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Executive Leadership Podcast #184: 7 Questions Leaders Ask When Improving Team Performance

April 19, 2022
Executive Leadership Podcast #184: 7 Questions Leaders Ask When Improving Team Performance

Are you improving your team’s performance? Today Perry and Chris talk about seven ways to position your team as a high-performance team.

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Perry Holley:    Welcome to the Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. I’m Perry Holley, a Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, Executive Vice President with Maxwell Leadership. Welcome, and thank you for joining. If you want to learn more about our five levels of leadership, maybe even just looking for a podcast that we’ve done in the past, or you have a question for Perry and I, which really, this is awesome, because today this came from one of our listeners, had a question for us. If you’ll visit, and you’ll fill out the form there, we’ll get that information. Our team will be in touch with you and we can go from there.

I’m a little disappointed in Perry, he likes to tend to follow the number five, but Perry, since this is a listener question, I’m going to give you a password going with seven-

Perry Holley:    Thank you.

Chris Goede:     … today. This is really important because for us, when we talk about The 5 Levels of Leadership, really the foundation, the methodology of which we help all organizations build their culture off of. At level three, we talk about how do teams produce? How do you produce as a leader? How do you get your team to produce in and through you, and what does that look like? And it’s really pivotal in your leadership, and so we’re going to talk today about seven questions leaders ask when improving team performance.

Perry Holley:    Yes. Big number, seven.

Chris Goede:     It is.

Perry Holley:    Did you feel that? Yep.

Chris Goede:     I did, but I’m giving you an out because it’s from a listener.

Perry Holley:    Well, the question that came in was what’s a leader’s role in improving team performance, or how can a leader improve team performance? And I think it’s something every leader should be thinking about. It’s probably one of the top two or three things you should be thinking about, and so I thought about this for a bit and wrote down, following something we teach in The 5 Levels of Leadership, a seven step process for developing people.

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    I’m just going to jump right in, because it’s seven, I don’t want to take up a lot of time, but I would love to get your feedback on these. Question number one was, did I hire the right person? This is obviously the recruiting question, and I guess the big question I always come up, people say, “Do I hire for skill, character, experience? Can I get all three?”

I’ve been impressed with leaders lately who put a lot thought, and it’s funny, you and I were just talking about this earlier today about how you’re putting a lot of thought into the recruiting process, and with a sales leader, and he’s challenging the recruiting company at all levels. Stop, I need a very specific candidate, and they’re being more picky about this, but what are your thoughts on…

Chris Goede:     I’m just going to share from a Maxwell Leadership standpoint kind of how we handle this here. This is something that I believe you should take your time on and make the decision on the front end. Now, we go through this process. You may have a similar process to where there is a competence question that needs to be answered, that’s usually by the hiring leader. There’s a character question that needs to be kind of dug out. That’s usually by the leader and also maybe some of the team members. And then there’s a culture question that I think most people go, “Oh man, I really like Perry. And yeah, Perry can do the job.” And they don’t necessarily think about the culture fit and they bring Perry on and now we got a little bit of a weird dynamic from a culture standpoint.

And so when you think about, “Did I hire the right people?” And you’re thinking about this team of improving their performance, we just give this to you to say, “Hey, maybe the next time that you make a decision on hiring, you think about it.” We call it the three CS here at Maxwell Leadership and how we go through that process. And it is, man, it is, I’m not going to say it’s impossible, but it is hard to improve somebody’s and train up somebody’s character than it is competence. And so you can figure out what the role is, what’s more important, but man, don’t miss out on making sure that they’re a culture fit first and foremost. I’d rather somebody be a little bit less competent in a skill that you need and be a really, really good culture fit because I feel like we can help train and equip and develop on that skillset easier than we can from a culture fit.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, we could.

Chris Goede:     The second one is, are they in the right roles? This is a positioning question for us, based on what they bring to the table, based on what you hired them for. We also had another conversation, you and I today, we hire individuals with great talent, and we think this is the job and the description, we get them in and that’s no longer the job description. We throw the job description out the window. And so, but just make sure you really look at what that looks like and what you hired them for and their strength and their weaknesses align with what you’re looking for.

A good person in the wrong spot can look like a performance problem, like they’re not producing. Remember we’re talking about performance today, when really it’s just a positioning problem. You may just be able to move some people around to be able to help increase your performance.

Perry Holley:    That’d make a good bumper sticker. A good person in the wrong role could look like a performance problem.

Chris Goede:     There you go. There you go.

