Why you shouldn’t spend ten seconds on your team’s ‘areas of improvement’

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Even though Jake had met his monthly sales quota for six months consecutively, he still had a queasy feeling that settled around the belt-line as he passed through the doorway into the conference room where his boss sat. Larry was a tall man, and was leaned back in the leather chair, one lanky leg casually draped over the other. His eyeglasses sat mid-way down his nose. He quickly removed the ballpoint pen that he’d been nibbling on as his subordinate entered the room.

“Jake! Thanks for being on time,” Larry said with a jovial tone. “I know it’s early.”

Jake smiled, and returned the greeting with a safe “good morning sir!”

It was Jake’s second six month review, and he was feeling pretty good about it. Well, most of it.

As he took a seat, Larry flipped open to a page full of illegible notes scrawled across the face of his yellow legal pad. “Well Jake, let me cut to the quick. You did really well these last two quarters. We’ve been impressed with your numbers, your lead times are quick, and you sure know how to follow-up. You’re probably one of the best in the department for follow-up. Where’d you learn the importance of practicing that?”

“When I worked for College Painters, they really stressed that the ‘fortune is in the follow-up,” Jake replied. “I guess there must be something to it.”

Larry nodded and began to chew on his pen again. “Yep, we’re liking what we’re seeing. Uh, so, we’ve got a 2.3% raise for you for your improved performance. But I also wanted to cover a few other things before we go…” Larry’s voice softened, and he furrowed his brow. Jake’s stomach started to knot.

“Jake, it seems like you could improve your cleanliness and organization. I’ve walked by your desk and it looks like a bomb went off! It just doesn’t look good for the other team members. Could we count on you to straighten up before your next review?”

Why don’t we care that Jake’s desk is messy? Because it has almost nothing to do with sales, workflow, or even company image. It doesn’t harm the company, it’s not stealing or any kind of dishonesty. It’s because Jake is good at sales, not at keeping a perfect workspace.

Although it’s a silly example, the point is, don’t bother trying to improve those areas where employees are weak. The energy, time, and emotional labor that it takes to get better in their weakest areas is much better spent improving their strengths. Focus on those key areas where your team feels empowered, improved, and where one person’s weakness is complemented by someone else’s strength. That’s why you hire a team – not because you need to clone yourself a dozen times, but to have people to pick up the pieces in each other’s weak areas.

“The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.” – Aristotle

When we work together toward a common goal, all sorts of opportunities, experiences, and ‘areas of improvement’ show up. What’s important is what you (the team leader) decide the focus should be.

Like this post on team work? You might like this one on being treated like a number!

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