When the Thrill Is Gone: Dealing with Decommitted People

One of the biggest challenges managers face is how to respond when they notice a direct report has decreased motivation or confidence to do a job. We call this decommitment.

For the most part, leaders avoid dealing with decommitment, largely because it is such an emotionally charged issue and they don’t know how. When they do address it, they often make matters worse: They turn the not-engaged into the actively disengaged! It doesn’t occur to many leaders that something they or their organization is doing or failing to do may be the cause of the eroded commitment. Yet evidence suggests that’s often the case.

Lack of feedback, lack of recognition, lack of clear performance expectations, unfair standards, broken promises, being yelled at or blamed, and being overworked and stressed out are just a few reasons people lose their motivation and commitment.

So how do you, an enlightened leader, deal with a decommitted direct report without making matters worse? The most effective way is to catch decommitment early—the first time you see it—before it gets out of control and festers. Then take the following steps to get back on track.

Step 1: Prepare Before You Meet

Before meeting with your direct report, clarify the specific performance or behavior that you want to discuss. Do not attempt to address multiple issues at once. Gather all the facts that support the existence of the decommitment. If it’s a performance issue, quantify the decline in performance. If it’s a behavior issue, limit your observations to what you have seen. Don’t make assumptions or bring in the perceptions of others—these are sure ways to generate defensiveness.

Now identify anything you or the organization might have done to contribute to the decommitment. Have you ever talked to the person about their performance or behavior? Have you made performance expectations clear? Does the person know what a good job looks like? Have you been using the right leadership style? Is the person being rewarded for inappropriate performance or behavior? (Poor behavior in organizations is often rewarded—that is, nobody says anything.) Is the person being punished for good performance or behavior? (People often are punished for good behavior—that is, they do well and someone else gets the credit.) Do policies support the desired performance? For example, is training or time made available to learn needed skills?

Once you have done a thorough job of preparing, you’re ready for Step 2.

Step 2: Schedule a Meeting, State the Meeting’s Purpose, and Set Ground Rules

Scheduling a meeting is vital. It’s important to begin the meeting by stating the meeting’s purpose and setting ground rules to ensure that both of you will be heard in a way that doesn’t arouse defensiveness. For example, you might open the meeting with something like this:

“I want to talk about what I see as a serious issue with your responsiveness to information inquiries. I’d like to set some ground rules about how our discussion proceeds, so that we can both fully share our perspectives. By working together to identify and agree on the issue and its causes, we can set a goal and develop an action plan to resolve it.

“First, I’d like to share my perceptions of the issue—what I’m noticing and what I think may have caused it. I want you to listen but not to respond to what I say, except to ask questions for clarification. Then I want you to restate what I said, so that I know you understand my perspective. When I’m finished, I’d like to hear your side of the story, with the same ground rules. I’ll restate what you said until you know I understand your point of view. Does this seem like a reasonable way to get started?”

Using these ground rules, you should begin to understand each other’s point of view on the issue. Making sure that both of you have been heard is a wonderful way to reduce defensiveness and move toward resolution.

Once you have set ground rules for your meeting, you are ready for Step 3.

Step 3: Work Toward Mutual Agreement and Commit to a Plan

The next step is to identify where there is agreement and disagreement on both the issue and its causes. Your job is to see if enough of a mutual understanding can be reached so that mutual problem solving can go forward. Both of you probably won’t agree on everything—but see if there is enough common ground to work toward a resolution. If not, revisit those things that are getting in the way, and restate your positions to see if understanding and agreement can be reached.

When you think it is possible to go forward, ask, “Are you willing to work with me to get this resolved?”

If you still can’t get a commitment to go forward, you need to use a directing leadership style. Set clear performance expectations and a time frame for achieving them; set clear, specific performance standards and a schedule for tracking performance progress; and state consequences for nonperformance. Understand that this is a last-resort strategy that may resolve the performance issue but not the commitment issue.

When you get a commitment to work together to resolve the issue, it is normal to feel great relief and assume that the issue is resolved. Not so fast.

If you have contributed to the cause of the problem, you need to take steps to correct what has been done. But you may not be in a position to patch things up if it was the organization that created the problem. In this case, a simple acknowledgment of how your direct report has been impacted may be enough to release the negative energy and regain the person’s commitment.

Once you finally get a commitment to work together to resolve the issue, you can go to Step 4 and partner for performance.

Step 4: Partner for Performance

Now you and the direct report need to have a partnering for performance discussion in which you jointly decide the leadership style you will use to provide work direction or coaching. You should set a goal, establish an action plan, and schedule a progress-check meeting. This last step is crucial!

