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How to fix an underperforming team

Have you ever been frustrated with your team’s performance? If so, you’re not alone.

Many agency owners have had challenges with their employees not doing what they’re supposed to do or not achieving the quality of work you expect.

Chip and Gini discuss how to sort out what’s going wrong — and what to do about it.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin  00:00

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich  00:04

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin  00:06

and I’m here today, Ginni, to talk about the fact that I’ve got some issues with your work on this podcast. It’s just not quite up to snuff.

Gini Dietrich  00:14

Great. Can’t wait. Awesome.

Chip Griffin  00:17

We’ll talk about that. Right after this. So actually, I lied. I don’t know. I don’t have any issues with your work on this podcast,

Gini Dietrich  00:37

or lack thereof, actually. Well,


I mean, some days some weeks,

Chip Griffin  00:42

is, you know, some days we do it at the scheduled time, some days, we have to change it just to accommodate. Oh, diva, Gini Dietrich, but yeah, it is what it is. But no, this is today, we’re going to be talking about something from our favorite website, Reddit.

Gini Dietrich  01:00

And by favorite, we mean chips favorite website, which he sends me links to and says, Go check this out, because Reddit scares me. So then I very carefully click on the link. And I’m like, Okay, this isn’t bad. And then I read, and then I very quickly get off the site.

Chip Griffin  01:17

Well, here’s the thing about Reddit, there are often good questions, they’re sometimes good answers. And there’s often lots of entertainment to be so

Gini Dietrich  01:26

much entertainment.

Chip Griffin  01:28

Yes. from it. So I send it to you with a mix of those things. And so I sent you one of those recently, because there it does, it is a source for some good topics about agency issues, small business issues, generally. And this is one that was in the small business subreddit on Reddit. And, and I’m not going to read the whole thing, but but I do have to read a little bit of it, because it’s just it’s too funny. And it’s pretty entertaining, not to it. So this is a business owner who is posting not as far as I know, an agency owner, but the themes will still resonate with many of our listeners. And so this is someone who says it, he’s not sure it’s worth hiring more help just to make more errors, because he’s had to correct so many recent mistakes. He says employees are not learning from their mistakes. He says, I’ve been in business for 14 years, and it’s getting ridiculous. I think one of the things that in particular, it seemed that set him off was he says today’s icing on the cake, our $400 per hour outside lawyer made multiple typos in a court filing and forgot to add an attachment. So we can’t help you with the lawyers know, that’s a whole nother topic and probably for someone else to dive into how you actually get lawyers to do what you want them to do. Some do. Many kind of do their own thing anyway. But employees, employees now that’s something that we know something about, and we’re happy to talk about it. Because many agency owners have been here they’ve said, Oh my god, the team is just letting me down. Yeah, like, yeah, it’s just your mistake after mistake. And so how do you solve that Ginny?

Gini Dietrich  03:07

You know, there was one answer in there. And you’re right, there’s it is highly entertaining. It’s kind of like next door for me. I use next door as my reality television because it’s so entertaining because people are crazy. But same thing would

Chip Griffin  03:21

not get me started on next door. I freaking love Ace or Facebook community page on Facebook. Oh, that’s that is a stellar one. Yeah. Oh, yeah, it is. It is really disturbing to know who lives next door so to speak.

Gini Dietrich  03:39

So I was reading through it through it this morning. And one of the one of the comments I thought was really interesting. And it It struck home to me, which was sort of an I’m paraphrasing, because I don’t have it in front of me. But it was it pretty much was Listen, if you don’t have a process, and you don’t have that process written down, and it isn’t part of the onboarding and consistent training, that’s your own stupid fault. Like it. And so if you say to somebody, you made a mistake. Let’s Let’s correct it. Here’s the process, then the next time it happens, that’s their fault. But if you say when somebody you made a mistake, here’s what happened. Like, go fix it, but there’s no process or you don’t work them through, you know, the repetitive things that can be done over and over again. That’s your fault. And I think they use the word punitive, which I kind of like but I’ve been there. I’ve been there where I’m like, I just don’t understand why somebody can’t write a stupid news release without typos. Like I I’ve been there. And it wasn’t until I figured out that I had to have process and there had to be a set way of doing things that the mistakes started to go away.