Perry Holley:    Jim Collins taught us this years ago and [inaudible 00:05:09] the great and the right people on the bus, get them in the right seat. Positioning people correctly really requires you to know their strength and weaknesses. And it may not happen. I love the way you just said that. We do get folks on our team, we hired them for a reason, but then they’ve exhibited other strengths and we’ve expanded roles and we’ve moved people, get you in a place where you can actually perform at peak on that.

Number three on my seven questions was are you demonstrating the behavior you want to see in others? This is the modeling question. The question I generally ask when we’re teaching this is if everyone on your team exhibited the same level of productivity and focus on their job as you do, would that be good? And I get a lot of leaders looking at their shoes about that time, but John says be the team member you want on your team.

Chris Goede:     That’s good.

Perry Holley:    I think modeling is the people are watching you all the time and they’re trying to decide, how do we do things here, what’s expected? And performance generally falls into that, busy or productive. And they’re watching you be busy and moving things around, but not really producing, then it’s going to be a problem.

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Chris Goede:     Yeah. People do what people see. It is a visual sport. Leadership is. It’s contagious one way another. And so 100% agree with it starts with you from a modeling standpoint.

Question number four in regards to things you should be asking yourself about improving your team is, are you providing the skill development people need to do their jobs? This is the equipping question for us. And every role has a set of skills and abilities that are necessary for the job. Some are extremely crucial, others may not be. But you need to understand it as a leader. And so you need to make sure that you are providing your team members education and training in those skill sets so that there’s not a fatal flaw there. Again, there are some, and when you look at the position or the situation you go, “Man, that’s essential. That is mission critical right there that they know how to do that.” And in that case, what we want to encourage you to do is make sure you are providing the right skillset to do that, which will then increase their performance.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Fantastic. Which leads into question number five, we said, are you providing personal development for the people on your team? This is the development question. It’s often confused with the equipping question. I’ll ask a leader, “Are you developing the people on your team?” “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We do that all the time.” I said, “Could you give me an example?” “Well, we got a new finance program so we bought everybody a finance class.” I thought, “Okay, that’s equipping. You’re helping them do their job, but are you developing them?”

And so development is different from equipping where equipping focuses on the specific job skills. Development focus on higher level abilities that make them a better person. It doesn’t just make them better for the job, it makes them better, period. And leadership development could be part of that, communication skills, development could be part of that, productivity development, how to be more productive, public speaking. We’ve done a number of things and helping people grow themselves as people to apply better to the roles they do. But don’t be confused between equipping and developing. They’re both important. And if you’re developing your team and increasing the performance of your team, you got to do both.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And don’t take this lightly. I was working with a leader a couple weeks ago and it’s a small to medium size organization. And I said, “Hey, what’s the development plan of your leadership team? Talked to me about it.” And he said, “What do you mean?” I was like, “Okay, well, we’re going to start right here.” And I didn’t say “What’s your development plan.” But I said, “Hey, let’s talk about it. What is the team? What’s the development plan.” And he said, “I don’t know. That’s a good question.” I said, “Okay, let me do some discovery calls. Let me meet with your team one on one. Let me ask them some questions.” And it was fascinating that as I talked to him, I’m trying to help him with some culture stuff inside his team was that I would say, “Hey, talk to me, what are you learning? What are you doing? Where are you growing leadership wise?”

And they’re like, “Man, listen, I’m so busy, I don’t have enough time to do it. My boss only asks about production numbers. He only asks about this and what’s going on with this team member.” Which leads me to this comment of, leaders, the questions you ask of your people should speak into what are they doing to grow and to learn as a leader and what does that look like? And challenge them to be able to do that. If you’re not asking them, they’re not going to think it’s important to you and they’re not going to do it.

And so I want to make sure, this is our passion right here is around this development standpoint on this question number five, and so we just need to make sure that you’re thinking about, “Hey, if I want to raise the lid of my team from a performance standpoint, I better be raising their ability skillset wise, but also developing them in their thinking and the leadership and everything that comes with that.”

Perry Holley:    Yeah, can I just add there because I teach this a lot and people, you gave the big why not is because I don’t have time or my son saying, “Dude, I don’t have time to read.” When I ask him “What are you reading?” Okay, two things, don’t call me dude. And two, how are you competing? How are you differentiating yourself from others? And I realized we tend to make this really big. We make it seem like a really big thing that’s going to take a really lot amount of time. And what I have discovered is that really small is my kind of my life motto now, small things done daily consistently over time, big results. So can you figure out something small that people on your team could do, but do it every day?

