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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

You can lead a horse to water...but poor performance needs to be managed.

Also while we're at it...the word "manager" is not a dirty word.


The challenge for leaders or managers in the modern workplace often brings to mind the proverb, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." It speaks volumes about the nuances of managing people, especially when it comes to addressing poor performance.


People generally resist the notion of being 'managed' in the traditional sense.


Research in organisational behaviour has consistently shown that employees value inclusion, autonomy, and accountability over directive management styles (Source: Harvard Business Review).


Inclusion here means creating an environment where every team member's voice is heard, fostering a sense of belonging and engagement.


Autonomy is all fun and games until there's poor performance and no accountability...


Autonomy: A Privilege Earned Through Performance


While autonomy is a key driver of employee satisfaction and motivation, it's not an entitlement but rather a privilege earned through consistent performance (Source: Journal of Business and Psychology). Granting autonomy is a trust-building exercise that empowers employees to take ownership of their work, leading to higher productivity and job satisfaction.


For the good employees, you can introduce a merit reward system; for the ones that are slowing down on their performance, you can develop a disciplined process including concrete action plans that will help them improve (Source: Forbes).


Accountability: The Other Side of Autonomy


With autonomy comes accountability. This concept is crucial in ensuring that freedom in the workplace is balanced with responsibility. Employees must understand that while they have the freedom to execute tasks in their unique style, they are also accountable for the outcomes (Source: American Management Association).


Poor performance must have consequences.
While the majority of employees will never face the relentless “win or leave” pressure typical of professional sports, weak accountability tells people that just showing up is acceptable (Source: McKinsey).

Management is Not a Dirty Word


Contrary to some beliefs, management is not about imposing strict controls but guiding, supporting, and intervening when necessary. Effective management, especially of poor performance, is essential for maintaining team morale and productivity. Addressing performance issues is crucial not only for team dynamics but also for the personal growth of the individual involved (Source: Forbes).


Approaching Poor Performance


Managing poor performance requires a delicate balance of empathy and firmness. It involves understanding the root causes, setting achievable improvement goals, and providing necessary support and resources (Source: Society for Human Resource Management). This approach not only helps in rectifying performance issues but also aids in the personal and professional development of the employee.


The role of management in addressing poor performance is integral to the success of a team. Just like leading a horse to water, it's about creating the right conditions for success - where inclusion, autonomy, and accountability lead to a thriving work environment.


The solution?

Trust and Action:


Create an inclusive environment, set expectations, trust your people to deliver...but address poor performance.


Further reading:




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