Must Be This Tall to Ride

Must Be This Tall to Ride

Thrill seekers can remember every rollercoaster they’ve boarded since childhood. The adrenaline rush that follows every bank, barrel roll, and bunny hop (coaster speak for hills), leaves an impression about the ride’s intensity. The more intense the better in my opinion. Many can also recall the time(s) they were turned away from a coaster because of height restrictions. The infamous “Must be this tall to ride” sign sends shivers down the spines of many young and petite coaster enthusiasts. Yeah, that’s the underbelly of the rollercoaster world. Some rides require a minimum height among riders. While it seems discriminatory, it’s really all about safety. If you’re too short, safety harnesses may be ineffective, jeopardizing your well-being and everyone else’s on the ride. To be fair, towering thrill seekers are often too tall to ride as well.

Must be this tall to ride… Hear this as a metaphor for building and maintaining a healthy team in your organization. In business, the requisite skills and behaviours are not always quite so binary, however, sometimes they are. While a robust interview process can usually determine the candidates that are a “good fit” versus those who are not, sometimes we have team members who do not meet the performance requirements to be successful. If you’re in this predicament, you have a choice to make: find an alternative, more suitable “ride” if fit is the issue, or help the struggling employ grow into their seat in the office space, or, in some instances, you just need to end the ride altogether.

Having the Tough Conversations

Effective leaders understand that praise is delivered in public and constructive feedback is given in private. The former is easy, while the latter can be excruciatingly painful but necessary – I call this “Radical Candor” (Kim Scott wrote a book on it, although a practice I had adopted long before the book and one I’ve practiced in ALL facets of my life). If an employee isn’t performing, it’s always the leader’s job to coach to performance and to deliver the message in unequivocal and concrete terms. That said, this only works well if real relationships have been established. Allowing people to underperform as others watch on without saying something, without attempting to coach them isn’t kind – it’s cruel. I know this can be difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s what is required.

You’re the Operator

When conversation and coaching doesn’t help, you’ll reflect and recognize that the employee’s performance and/or behaviours are detrimental to the wellbeing and engagement of the team and to the organization’s mission and you’ll need to make a difficult, but necessary decision – that you must halt the ride and ask them to leave all together. Early initiative and intervention is critical when this action is the likely outcome. Don’t wait until your strong performers tell you there’s a problem with a member of the team to do something about it. At that point, lasting damage in the form of poor team morale and distrust of leadership may already be eroding your team’s engagement.

Must be this tall to ride… Painful words that every leader needs in her vocabulary. Hire good performers with the right values and cultural fit from the outset, and deal with the stragglers in a timely fashion once the ride is underway. No one said leadership was going to be easy.

“Growth and comfort don’t coexist. That’s true for people, for companies, for nations” – Ginni Rometty; Chairman, IBM