Chip Griffin  04:52

Yeah, I mean, processes are fundamentally the biggest answer to this. It’s not the only answer but it but it solves a lot of these problems. Really routes them to better places. I think the you know, to me that my personal favorite answer was the, you know, the the witch who wanted to dock their pay and send them home.

Gini Dietrich  05:11

Now, to be fair, to be fair, it was four times what the first time you got talking to the second time was the door close talking to the third time was you got sent home without pay and the fourth time you got fired? Yeah.

Chip Griffin  05:27

Okay, maybe there are some industries where that flies? Yeah, that’s certainly in the agency world. Don’t do that. No,

Gini Dietrich  05:33

no, you can’t do that. It’s illegal to do that. You cannot do

Chip Griffin  05:36

that. There’s the legal stuff. But even even if you were doing it, you know, with pay so that you didn’t violate the law. Don’t send people home don’t this is they’re not, they may act like children. But employees are not children. You don’t send them to their rooms or their office or their cubicle,

Gini Dietrich  05:53

or the principal’s office? I mean, no, no, I

Chip Griffin  05:57

mean, I pretend that your peers here, right. This is, this is not? No, don’t just don’t do that. But so so process is part of the answer. But I think, you know, fundamentally, I think that you have to look in the mirror, as you’re, as you’re complaining about your team. Who hired that team? Yeah, well trained that team. Yep. who manages that team? Yep. Right. So if you’ve got a problem with your team, start with yourself. Right? It’s the same thing I say to agency owners, when they’re trying to figure out how to take their agency to the next level, how to how to scale how to grow, look at yourself, first, you got to you got to get yourself right, and make changes to the way you’re doing things before you can propagate that out to your employees, to your clients to the marketplace. And particularly when you’ve got a performance problem, that’s not limited to one employee that apparently is is expansive, and involves multiple employees making multiple mistakes, and the same mistakes over and over again, there’s something wrong in the way that you are running things. Yes, in some fashion. And so so you need to get to the root cause before you can truly solve it. But some of the things that certainly do help our process, sir. It’s feedback. Yep. You know, we I preach, I’ve got one client who loves to start almost every coaching call I have with, hey, I had my one on ones last week. broken record on one on ones and always having them right. So. So you need to you need to have processes, you need to have communication, you need to have feedback, so that when someone makes a mistake, they understand it. Right. One of the problems that a lot of us have is we just fix the mistakes and move on. Right. And you have to view it as a training and teaching opportunity. So there’s a lot of things that you can do. And so we’ll talk more about that here in the minutes ahead. But but start by looking in the mirror, don’t you if you’re complaining about your whole team and not one individual team member? The problem? The biggest problem probably lies with you and your management team

Gini Dietrich  08:07

100%. And like I said, that was a very hard lesson for me to learn very expensive lesson. Absolutely. Burn lots of bridges.

Chip Griffin  08:15

Yeah. And we’ve talked previously about how your employees are never going to care as much as you’d like. They’re never going to be as good as you but this is this goes beyond that. Right? This is this is just straight up making mistakes, missing deadlines, doing, you know, doing the wrong kind of work. Those are that’s beyond just being you know, not as good as that is a fundamental problem that does have to be addressed. But again, you’ve got to figure out what it is that’s creating the atmosphere where this is happening. Do you have the wrong people in the wrong seats on the bus? Do you not have the processes? Right? Do you not have the training? What is it? Yep, that’s leading to this.

