Q: There’s a lot of variability in performance among the teams that report up to me. Some have managers that push them really hard … but their employees love them and stick around. Others have a lot of staff turnover. What’s likely making the difference, and how can I get more consistency?

A: How well do you know these managers? There are probably clear differences in their styles and skills, and getting closer to them will help you determine your next steps.

In fact, this would be a good opportunity for doing a comprehensive assessment without singling anyone out. If you don’t already do this, set up a 360 feedback process. It should go without saying that it needs to be confidential; ideally, you could have a neutral party conduct it. Be thorough, gathering information from team members, peers within the department, and other internal partners. If relevant, you could even reach out to external clients. Also tap into insights from exit interviews with departing staff.

Does this sound too basic? Bureaucratic? Or like overkill? You’d be amazed at the number of firms I talk to where there is no feedback mechanism for employees, so unhappy people give up and leave.

At the end of this process, you’ll have the material for determining what makes the good teams operate well and the unsuccessful teams struggle. Now the hard work begins.

There is no “one size fits all” solution here, so determine root causes. Poor management can take many forms, from neglect to intimidation. And if you’ve been hands off in leading the managers on your team, you’ll need to bear some responsibility for the current situation.

Then clarify and share your expectations for your managers. The “to-do” list can be informed by best practices from your successful teams, and should include items related to treating people with respect, holding them to high standards, communicating promptly, being fair and not playing favorites, etc. It’s pretty common sense stuff, but putting it out in absolute terms will give you benchmarks for holding your leaders accountable.

Talk to each manager about where they stand — strengths and need for improvement, alike. For high concern teams, set up regular feedback structure with consequences if they don’t measure up. And then follow through. You may determine that someone will be moved out of management, for example, or will be placed on an improvement plan that could lead to termination. If it’s this severe, be sure you follow through or you’ll lose credibility.

Finally, share your leadership vision broadly. Communicate your standards across the team, and seek to create an inclusive and positive culture. This will help you stay on track by making it visible. If poor performance is tolerated, any discussion about raising standards or moving to leadership excellence will quickly trigger corrosive cynicism.

This work will take time and commitment from you, and you undoubtedly have a great deal on your plate. However, there is no substitute for good leadership, and this work is not part of your role that can be delegated. Make a commitment to bringing up the level of all teams, and both you and your company will benefit.


What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.