Resolving decommitment issues requires sophisticated interpersonal and performance management skills. Your first try at one of these conversations is not likely to be as productive as you would like. However, if you conduct the conversation in honest good faith, it will reduce the impact of less-than-perfect interpersonal skills and set the foundation for a productive relationship built on commitment and trust.

Writing Your Personal Life Purpose

It’s so easy to get caught up in our cell phones, emails, and deadlines that we often forget to step back and look at the big picture. So, as you read this, pause and ask yourself these questions:

 

  • Why am I here?
  • What do I really want to be in the world?
  • How am I doing on that?

Just as an organization needs to have a clear purpose and sense of what business it’s in, so do individuals. Yet few people have a clear sense of their life’s purpose. How can you make good decisions about how you should use your time if you don’t know what you want to do with your life?

Here’s a simple, four-step process to help you create a good working draft of your life purpose.

Step 1: Describe Who You Are.  Think of two or three nouns or phrases that describe your unique skills or characteristics. For example, my nouns are “teacher” and “example.” You might choose different characteristics, such as artist, scientist, humorist, mechanic, writer, etc.

Step 2: Describe How You Influence Others.  Think of two or three verbs that describe how you influence the world around you. For example, my verbs are “help” and “motivate.” You might choose influence verbs such as encourage, plan, inspire, educate, etc.

Step 3: Describe Your Ideal World.  Create a picture of your ideal world. For example, in my perfect world everyone is aware of the presence of God in their lives. You might have a perfect world where people are successful in achieving their goals, or children are well cared for, or the environment is healthy.

Step 4: Put It All Together. Now, create a purpose statement by combining two of your nouns, two of your verbs, and your ideal world, and you’ll have a good start on a statement of your life’s purpose. For example, my life purpose is:

“To be a loving teacher and example of simple truths who helps and motivates myself and others to awaken to the presence of God in our lives, so we realize we are here to serve rather than to be served.” 

Someone else might have a purpose that reads:

“To be a scientist and writer who encourages and inspires people to care for the natural world and preserve a healthy environment for future generations.”

Another person might have a purpose that reads:

“To be an artist and visionary who reveals a new way of seeing and awakens people to the beauty in the world around them.”

Feel free to dream big during this process.  Don’t worry about not living up to the life purpose you envision—we all fall short of our ideal. Put your fears and insecurities aside as you write. As Nelson Mandela said:

“There is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Determining your life purpose is the first step in a three-part process to creating a compelling personal vision. In future blogs, I’ll talk about steps two and three—creating your legacy and determining your values. Stay tuned!

 

Golfers: Are You Too Attached to Outcome?

I’ve often said that golf is an acronym for Game of Life First. I certainly proved that when I recently tried to qualify for the Golden Seniors team at my local country club.

In golf, as in life, you get good breaks you deserve and you get good breaks you don’t deserve. You get bad breaks you deserve and you get bad breaks you don’t deserve. Sometimes you’re playing better than you should and you have to deal with success and sometimes you’re playing worse than you should and you have to deal with failure. All in four and a half hours! Given the aggravation, it’s hard to believe that people pay money to play that game!

Well, I experienced all of this during my tryout, and ended up playing a lot worse than I should. I have to admit I was pretty disappointed in myself. But lo and behold, I got an email congratulating me for making the Golden Seniors roster! And just to prove what a crazy game golf is, last weekend I played with my grandson Alec and shot my best round since we started playing together. How about that! Such is life—and golf.

If you like golf, go to the library and check out a book I wrote years ago with Wally Armstrong, one of the great golf teachers in our country, called The Mulligan. It has a few gems you might be able to use.

One of my favorite parts in our book was about NATO golf—Not Attached To Outcome. I adopted the NATO philosophy years ago. I can’t tell you how much more fun it is to play golf this way than to grind my teeth over the score. I’m not worried about whether I’m going to be able to hit that hole or make that putt—I just get up there and let it happen.

When you’re attached to outcome, you might be having a good game but then you hit the ball wrong and find yourself focusing on the wrong things—every move you make, every breeze, every bump in the grass. Your body tightens up and you just can’t play as well. You become fearful of your results because you believe who you are depends on how you score or play that day.

When I play NATO golf, it doesn’t mean I’m not interested in hitting good shots or scoring well. It’s great when that happens, but I know that I am not my score. I am not each shot. As a result, I’m much more relaxed and able to swing freely at the ball without fear. I can focus on the fun, the camaraderie, and the beauty of my surroundings.

Spring is coming! Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead this Sunday morning. And remember: Life is a very special occasion—and golf isn’t too bad, either.

