Guest Post by Janet Laane Effron

Performance, productivity, attitude…  we’d all like those to be first rate in the people we work with (and in ourselves).  But sometimes we get saddled with an individual or a team who are walking definitions of the dead opposite.  Sometimes these people aren’t inherently deadweight, but are talented individuals who have become under-performers.  If that’s the case, the challenge is to
 re-ignite their potential.

My best lessons in managing those situations came from outside the office.

Through various volunteer roles, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few young people who had a healthy dose of non-motivation and bad attitudes.  Some of them acquired those traits honestly, having spent quite a few years in what would be politely called “non-nurturing environments”.  Some felt worthless and powerless; they didn’t see “change” as something that was possible.   So they walked through life with a mix of bravado and apathy; pouring their energy into defiance and avoidance instead of building their abilities and achievements. When working with them, it was easy to fall into a trap of having every interaction be a point of conflict.  And that wasn’t going to get anyone anywhere.

Some changes were needed. From me.  So I learned to set people up to succeed.  And I became hyper-vigilant about catching them doing things right and doing good things; avoiding the trap of only giving negative feedback; instead finding opportunities to praise and encourage.   That doesn’t mean I relaxed standards; it does mean every effort was made to help them avoid pitfalls while trying to meet those standards.

The changes were undeniable.  The impossible became possible.  New motivations grew and replaced the apathy.  It wasn’t all sunshine and daffodils, but the net result was a growth of ambition and enthusiasm that was well beyond the starting point.

You don’t have to look far to find people who have felt powerless and frustrated in the workplace; who spent too many years working in organizations where innovation and initiative were not welcome.  There are probably some on your team right now who stopped trying long ago, and who drag everyone else down.  Now, they might simply be lazy and annoying and that’s the end of it; those situations have obvious solutions.  But when it’s a talented person whose potential is salvageable, it’s pretty good odds that if you set them up to succeed, and catch them doing good, they just might amaze you with what they achieve.