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You don't need superstars for super performance: The Whiteboard

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Richard Randall, founder and president of New Level Advisors
Richard Randall, founder and president of New Level Advisors - (Photo / )

When a manager tells me his or her employees aren't performing up to expectations, I advise the manager, as a first step, to take a good look in the mirror.

Poor employee performance is as often a management issue as it is an employee issue. Before coming down hard on employees, it is important to honestly assess where the problem lies.

It would be nice if you could assemble a team of superstars and sit back while they destroyed the competition, but that isn’t how it works. Most businesses can’t afford superstars for every position and, if they could, they still wouldn’t be able to locate and hire only superstars. Most often, managers have to settle for mere mortals.

Professional sports teaches us that even when our team is loaded with superstars, success is not a given. There are innumerable examples of great coaches leading less-talented teams to victory over teams loaded with superstars. Mere mortals can do great things given the right leadership.

To lead a team to great results you start with the big picture. This is why great companies have well-defined values, a very clear core purpose or mission, and an aspirational vision. In a poorly managed organization, these are clichés. They are the source of cynical Dilbert cartoons. In a well-managed organization, these are important tools that not only give individuals direction, but set the foundation and boundaries of the organization’s culture.

Setting the big picture is important, but it isn’t enough. NFL teams have a well-defined big picture, and they have talented players who understand the big picture. But no coach would send the players out on the field to figure out for themselves what they should do next. Coaches organize the effort. They set team and individual goals and priorities. They create a playbook.

Knowing that, why would business managers expect great results if they aren’t setting team and individual goals, organizing the effort and, in essence, creating the playbook? But time and again I hear, “These people should know what to do without me telling them,” or “Why should I have to hold meetings to monitor people at this level?”

I’m not suggesting that people need micromanagement; in fact, I deplore that. But a business team, just like an NFL team, needs specific individual and team goals, well-defined roles, and clear priorities. The team and individuals also need measurements so that they and management can monitor progress and make course corrections when appropriate.

Managers who understand this work with their teams to set specific, measurable team goals. Then they work with the individuals to ensure they understand their roles and to set specific individual goals that support the team’s goals. They define how and when progress is going to be measured and how it will be reported.

These team and individual goals and measurements aren’t the end. They are the inputs to the management process.

In the NFL, players’ performance in practice and games is monitored and graded. Players and coaches meet regularly to review results and plan for improvement. The same should be true in your business or department.

Regular staff or department meetings bring the team together to review results, priorities and plans. These meetings are a forum for coaching and managing the group effort. One-on-one meetings, also held regularly, are the forum for coaching and managing individuals.

I find that managers who complain about employee performance often fail to set the culture and goals, don’t explain roles and priorities, and don’t implement a good process. Before finding fault with employees, I suggest that these managers check that mirror.

Richard Randall is founder and president of management-consulting firm New Level Advisors in Springettsbury Township, York County. Email him at

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