Could they read two pages? Could they listen to this podcast, but maybe listen to it over, it’s like what are we? 15, 18 minutes? Listen to it over six days, a couple minutes. But every week at your team meeting, you have five minutes, not 10, five minutes associated to that. What did you learn from Chris and Perry on the podcast? Or what did you take from that leadership reading that we’re doing, those two pages? One of our organization does the Maxwell daily reader.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, the whole organization.

Perry Holley:    The whole organization reads, it’s a-

Chris Goede:     Paragraph.

Perry Holley:    Yeah, it’s a half a page. It’s nothing, but it has a message to it 365 days. So every day this organization opens that book, everybody reads the same lesson on this 365 days. So for today, what was the lesson for today? And then they talk about it for two, three minutes, and then they go back to work. And so there’s small things you could do that would make a big difference.

Chris Goede:     And we talked about going first and leading by example. Let me just give you another key right here. By the way, share with your team with what you’re learning.

Perry Holley:    That’s another problem.

Chris Goede:     Well, that’s going to challenge them to be able to do that. Okay. Well, this isn’t about the development side. This is the seven things. Let me jump here to number six that we have for you. Are the people on your team executing their jobs independently with little input from you? This is the empowerment question. How much are they leaning on you? Or how much are you leaning on them to get their job done? And if the answer’s no, perhaps they need to see you model it. They need to be equipped or they need to be developed. But if the people on your team need to be micromanaged to do their jobs well, then let’s go back to these questions number three, four, and five, and then reevaluate that because you shouldn’t be in the business of micromanaging your people.

Perry Holley:    Absolutely. It’s a great point. And I’m often asking, “How is empowerment working for you?” And I’ve had pushback people saying, “Oh, it’s dangerous. People get us in trouble. It’s risky.” I said, “Well, you’re probably doing it wrong.” And what I discover is they do. We just go through what we said so far, they recruited, they positioned and they said, “Go, you’re empowered.” And I said, “Try this one. You recruited, you position, you modeled, you equipped, you developed, now in power.” Get a different outcome every time. And which leads to the final question, number seven, I just said, are you keeping score? This is the measurement question. And to your point just a minute ago, are you monitoring each person’s performance against the goals you’ve set and are you giving them feedback and coaching them as part of holding them accountable for these results?

And then based on that scoreboard and what you’re recognizing and seeing from them, do you need to go back someplace? Did we recruit incorrectly? We got to change our recruiting. Did we position incorrectly? Are we not equipping properly? Are we not developing properly? Am I not modeling properly? Then all of a sudden if you keep the scoreboard and see, where is this process coming apart? Then I can really focus on like we have a very specific recruiting policy, how we do things. And it pays off down the road because then we’re able to position. It makes it easier to model. I can then equip. I got you developed. I can empower you. And then I look at the scoreboard’s pretty positive.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. And I think that helps also team members really understand and have clarity what it is that you expect from them. And the performance can often be negatively affected when people aren’t clear on what’s expected of them. I’ll give you an example that comes to mind when we talk about this.

I have a sales team and each one of them have different quotas. And anybody in the sales world knows it’s a roller coaster. You ride up and down and things flow and they flow out. And I have a team member that periodically will get discouraged because maybe the numbers don’t match up with some of the other numbers that are going on and some of the peaks. And so that could cause that individual to pull back and not perform at their ultimate ability, at their ability to be able to do that.

But instead, first of all, I’m grateful that we talk about it, but then we sit there and I say, “Hey, remember, this is what we expect from you. And you’re on track with that. Keep hammering, keep going, keep…” So make sure that you have clarity and they’re not making assumptions, because there’s a gap, and what do we do? We always fill that empty gap with our own interpretation of what we should be doing. And that may not be the right thing. And so we need to make sure that there’s clear goals, desired outcomes, they’re different for everybody and they understand what that looks like. And I think you just continually communicate that and update it.

You and I are part of a weekly meeting that where we all just, here’s where we are. Here’s where we’re at. Here’s the numbers. This is what we’re going after. And it’s a great peer to peer conversation around that. But there’s clarity around it.

Perry Holley:    And very transparent.

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    All right, last question. When I talk about this, I hear from leaders from time to time that they have someone on their team who just doesn’t seem to be keeping up. They’re not good at what they do, they don’t seem capable of improving, but they’re a great person, everyone likes them. They’re a great fit for the team. They’re just not really performing. What’s your thoughts on handling something like this?

