One of the most frustrating things for a manager or small-business owner is to see a smart, talented employee underperforming.
Often, this happens because people faced with tough challenges tend to revert to a primitive mindset, which bestselling author Christine Comaford calls "the critter state." They react to problems by fighting, running, or freezing, rather than intelligently responding.
They become scared or uncertain and use just a fraction of their brains and abilities as they regress to the low-risk, uncreative behavior they see as "safe."
Ask questions instead of making statements.
"Most leaders give orders all of the time, and then they complain that they have a culture of order-takers," Comaford says. "Well, they created that."
When leaders are asked a question, their impulse is to give an immediate answer. That trains employees to constantly ask questions instead of trying to solve problems and find solutions.
Instead of just answering a question, she suggests asking employees what they would try, who could be looped in, and what could go right or wrong. That puts their brains into problem-solving mode rather than a state in which they're more inclined to freeze or fight back, or ignore the problem entirely.
Be extremely clear. Don't leave people to "figure it out."
It's extremely easy to think that employees know everything that you know, and that they can figure out what you want. Often, that's not the case. Uncertainty leads people to waste time, get nervous, and revert to that critter state, says Comaford.
The more detail you put into a request, the better. Say exactly what you want — in which format, on what terms, and by when — instead of being vague.
Make accountability central to your culture.
"The problem with accountability is two-fold," Comaford says. Oftentimes, businesses don't have clear structures. People may not know exactly what they're accountable for or the consequences of underperforming.