This is the third and final blog in the series, “How Managers Add Value.” The first blog addressed the role of the manager in helping others develop task-specific competence, while the second blog focused on the role of the manager in helping others fight through any willingness challenges that may exist during development (e.g., learning how to perform a task for the first time).

It is safe to say that most managers far prefer the dynamics of development (i.e., moving from right to left on the graphic below) over the dynamics of regression (i.e., moving from left to right).

Blog _201502_Triangle Graphic V2_20150822.2


The underlying cause of left-to-right movement is frequently a function of a follower that is bored, lost their motivation and/or commitment to complete a task to standard, or perhaps is in the middle of working through a personal challenge outside the workplace. It should also be emphasized that regression is predictable. Things are either getting better or getting worse, but very little stays the same.

So how should the manager respond? Clearly there are no magic answers in the back of the book on this one, but at a very high level consider the following advice:

Treat People Where They Are, Not Where They Used To Be: There can be a tendency when a top performer misses a conference call, is late for an important meeting or turns in work that is acceptable, but not up to historical standards, to over-empathize and provide rationale (e.g., “She’ll be okay,” or “This is a one-time occurrence.” etc.).

Regardless of the empathetic rationale, this strategy usually serves to accelerate regression. The minute you see behavior that is inconsistent with a person’s performance history, find out why!

Inquire: The good news about intervening early is that you can use an approach that is both person-centered and non-confrontational. Typically a participative intervention with a strong performer that is starting to move from left to right is categorized by open-ended questions with significant degrees of freedom:

•             “Is everything alright?”

•             “Anything you want to talk about?”

•             “I just noticed ____ and I thought ‘that’s just not you. What’s up?”


Pay Attention: However skillfully, or awkwardly, your question comes across, the key to a successful regressive intervention is to block everything else out and pay close attention to the response. Are you getting information about the part of the iceberg that is visible above the water line? Or are you hearing about something that is well beneath the surface, but undoubtedly the true source of the issue? Either way, the key to successfully resolving the challenge is a function of your ability to guide the discussion, get as much information as you can and avoid any initial impulse you may have to prematurely solve the problem and share your insight.

Hope: With all due respect to the multiple authors that have scribed books titled, “Hope is Not a Strategy,” we would suggest that hope plays a crucial (and somewhat ironic) role in successfully reversing regression. After you inquire, and while you are paying attention, you absolutely have to hope that whoever you are talking with is telling you the truth. The amount of personal power and trust you built with this individual during development (i.e., when you were helping them build task-specific competence and confidence) will determine how comfortable they feel opening up about the real reasons they are regressing and have lost (or temporarily misplaced) their commitment and/or motivation to perform.

Performance slippage due to wavering commitment or the temporary loss of motivation during regression is every bit as predictable as insecurity during development. Good managers prepare for both!