If you’re a manager making up for a lack of team talent, here’s how to dig out
If you’re a manager working overtime to make up for your team’s shortcomings, you probably don’t have time to help your employees to improve their own skills. You know that half a manager’s job is people development, but you just don’t have the time.
I wrote earlier about the dangers of being caught in the Gap Trap. You seem to be stuck in an endless cycle, but the Gap Trap doesn’t have to be a black hole. You can dig yourself out.
Escaping the Gap Trap can take time, and you’ll need to work at it from several angles. It’s probably going to take more than one simple strategy to get out. Here are five steps to take:
1. Evaluate your own time management. Being stuck in the Gap Trap is, after all, all about how you are spending your time as manager. You might argue that you have no choice but to spend all your time producing results. But don’t be so sure. Take a step back to see where you could make room for developing people. Remember that delegating more challenging work is one way to grow people. Is there anything you can delegate to free up your own time to train or coach others? Ultimately, your job is to spend your time doing the things that can and should be done by someone fully competent in your role. If you’re spending time doing things that can and should be done by others, then you’re the problem.
2. Reprioritize your team’s work. You’ve acknowledged that your team can’t do it all. But what can it do best? Is there a part of the job that it can do well? Would a readjustment of priorities enable your team to produce greater results for the business? Remember Patrick Lencioni’s quote, “If everything is important, then nothing is important.”
3. Ask for help. Announce that you’re in the Gap Trap and ask your peers and your subordinates to help you get out of it. Sharing your awareness of the problem and your insights about how to solve it will demonstrate leadership and work to bring colleagues into alignment with your plan. Be clear that you’re asking for a temporary all-hands-on-deck response to get your department to a better place. Once you’re out of the hole, thank those who helped and be ready to repay the favor to peers in other departments.
4. Reevaluate your staff. It would be simple if you could trade all your underperformers for new hires who are experts at those jobs. But that’s not a solution most businesses would tolerate nor one that most of us could stomach. Instead, look at your most obviously problematic player. If you’ve got 7 or 8 people on a team, there’s probably one who is a well-liked person but not an ideal fit for the job. If you’re fortunate to be at a large company, there might be a spot elsewhere in the organization where that person would be a better fit. Help them find someplace else they can be more successful so that you can afford to add someone to your team who has the capacity and wherewithal to do that job at a higher level. (See my article “ABCs of Employee Evaluation” for more about this process.)
5. Be more thoughtful about new hires. I’ve known managers who are deathly afraid of having anyone on their team who’s more talented than they are. Don’t fall into that trap! You need to hire people who have the capacity to be your equal or better. When you don’t, it will be only a matter of time before your back in the trap. If you’ve been hiring that way for 10 years, you can’t fire everyone and re-staff, but you can ensure that the next person you hire has far more capacity than those you’ve hired in the past. Bringing in someone with more potential can raise the bar for everyone else. Bringing two new people with strong capacity onto a team of 7 can be just the game-changer you need.
To be sure, you won’t dig out of the Gap Trap overnight. It’s a situation that likely took you two or three years to get into. You’re not going to get out of it in 3 months.