Gini Dietrich  08:56

So there was a Reagan report, I want to say probably about a month ago, five, maybe six weeks ago, and it asked 1500 communicators. So granted, not all agency owners, but Pr Pr people professionals, what types of project management software they use, and less than 20% said they use it at all. And I was like, Huh, what? That’s a problem, especially when you’re thinking about working with a team and providing feedback and giving them the opportunity to succeed and having one on ones and all of those things. You have to have some sort of ability to manage manage projects. And that was I think that was a tough one for me too. Because I was always like, well, I don’t need it. Like Tell me what I need to do. And I’ll get it done. Like I’m the one leading the organization. I will get my work done right. But it’s the fact that there are so many agency owners that are not using some sort of project management system. Just from a process perspective. It’s shocking. To me. So when you think about it, and let’s make the assumption that you’ve trained appropriately, you’ve hired appropriately and you do have the right people on the in the seats on the bus. If they’re still making mistakes, and you’re still frustrated, it’s because you’re not doing the things that you should be in terms of crafting the process, making sure they understand what’s expected how to do the job. And using project management software to track it all. Because you can’t do it on a spreadsheet. You can’t do it with post it notes. to do lists, you can’t do it. You can’t even do it, just by having conversations in your one to ones you have to have something that has visibility for the entire organization.

Chip Griffin  10:39

Absolutely agree. And I will say I, I disagree with with the results of that survey. I haven’t seen the actual report because I’m like you I don’t do research for this show. I just kind of show up and spout off. So thanks for making me look bad by injecting some research into our conversation I’m making, you know, making it look like

Gini Dietrich  10:57

no problem.

Chip Griffin  10:58

Yeah. Anyway. We’ll have a conversation. Our next one on one.

Gini Dietrich  11:02

Thanks. Great. Okay. All right. I’ll listen to that.

Chip Griffin  11:05

Yeah, yeah. So but but I disagree that that only 20% of our that the vast majority of the others are using a project management tool. It’s just called Outlook or Gmail,

Gini Dietrich  11:14

their spreadsheet. Right,

Chip Griffin  11:17

right. Well, probably not even a spreadsheet, but most of them, I know a lot of people who manage by their email inbox. Oh, atrocious, atrocious, not a good way to do. But but they are doing something because there’s, there’s no way that that you can do it without having some sort of at least cobbled together system, it’s still not as good as a proper project management tool. But they are using something to do it. It’s not just all up in their in their heads. It too much of it, maybe. But in any case, so. So yes, using some sort of a tool where there is, I think this is the key, there’s shared visibility. And that’s the problem with using something like Gmail or outlook, you don’t have shared visibility, right, you’ve got what you have in your own inbox. And that may or may not be the full picture. And it may or may not be easily accessible to other team members above below or adjacent to you. So having some sort of a project management tool allows you to at least have that visibility, which is the first step. But most of them allow you to do something to to formalize a process, whether that’s templates, when you set up new things within the project management tool, some of them have the ability to link one task to the next so that this one comes up when this one is completed. Right, there’s a lot of ways that you can make it much more detail oriented in such a way that you avoid a lot of the common mistakes that you identify, and particularly if you’re seeing those common mistakes, identifying them as such, and having a process to address them. Right. So if you just sit there and say you did it wrong, do it better next time, that does nothing, right. What’s the what is the process, so going to your point of the person who has typos in their press release? Right? So that means that that either they or someone else needs to actually proofread it and correct, hopefully better to have someone else correct. Do it right. It’s very difficult to proofread your own. Yes. Because you said, I know when I look at my own stuff, I see what should be there, not what actually is there? Yep. Right. So, you know, you come up with those processes to address the specific problems. Now, if it continues to happen time and time again, even after you put the process in? Well, now you’ve got a bigger problem. Now you have a performance issue and not a process issue. And agency owners hate dealing with performance issues. Because it means you have to have difficult conversations, Ginni.

