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a blog by Don R. Crawley

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If you’re an IT manager or supervisor, you’ve probably had to mentor or help a struggling team member at one time or another. Our success as a leader is driven, in part, by our ability to help struggling team members become productive team members. Here are five keys to successfully counseling lower performing team members:

  1. Explain. You may have heard the saying, “If you don’t know the why, the how and the what don’t matter.” It’s true. In your role as a mentor to your team, ensure that everyone on the team understands the rationale behind decisions and policies. It’s not necessary for them to agree. It is necessary for them to understand. Some reasons may seem obvious, but may still require explanation. For example, a team member who is consistently late may not understand the impact of his or her tardiness on the entire team.
  2. Listen. When a team member is struggling, is it due to factors you may not have considered? Is the right kind of equipment in place? Are there enough supplies? Is she or he getting the necessary support from other team members? Are family issues affecting work performance? As a mentor, when you meet with a team member who is struggling, ask open-ended questions. Be prepared to do lots of listening and take notes.
  3. Involve. People support that which they help create. After explaining how the struggling team members actions (or lack thereof) affect the team and listening to what he or she has to say about the situation, collaborate with her or him to craft solutions to the problems. If your team members feel heard and involved in the process, they’re more likely to support it. As part of the involvement, set SMART goals with the team member. That means goals that are:
    • Specific: Broad goals are fun to think about, but rarely achieved. Make them specific. For example, instead of saying to the tardy employee, “Be on time.”, say, “Arrive every day at 7:55 a.m.”
    • Measurable: If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. The specific goal of arriving every day at 7:55 a.m. is easily measured.
    • Achievable: This may seem obvious, but any goals set must be achievable. Setting unrealistically high goals simply leads to frustration and a sense of failure.
    • Relevant: The goals you set must be relevant to the goals of the team and the organization.
    • Time-Based: Finally, goals must have time benchmarks, otherwise they could go on forever.
  4. Agree. Gain agreement on next steps. Before you close the meeting, make sure to gain agreement on the plan. It’s a good idea to put the plan in writing and get it signed.
  5. Appreciate. Finally, just before you close the meeting, express appreciation to the team member for her or his contributions to the team. Be very specific. General platitudes are meaningless and can come off as condescending. Focus on both task-based and personality-based contributions.

Finally, here’s a simple, yet powerful tip from Monica Morris, Manager, ITSM Process Improvement at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield: When you have a struggling team member, position him or her between two high-performing team members. Peer influence is powerful and lasting.

Your ability to mentor and help your team members succeed translates directly to your success as an IT manager or supervisor. Learn how to coach, motivate, and inspire your team members and they’ll make you look great as a team leader!

For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills

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