Finding the direct route to goal

Effective senior managers generally operate at a high-level; reviewing and monitoring the work of others.Is this you?
Effective senior managers generally operate at a high-level; reviewing and monitoring the work of others.Is this you?

The charge of “underperformance” is a very common issue: defining one’s own job profile and goals is a big step towards becoming more efficient.



3 September 2008

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Effective senior managers generally operate at a high-level; reviewing and monitoring the work of others.Is this you?

THE PROBLEM: I work at a senior level of management within a large organisation and I have recently been told that my department has been consistently underperforming.

I’m not sure exactly what this means for my own future in the company but I’m guessing I have relatively little time to turn this situation around. I’m very worried about how/if this can be achieved. I am responsible for overseeing the work of all the teams under me, to whom I assign the projects (95% marketing-orientated), although the scope/content of this work is not always decided by me.

I am also responsible for the daily management of my department. I am already over-stretched doing my own job and covering for vacancies within my department, as are others working under me. As a whole group I don’t believe we’re working cohesively. I know this is probably my fault, something I’m not doing, but I just can’t seem to do any better than I’m doing at the moment. I’m sorry if this is a little vague, is there any advice you can give me to get more from myself and my department?

Welcome to a very common issue raised during coaching sessions. If we were to meet face-to-face, I would immediately ask you a two questions; (i) who told you the department has been consistently underperforming, and (ii) how do you quantify “underperformance” or even “performance”?

What is the importance of these questions? In order to establish what this means for your future, I believe it is important to go back to the “messenger”. You will need to establish a clear direction for the department, its products and services. I would suggest you clarify “performance” under three headings: What is the ideal performance? What is underperformance? What is overperformance? (thinking positively for a minute!)

You will also need to establish a clear time-line to achieve the required level of performance. As you may know from my previous columns, I believe that communication is one of the most fundamental criteria for a fully functioning team at any level. If you have to guess the turn around time you are already at a disadvantage. Find out your time-frame.

Avoid wasting time – know where to start

You now have part of your road-map. Without clear direction you may end up wasting your precious time and energy focusing on the wrong areas of the business you are offering.

Let’s start with you. I take it from your note that you are part of the senior management team. You say that you are busy doing your own job. I would suggest that you take a look at your job. Do you have a job-profile? If you do, great. Take a look at your in-tray/desk and look at what you “should” be doing. Effective senior managers generally operate at a high-level; reviewing and monitoring the work of others. You appear to have more on your plate. Take some time to analyse this. How can you become more structured? If you do not have a job-profile, I would suggest that you create one.

Think of your road-map. Job-profiles are not always as rigid as they appear on paper. The simple job-profile, however, will make the daily process easier for you and the members of your team (see below).

Team work makes light work

Now, let us focus on the cohesive nature of the team. My definition of a team is “a group of people working together to achieve a common (tangible) goal within an agreed time-frame.” How does this compare to the definition going on in your head?
Break the definition down, starting with tangible goals.  These are things that are measurable; the goal of the organisation, the department and the individual teams. Can you see how these link/do not link? What do you learn from this analysis? The goal is important. Everybody needs to be pointing in the same direction.

For instance, you may need to meet with the individuals or groups involved. If you decide to meet, establish the agreed outcome of the meeting before you start. Agree the time frame of the meeting; so many meeting are endless. For example, the purpose of this meeting is to agree the goal of this team/outcome of project etc. Allow 30 minutes for the meeting and if you agree the goals before that, the meeting is completed. Avoid any issues that come up that do not relate to the purpose of the meeting. This technique will add hours to your day and years to your life.

Next, take a look at the make up of each team. Are there clear roles and responsibilities? Again, think about job-profiles. I get many of my clients to create a matrix of responsibilities and I feel this will really work for you and the department.

Let’s call this the competency matrix. Draw up a table. On the left-hand column list each of the people in the team/department (depending on the nature of your business, you may need to drill down to the level of the team). On the top row, list all of the competencies required by your team to achieve the goals of the department. Mark each person’s competencies and analyse the outcome. Do you have too many people for one particular area? What about skills/competency that you are missing? Is there someone else better suited/faster etc? The picture will start to become clearer.

First find out the problems, then the solutions

Share this with top-management first. At this stage you will probably have a clearer indication of performance; you have now identified the gaps. How can you fill these gaps? It is important to communicate your findings and outcomes both upwards and downwards. Each of these steps will move you closer to cohesion; particularly if you communicate your findings and your process to the people involved. Try to keep as many people as you can in the loop.

Knowing your own role and direction and that of the team will bring you so much closer to the cohesive team you are aiming for. I will finish with one of my favourite tips that I came across recently. I tell this story to so many of many clients, I feel it will resonate with you.

“Let me tell you some hard truths about my family.

My youngest daughter is an incompetent human being. She can’t drive a car, she gives terrible advice, and quite frankly, her cooking leaves a lot to be desired.

“But coach,” I hear you cry, “That’s okay. Cut her some slack, she’s only six!” Here’s my question: At what age does it stop being okay to not be good at things? Should I start judging her as incompetent and ‘less than’ when she’s 16? Or 60?

Perhaps more importantly, at what age will it stop being okay to her, because that’s the age where we will begin to teach her the myth that asking for help is an admission of inadequacy. Oh, we won’t mean to, of course. But when her teacher rolls his eyes and tells her to “just work it out for herself”, her well-meaning parents huff in frustration and do it for her, and her friends all laugh because she didn’t know the answer, she’ll learn.

And unfortunately, then she’ll become as limited as each one of us, trying to make her way dependant on only her own meagre resources in a world of knowledge and possibilities that expand by the nanosecond. Fortunately, there is a cure. It’s called “other people’s resources”, and you can tap into them at any time through the simple act of asking for assistance!”

Meet the Coach
Eibhlin Johnston is the managing director of thinkCoaching, which works with business teams, executives, managers and self-employed professionals to help them discover their core strengths and create bottom line results. Her specialty area is talent retention of individual high performers.

Eibhlin has over 17 years experience in financial services and uses her past expertise to help business-owners. For more information visit or call 353 87 8583564. 




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