12 Ground Rules When Facing Tough People Decisions

Tough decisions

Tough decisions

These 12 ground rules will help you face and deal with tough people decisions. These are not everyday decisions, these are tough everyday decisions. You know when the tough decisions need to be made. I was a project manager with a large Business Consulting firm in Chicago. I wrote an operating procedure for a company and recently another business needed the same guidance. Hopefully there are nuggets for those who must make tough decisions on personnel. LetsGO!

1. Recognize that it is people, not structural changes, who make an organization work or fail. Organizational change alone is the answer to nothing. Good talented people who are dedicated can make almost any organizational structure succeed. Conversely, lackluster people who are poor performers will be ineffective under any organizational concept.

Of course, organizational changes often are necessary to better utilize talents, achieve better planning and control, reduce costs, etc. But, the manager must ensure that he doesn’t fall into the trap of tinkering with the organization as a means of escaping or putting off fundamental problems that are difficult or uncomfortable to deal with.

2. Provide for a successor. Every manager — except individual contributors or professionals where a backup can’t be economically justified — should have a backup person who is potentially qualified for his job. If there is no one who has this potential, then you must give top priority to bringing someone in who does.

Providing for a successor does not automatically mean adding to staff. Rather, it means that one to two people within the organization who do not have appropriate management qualifications or potential should be replaced by someone who can meet those requirements. This should be done when attrition requires hiring replacements or when marginal performers are being replaced.

3. Deal with tenure problems fairly but candidly. Some individuals who have long and distinguished records of service in the company reach a point where their job responsibilities move beyond their energy level or capabilities. This is a natural development and should be expected . . . it will happen to all of us.

The manager and the organization both have an obligation to those people who have served it loyally. They should be compensated fairly and they should be given assignments where they have an opportunity to make a continuing contribution. But, if they can no longer pull their own weight, they have to be removed from the mainstream. It is not fair to the balance of the organization to leave them there. And, it is certainly not fair to them. The manager must promptly inform those who cannot stand the pace so that they may make the necessary adjustments without delay.

4. Communicate expectations — measure performance and act on results. A successful manager ensures that each person in the organization knows what is expected of him/her, how his/her assignment fits into the whole operation and how his/her performance will be measured. Each individual should have a set of specified goals that he/she is expected to accomplish within a certain time frame, so that there will be no misunderstanding about what he/she is supposed to do. Actual accomplishment against those expected results should serve as the basic measure of performance. At the same time, the company’s system of rewards and penalties must reinforce this concept. Rewards should be for achieving results, not for effort. In a competitive free enterprise environment, trying hard is not enough. Achieving results is what counts — the difference between winning and losing.

5. Don’t put up with marginal performers. The most frequent and insidious personal mistake managers are apt to make is to live too long with marginal or poor performers. Most managers kid themselves into thinking that by allowing these individuals to continue, they are being fair and that somehow time will correct the situation. Nothing could be farther from the truth — basic personality faults or skill deficiencies simply do not get corrected with time.

It is totally unfair and a reflection of weak management to reach an agonizing conclusion that someone can’t do the job after he has been on it for several years. The truly capable manager must be tough-minded in his/her performance evaluations, unemotional in his/her decisions on who can perform and who cannot and then eminently fair and decisive in the way he/she carries out those decisions.

6. Criticize only in private. No person should be criticized in the presence of his subordinates. Any criticism should be saved for a private discussion so that the individual responsible can later handle the problem or correct matters with his subordinates on his own.

7. Weed out misfits. It is inevitable that some misfits are certain to creep into any organization, no matter how carefully people are screened or evaluated. The manager must be alert to move quickly and decisively to separate them. Not acting quickly to rectify such situations detracts from a manager’s credibility. People in an organization invariably know who the misfits are and will quickly draw negative conclusions about the manager’s own capability if he permits them to remain.

8. Cultivate individual ambition and drive. No individual should be criticized simply because he is “too ambitious,” “too aggressive,” “too impatient,” or “too demanding” as long as he is a good thinker and fair and straightforward in his dealings and actions with others. These phrases frequently are used in a critical vein in personnel evaluations, but they actually represent the kind of qualities an organization should develop, because such people can and will make things happen for the better.

It is those people who are too easy-going, too willing to compromise principles to avoid conflict, more interested in being liked than in getting things done who should come under fire. They create a mushy working environment that makes it impossible to develop a strong team or achieve outstanding results.

9. Focus objectively on personal accomplishments, not personal differences. A manager must understand that race, age, sex, heritage and sociocultural characteristics have nothing whatsoever to do with evaluating an individual’s effectiveness in a company.

Focus on and evaluate the things that really count:

  • Who faces problems squarely? Who has the guts to tell it like it is? Who does not?
  • Who is an effective, contributing team member? Who is not?
  • Who has and can articulate good ideas? Who cannot?
  • Who produces results? Who meets his or her commitments? Who does not?

10. Let people know their status and prospects. A manager should ensure that people in the organization know exactly where they stand and what their career outlook is at all times — even if it hurts. This doesn’t mean that anyone should expect to have a special career path mapped out or to be promised a future promotion. But it does mean that each person is entitled to know whether he/she is performing well or poorly in his current assignment and whether he/she is regarded as having future growth potential.

11. Provide training, but stress self-development. There will be times when a company must reach outside to find the best available leadership to meet its management needs and standards. However, promotion from within should be the company’s overall organizational plan and goal. Toward that end, a company should support projects to prepare its people for increased responsibilities.

But, in the final analysis, all of us ultimately shape and control our individual destinies. A company can point the way and assist with company-sponsored educational and training programs, but self-development is the key to success — and each of us must shoulder that management responsibility on his own.

12. Create and maintain an attractive, healthy company environment. This last ground rule sums up all the previous guidelines. It underscores the essential responsibility of a manager to provide people in the organization with a situation and an opportunity to work effectively in a common effort, develop their capabilities, fulfill their professional aspirations, and achieve appropriate recognition and rewards.

A manager must place major emphasis on creating this kind of environment. This doesn’t mean he should seek to make everyone happy or to make tasks easier. But, it does mean that he should develop a work environment that has these characteristics:

12.1 There is absolute honesty and integrity in what everyone says and does. And, everyone feels perfectly free to say what he or she really thinks.

12.2    There is open communication up and down and across the organization. Everyone recognizes both the right and the responsibility to be open and constructively critical of things that are wrong or that could be improved.

12.3    Superiors are willing to really listen to the other person’s side and point of view — and are willing to admit “I’m wrong” if facts and logic show that is the case.

12.4    There is a genuine interest in getting problems up on the table — and in correcting them rather than worrying about pinpointing blame or scurrying to keep shirt tails clean.

12.5    Everyone works hard and effectively as a team — and has fun doing it. There is an air of excitement in the organization that comes with the realization that you are on a winning team.

Please comment or share. If I can serve you or your team, I would love to help. Contact or call me and I can provide you with free resources, free training and free coaching.

Make Difference, Make it Happen, LetsGO!




About Travis Snow

CEO/Coach, Speaker, Author, Trainer. Become more efficient and effective, productive and profitable by measuring, managing, adjusting and controlling, I train and motivate you and your team through speaking engagements, coaching or consulting, books, DVD series training or online training, we deliver your SUCCESSNOW! Call 703.231.0286 or click tsnow@travissnow.com Let'sTALK!
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