadership was not effective with the team. Hence, less-than-stellar results over time.

Yes, it’s true. Some business leaders have very short-term memories and don’t remember the good things you did a month or even a week ago. That doesn’t explain the dynamic of leaving high-performers in ill-suited roles though. More often than not, that’s merely a symptom of inattentive leadership and not holding our talented team members accountable to higher standards. If you have to ask “What have you done for me lately?” about anyone on your team, don’t just assume it’s time to say good-bye with a termination letter. That person may very likely find renewed energy and commitment to deliver simply from accepting a new and challenging role.

Posted in Accountability, Employee Performance, Job Rotation, Leadership, organizational culture, Performance Management, Strategic Culture Change, Talent Management, Workforce Management
One comment on “What Have You Done For Me Lately?
  1. Dave Benach says:

    Ok, so you bring on a new hire to accomplish a Herculean task. Based on the fact that this person actually delivered on this objective within a relatively limited timeframe, I would explore what new objectives were set for this employee once this initial mountain was climbed… After all, as you referenced, they seem to relish big challenges and have proven that they can deliver. If, however, this individual’s manager assumed that “business as usual” would keep a high initial performer like this engaged, they really should be looking at their own management skills more than the employee in question.

    Beyond that, I would explore Adam Grant’s principles of Give and Take in this context. Considering this hire entered an organization and delivered notable results, it bears investigating what the organization offered as far as recognition. In other words, “What Have You Done For Me Lately” is a knife that cuts both ways.

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