New Year, New Goals: Don’t Go It Alone!

The New Year is fast approaching and here it comes again: New Year’s resolution time. Have you ever made New Year’s resolutions you didn’t keep? My experience is that all of us have had good intentions we didn’t follow through on over the years. We usually start out enthusiastic about the change but after a while our enthusiasm falls by the wayside. Why is that?

My friend Art Turock taught me that the problem stems from confusion between interest and commitment. For example, when interested walkers and joggers wake up and find it raining outside, they lie back down and think to themselves, “I’ll exercise tomorrow.” However, when committed exercisers wake up and find it’s raining, they get out of bed and think to themselves, “I’ll exercise inside today!” In other words:

They keep their commitment to their commitment.

So, let’s get real. What have you been wanting to do for a long time but just haven’t been able to get done? Maybe it has to do with your health and fitness. Or maybe it’s learning a new language, or getting organized, or cleaning out your garage. Whatever it is, that’s great. You’ve got your commitment. Now, how are you going to keep your commitment to your commitment?

First, don’t go it alone. The heroic legend of the lone wolf who succeeds at lofty goals through willpower alone is strong with many people. This “John Wayne myth” isn’t dead—it’s just not effective.  I should know. For years I could not keep my commitment to good health and wellness. I needed help.

That help eventually came from Tim Kearin, the health and fitness coach who had been patient with me for many years. Each year Tim listened to me announce my New Year’s resolution to improve my health and fitness—and each year he watched me not keep my commitment. Year after year we went through the same routine: Tim would receive a call from me early in the year to begin a fitness program. I would get underway with enthusiasm, but after a month or so I would gradually become too busy to keep my commitment to my commitment. The process would start again at the beginning of the following year.

The way I broke this ineffective cycle—and the way you can, too—was to follow the six principles outlined in Fit at Last, the book Tim and I wrote to document my fitness journey:

  1. Have Compelling Reasons and a Purpose
  2. Establish a Mutual Commitment to Success
  3. Apply SLII® (in other words, get the coaching and support that matches your development level)
  4. Develop Age-Appropriate Goals
  5. Set Up a Support System to Hold You Accountable
  6. Have Measurable Milestones to Stay Motivated

While these six principles were developed to accompany a fitness program, they can be adapted to any kind of goal accomplishment.  I’m happy to say that by applying these six principles, I’ve managed to maintain my health and fitness goals for the past five years.

You, too, can keep your commitment to your commitment. Just don’t be a lone wolf. Set yourself up to succeed by finding the coaching and support you need.

What’s Your Midyear’s Resolution?

Can you believe that 2017 is almost half over already? Wow! Where did the time go?

I’ve been thinking about how every year we set New Year’s resolutions—and by June, those goals are just distant memories. So maybe it would be a good idea for us all to set a Midyear’s resolution every year in June. There’s nothing wrong with setting a goal for how to make the next six months better, or for what you want to be doing six months from now. Margie loves the saying “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” So think about the next six months coming up and go ahead and dream about the person you want to be or the thing you want to do. When you start to send energy out as a dream, you never know who may show up in your life to help you accomplish it.

That’s what happened when Spencer Johnson and I wrote The One Minute Manager. The book was due to go on sale in May 1982. So in September 1981, Spencer and I met at the La Jolla Cove. We had The New York Times book review section and a bottle of champagne, and we talked about our goals and dreams for our little book. We set a goal to sell 500,000 copies—no business book had ever sold that many—and we dreamed that it would be on The New York Times bestseller list for six months. Then we celebrated, clinking our glasses as we sat there with the bestseller list, and it was really a fun time. That was on a Sunday.

On Monday I was on a plane bound for Chicago. I introduced myself to the guy sitting next to me in first class and asked him what business he was in. He said, “I’m a regional sales manager for B. Dalton.” (At the time, B. Dalton was the largest bookstore in the US.) I said, “You’re kidding me. You sell books?” and he said, “Sure, we have 750 stores.” So I started talking to him. By the time we got to Chicago, I had come up with a whole strategy to reach the business buyers of B. Dalton and Waldenbooks and all the other bookstores.

Before we got off the plane I said to the guy, “I’ll bet you weren’t supposed to be sitting here, were you?” He said, “How did you know that? They goofed up my ticket and at the last minute I was upgraded to first class.” I laughed and said, “You had no choice. I sucked you into this seat with the energy from my dream and vision about this book.” Ha! And you know what? That little book did all right.

So dream big—and be sure to let other people know what your vision is. Someone you meet might be able to help it come true. June is almost over! What’s your Midyear’s resolution?