Swapping out your letters

There sometimes comes a point when you are facing a tray of letters in Scrabble where you can’t seem to make any decent length high scoring words. You believe you only have two choices. A low scoring and unimpressive three letter word or change at least some of your letters out, score no points and miss a turn. What would you do?

During my coaching work with business owners it’s only a matter of time before one of the challenges we need to solve for is the fact that the employee’s efforts fall short of the owner’s expectations. Often one of the first proposals suggested will be to change some of the team out. I am not ruling that out as a way forward but it’s should not be your first proposal.

The impact of changing some of the team is effectively the same as swapping letters out in the game of Scrabble. You recruit new people who are not work ready and then start to train them up. Whilst you are going through that process you are effectively ‘missing a turn’.

What is the cost of the opportunities you miss whilst you are trying to find your dream team?

On a recent Motorhome tour of the UK my wife, Samantha, exclaimed during the early stages of a friendly game of Scrabble that “With all these high scoring letters in my tray, I really can’t lose”. And of course, as well as being excessively confident she was also right. But why?

Too often in the search for consistent quality in our businesses we are tempted to swap out people who are hard to train and seem unwilling to learn. That’s like swapping out the letter ‘Q’ because it’s just too hard to use. Remember, it has a face value of 10 points and a whopping 30 points if you drop it on a triple square. It’s also really very hard to spell ‘Quality’ without it!

Samantha often beats me at Scrabble, not just because she has a vast vocabulary but also because she is not frightened of the high scoring letters as they make high scoring words. She embraces the challenges they bring because she has the tools to use them. To do better in Scabble therefore, you need to learn more words.

Exercise – Think about one of your employees that are not delivering in their role as well as you had hoped when you interviewed and employed them. What is the gap between what you expect and their actions? Why do you think the gap exists? Is it their commitment that is lacking or is the process you expect them to follow unclear?

So, with that employee you thought about in mind, let’s work through some useful actions you can take.

  • Check capacity – Consider whether your employee has the capacity to do the job they have been given. If not, do you have a more suitable role they can move to where they would be better suited? And then finally ask yourself the question, with what you know about this employee, would you hire them today?
  • Review Process Documentation – Check your process documentation for the jobs you expect that employee to deliver on. If it’s not documented today, that’s your next step. It’s amazing how much clarity comes from asking questions such as ‘why’ when looking at a process step that no longer makes sense. You can’t train people to follow a process until the process is clear.
  • Refresh Training – A great mentor of mine once said ‘Be careful because what looks like a people problem is often a process problem’. Included with fixing the process is to provide sufficient training to make it easier for people to succeed than to fail in every task they have in their job role. Look at your training and test it on your elderly great aunt. If she doesn’t understand it, re-write it.
  • Future Hires – Take everything you have learned and update your interview questions to be based around scenarios from your real-world experience. Let’s make sure all new team members will be able to do the job role and then you have the documentation and training ready to support their onboarding.

To do better in business it’s almost the same as in Scrabble, but instead of learning more words you need to learn a few new leadership skills to get the best from your employees.  Read, talk to other business leaders, work with a business coach. The point is, the better you are at realising your time is best invested on your business, the more likely you will reach your success goal.