I learned a valuable lesson a few years back. I was managing a sales team of thirteen B2B sales recruiters in Melbourne Australia (hence the Aussie rules photo; that's Gary Ablett; they call him the son of God over here; long story). We had a Monday morning breakfast meeting every week where we would talk about the week that was, how we are tracking for the quarter, the plan for the week ahead etc... Following a period of over-performance, I would tell the team about how great we were doing and pump up the individuals who performed well etc…. So to, after a ‘slower’ results period, I would talk to the team about how we as a team were underperforming and what we all need to do to correct the situation, but remaining vigilant in giving recognition to the top performers.
The problem was this: Although a team is a team, when things are going badly, not ‘everyone’ is to blame. So to sit your team down as a whole and tell them they need to pull up their socks, is not an ideal thing for the ‘top performers’ to be a part of. The message you’re giving to those top performers is inconsistent with their results. “Why do I have to listen to this, I doubled my budget last month!” they may think to themselves. I learned during an exit interview with one of my better performers that he felt exactly this way.
If you have a sustained period of underperformance, the message can also get very old and have a detrimental impact on morale across the group, including your top performers.
The other down side to addressing the entire team with negative messaging such as this is that you give underperformers an excuse: “Oh, so we’re all underperforming. It must just be a tough market. Although I would like to improve my situation, I don’t feel any pressure to, because we are all struggling. He can’t sack all of us”. I learned that ‘misery loves company’ and it can breed.
I’ve since learned to isolate negative messages to those that need to hear them. This saves the top performers from needing to hear about it and tends to ensure that underperformers have less company and make fewer excuses. This creates more expectation on them to correct their situation and in my experience, they are far more likely to do so in this environment. The top performers are also happier and feel more recognised. The entire team has a more upbeat place to work, resulting in better retention and engagement across the board and higher morale.
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