8 Steps to Improving Mediocre Workers

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No contractor I know will ever admit to purposely recruiting mediocre workers. Yet, many of the same contractors do admit to having a great many workers who are far from excellent or who have no motivation to learn. Welcome to the reality, the nightmare really, of working with mediocrity.

The definition of mediocrity is quite interesting. Among several definitions is this one:

“The quality of something that is not very good;

a person who does not have the special ability to do something well.”

For contractors who sell quality, “best in class,” and No Bad Job projects, the reality of employing workers who are, quite honestly, not very good or who do not have the special ability to do something well, the future can be quite depressing. Where is a contractor to find workers who are better than mediocre?

Not sure if I can add a whole lot more to where to find more productive workers than what I’ve written in past articles through the years. However, what I do think is worth addressing is how to deal with those employees you consider to be mediocre in their work habits, performance, and results.

There are no secrets here or any magic pills to ask your workers to take to move them up a notch or two on the performance ladder. But there are several actions you can take to make sure you are bringing out the best that is possible from those workers who may be “performance challenged.”

1. Spend Additional Time Spelling Out Daily Expectations. Setting out the week’s schedule might work for your best performers, but for the mediocre worker a daily dose of “what we are going to do today” cannot be overemphasized.

2. Turn Follow-up into a Quarterly Habit. If you “quarter-up” your day you will find that there are about four 90-120 minute sections of time. During each “quarter” you should tour your work areas to make sure that workers, especially your mediocre workers, are doing what they were assigned to do.

3. Build on Every Positive Demonstration of Productive Movement. Sounds crazy but you need to reaffirm each and every positive effort put forth by those who don’t set the bar of performance excellence as high as they need to. Such positive reinforcement can go a long way to winning these folks over to putting out more effort and possibly nudging their performance bar higher.

4. Keep the Bar High on Productivity, Quality & Commitment to Excellence. Don’t allow mediocre workers to subtly dictate that some days on the job will not be great. Shoot for greatness every day and on every project. Let your guard down just a little here and you will have a project go south on your faster than you can shake a stick.

5. Don’t Settle for Less-than-Needed Results. OK, let’s face it: Not everything that even our best workers do is perfect…every time. However, when the results are not quite there and reworking will not cost you too much…do the rework to make sure your workers realize the seriousness of doing things right the first time. There is an old adage that goes something like, “Perfection is the enemy of effectiveness.” While true, you want to lead, mold, and pursue perfection when following important processes and procedures.

6. Engage Your Customers to Give Workers Feedback on Their Results. Often what a customer might say can have more impact on workers than anything an owner might try to communicate. The boss can discuss how important quality is all day and not raise an eyelid from workers; but have a customer say the same thing and suddenly the workers are knocking themselves out trying to meet the customer’s expectations.

7. Engage More of Your Mediocre Workers in Job Reviews & Best Practices Learned. Because many mediocre workers often display little interest in getting better, contractors will naturally focus improvement discussions on workers who appear to care about job quality and improving their skills. This can be a huge mistake. Often the mediocre folks are exactly the people who need to be brought into discussions about “how to make things better.” Including them in post-job reviews and discussions of best practices can help them feel like they are part of something that welcomes them and their ideas. Remember, it’s these mediocre workers that have often been forgotten by leaders who were more interested in working with employees who already demonstrated their interest to be better.

8. Engage Your Mediocre Workers Face to Face. It is very common for mediocre workers to feel like they are just a number. For many, this is a comfortable existence because it doesn’t single them out and it doesn’t make an example of them. However, by pushing past this and actually engaging your mediocre workers -- face to face -- you are challenging them to listen, to step up, to do something beyond just showing up to work and moving through the motions. This effort will “arm twist” your worker to respond and to react to your proactive effort.

OK, I know that for many workers of mediocrity not one of these eight suggestions will have the desired result. But your effort may still connect with some of your workers. Sure, you can just terminate the mediocre employees. But you might be surprised how many workers you tagged as mediocre will actually become engaged – and improve on the job -- after your efforts.

Influencing our workers has never been a defensive strategy but instead one that “takes the game to them.” So rather than get all worked up and frustrated about what is not happening it’s very important that you go on offense in playing this game.

We all employ mediocre workers. In fact, some of our best mediocre workers have been with us for five, 10, 15 or more years. So, instead of complaining about them, let’s engage them by integrating some or all of the efforts listed earlier. What do you have to lose?

Here’s to working with mediocrity…and maybe, just maybe, learning to win!

Brad Humphrey is President of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm that specializes in the construction industry (www.pinnacledg.com). In addition to other sessions he will present a new day-long workshop, “Relentless Leadership: An Emerging Leader’s Boot Camp,” on Jan. 31, 2017 at National Pavement Expo in Nashville. For details visit www.nationalpavementexpo.com. Pinnacle also offers a new educational App, available through www.pinnacledg.com or your App Store (type in Pinnacle Development Group).