Chris Goede:     We want to encourage that you re-look at this process if they’re not performing first. That’s the first step. A lot of times people will make a decision, “Well, they got to go. They’re off my team. They’re not cutting it.” I feel like we’re using a lot of examples today, but I was on another conversation today and I haven’t shared this with you yet.

There’s this organization that has field representatives that have certain metrics they need to hit. Within the last 18 months, they currently have 135 different field representatives and that’s how many are there right now today. Over the last 18 months, they’ve gone through 139 of them to have that 135. And I just feel like a lot of leaders don’t think about this process of how a team best performs and they just go, to your point, they skip a couple of these steps that we’ve provided and then they just go, “Okay, well you’re out of here, next person up.”

And I asked the leader, I said, “Man, listen, what does it look like for you guys to be investing in this process?” “Well, we do a little bit of this, we do a little of that.” I said, “Would you mind sharing with me what it cost you to replace 135 in an 18 month period?” And he’s like, “Well, on average, if you just take the US business average or replacing somebody at 30 grand a piece, you do the math.” And I was like, “No, no, no, you do the math. That’s why I’m asking you.” And he’s like, “Oh man, I had never thought about it.” So just be careful. There’s a process here that we’re trying to help you with to begin asking yourself, why is my team not performing? How can I get them to perform a little bit better? Now with all that being said, there still may be some performance issues.

We’re not saying that there are never performance issues. There are, and you have to make some decisions. Others are watching you. This is where, from a credit ability standpoint, when they go, “Man, I know that Perry is not carrying his weight and Chris just continues to let him be around and celebrate and be a part of it year after year.” I’m losing credibility as a leader in that situation. There are some things that people have to live up to. Just come back and ask yourself, “Are they very clear? Is Perry very clear on what is expected in that role?” And then the other one is “Is Perry in the right role.” Perry maybe shouldn’t be in that role, maybe Perry should be leading our podcast team and doing that. And when I say that, there’s an opportunity to move Perry from one role to the other because it serves them best, then you can do that. But if not, then you may have to make a decision that’s best for them to go to a different organization.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. It’s a difficult conversation, but you can’t afford to have someone role that can’t help the team. And my experience is that in this area is that they know it. When you take the action, you often are helping them. There’s also gratefulness. They’re not liking it either. They’re feeling the underperformance. They’re feeling the downside, they know, and no one wants to be in a role where they constantly fail, so I’m looking for ways to help people to do that. But why don’t you wrap it up for us and take it home.

Chris Goede:     All right. So I’m going to surprise you here for just a minute.

Perry Holley:    Uh-oh.

Chris Goede:     All right. I’m going to give a little bonus question or bonus thought. So we can go from seven to eight and we’re going to add on to it. One of the things I wrote down, I just want to share with you guys as we were thinking through this content was, if you’re really trying to figure out how do I improve the team performance, it’s not just your responsibility. So what I’d like for you to do is in addition to the seven things that we walked you through, I’d also like for number eight to be, ask the team what they would do if they were in your shoes or how would they improve the product that maybe you’re moving or performing and whatever the KPI is, or the process, either way. I read this statistic that said 21% of people had game changing ideas or they felt like it was game changing ideas for their organization to help become more productive, but they didn’t feel like they were comfortable enough to be able to share that with their leader.

Perry Holley:    Mm. Oh, wow.

Chris Goede:     And that’s just a simple statistic that you could throw out there, but still that’s 21% be able to do that. And so I would encourage you go to your team, ask them that question. They may have some ideas in there that’ll help you increase your production. And when you do that, they’re going to feel empowered. The bond between what they’re doing and what the organization’s trying to accomplish and the company’s success is going to be reinforced together. And so make sure that now, listen, let me give you a little bit of disclaimer. A good leader will ask the question, a great leader is going to act on what he hears from the question. So make sure that you’re just not going saying, “Well, Perry had this idea for me to ask the eighth question,” not Chris, Perry, his name’s Perry, and then just listen and not do anything about it. You really want to go after increasing your production as a team, ask them to weigh in what they think and then act on it.

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Very good.

Chris Goede:     There you go. There you go. How about that?

Perry Holley:    Nice add. And you were worried about the seven, now he took it to eight.

Chris Goede:     Took it to eight, yeah.

Perry Holley:    I like it. Well, thank you, Chris. Always great insights. And thank you for joining us. Just a reminder, if you’d like to know more about the five levels, other opportunities that you have for our content, we’d love to share that with you. You can do that at Can also leave a question or a comment for us there. We love hearing from you and we are always grateful that you would spend this time with us each week. That’s all today from the Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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