Performance Management: Where is Your Weakest Link?

Leadership Performance Management Where is Your Weakest Link?

Long before the arrival of the popular TV quiz show, the figurative phrase “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” was written.  For the history geek inside you, the phrase actually dates back to the 18th century and was coined in 1786 by Thomas Reid.  Published in the Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, he wrote,  “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest.”

When talking about human resources, this phrase is short-hand for low performers.  While it’s easier to just accept people as they are, employee performance matters.  Of course it does.

We were reminded of this axiom twice during this past year while participating in two high profile events in downtown Richmond.  The city is more vibrant than ever, and we gladly traveled from the ‘burbs to be a part of the TEDxRVA presentation in the spring, and then the UCI Road World Championships in the fall.

First, the Tedx event.  While driving in for a 9AM start, we exited the expressway and then promptly encountered a slow-down that stretched for six blocks or more – highly unusual for downtown Richmond.  While inching forward we noticed that the delay was not due to traffic lights.  We crept up, bumper-to-bumper, and approached the designated parking garage.  Then we spotted the culprit: a ticket dispensing machine with an automated gate.  The driver of each car had to pause 15 seconds or so for the machine to dispense a ticket, and for the gate to raise up and allow the vehicle to pass through.  Hundreds of event-goers were backed up, and if like us, were stressing about missing the start.  All because of one slow machine doing its job exactly as it was programmed to do: about four cars per minute at best.  It was designed to allow entry for one car at a time.  The builder likely did not consider an influx of hundreds of cars at once for a high profile event.  Probably no one foresaw this as being a problem – the decision was made somewhere by someone to point all attendees towards this particular garage.  The timely opening of the event hinged on the performance of the ticket machine.  It was a good thing we had planned to arrive early.

The day was truly memorable… (kudos to its organizers!), except for the weakest link.

More recently we attended the UCI World Championship cycling races.  A real coup for the Greater Richmond region, the city played host to some 80 countries and athletes from all over the world.  The event required two years of active planning by organizers to get ready for the thrills and excitement of the bike races.  Prior to the races it was commonly known among Richmond folk that some 450,000 people would descend upon our fair city (it proved to be over 600,000).  The planners did a wonderful job in managing the details, except for the day the races were held on Church Hill.  Thousands upon thousands of visitors vied for a handful of portable facilities.  We’re not sure if they had been pumped on schedule before the race, but later that day they were “brimming.”  With the eyes of the world upon us, the weakest link was made of blue fiberglass… and you guessed it… not pretty inside.

Event planning – especially the first time out – is very hard.  While Tedx RVA and the UCI World Championship were proud moments for Richmond, overlooking fringe details casts a shadow upon overall organizing and execution.  The participants’ (i.e. customers’) experiences with ticket machines and portable restrooms took some shine off otherwise successful experiences.

When it comes to staffing your organization, you likely know where your weakest links are.  Your workforce is only as strong as the whole metaphorical chain with all links combined.  Who are your weakest links?  What are you going to do about them?  Will your business goals and subsequent staffing plan continue to allow for the weak links going forward?  How will next year be different than this?

Don’t be naive.  If low performance is noticed by you, it’s also noticed by teammates and customers.  No team or company can afford to work around others or to prop them up.  If you find yourself explaining away dysfunction, incompetence, mistakes, inconsistencies or hearing folks say, “that’s just Joe being Joe!”, then it’s time to take action.

Bench, Inc. is available for a no-obligation consultation to discuss answers to these very questions.  When it comes to recruiting and/or staffing support, sometimes it helps to just talk it out.

Especially when it comes to replacing the weakest links.