Gini Dietrich  13:44

Yes. Yes. I don’t. I mean, I think that’s just people in general don’t like to have performance conversations. But yes. Um, so I will tell you that, um, four years ago, I want to say I think it was four years ago, we spent a crazy amount of time and we did it during the summer, when we’re typically slow of creating videos to show how things are done. So this is how we use the blog. This is how we use social like, we’ve created all these videos, and we put them into there now in a notion board where we have all of our onboarding stuff in there, so that when somebody starts, they’re given everything they need, but we we kind of dole it out slowly so that we’re not like, here is your document, go do the work, right? Because that’s just way too overwhelming. But we do it out over six weeks. And it I mean, I it took so much time to do it. It and it took all of us time to do it. And we spent I would say we probably spent four or five months getting it all where it needed to me. But now, when somebody starts, we have the process the onboarding process, they know what’s expected of them, they know how we do things. They know where to get passwords and all the information that They need to be able to do their job. And those those frustrating conversations I used to have with my leadership team. We don’t have those anymore. It’s because we’ve created and it did. It took so much time, but it has saved us so much time years later. And you know, you it’s easy to go in and make edits or change things as as things progress. But it we don’t spend it nearly that kind of time anymore on onboarding and training and everything because it’s all there. It’s and it’s all on video. And it’s doled out in a way that a person would do their job so that they, they they’re like, oh, okay, this is how I should be doing this. And sure we get some questions. And you know, but it’s it’s significantly easier than it was before we did all that.

Chip Griffin  15:43

Right. Where and I think you know, what, some of the pushback that I sometimes hear is, well, we’re too small to have formal process. That’s the best time to create it. Absolutely. I mean, if you are a team of one, a process is still helpful. Yes, I can tell you this from experience, because I am not very good at setting up processes for myself. So it often means that little details get overlooked. Say like when I’m publishing the Agency Leadership Podcast, and I forget a step or two along the way, and then realize a week later, Oh, I didn’t do that. Right. I need to go fix that. If I built a process and a nice little checklist, I probably wouldn’t have that same problem, right? So learn from my failures, my experience?

Gini Dietrich  16:29

Well, it’s funny, because we were talking, I was talking to Joe, earlier, Martin Waxman on inside PR. And we were talking about that, and you know, on inside Pr Pr, we took about a year and a half sabbatical. And we’re just now getting back into it. And all three of us have forgotten it. And we don’t have it written down. We don’t have our process written down, which shame on us. But all three of us are like, so how did we do that? Again, because we don’t have the process written down. And even though we did it every week, for years, we had that 18 month break, and we literally don’t know what we’re supposed to do anymore.

Chip Griffin  17:04

Well, and if you have a written down process, it’s also something that you can review periodically and say, Yep, can I improve the efficiency? can i improve the quality? Yep, you know, are there things that that, you know, maybe I want to add on to it, so that, you know, I can take with just one more step, I can magnify the benefit of this work that I’m doing? Absolutely. So. So having that makes it so much easier to undertake those reviews and so much quicker to undertake. So you’re more likely to improve your processes, if you’ve documented it. And and the other thing is, a lot of small agency owners are struggling with how to manage their own time. The one of the best ways to do that is to come up with these documented processes, because then you can spot really easily what things you can offload on to somebody else. Because, you know, if I were to say, you know, I want someone to help me with the Agency Leadership Podcast, so I don’t have to spend as much time on it. Well, okay, what specifically, right, cuz obviously, someone else isn’t going to be sitting here in this seat having this conversation, right. I mean, that would be the ultimate way I suppose to save myself. I would like to think that would take something away from this pod.

Gini Dietrich  18:14

My Yeah, yeah, it might do that.

Chip Griffin  18:16

I mean, I suppose you could just have a conversation with yourself. There’s just like a blank half of the screen. While you’re talking. There are some people who would probably argue that would be an upgrade in the quality conversation. And if you’re one of those people, please don’t send me an email. I don’t want to hear it.

Gini Dietrich  18:32

You can send it to me. I’d like to hear it. Because I

Chip Griffin  18:35

would like to feel like I’m I’m filling some role here other than just hitting the record button. To start man and having my my beautiful segue.

Gini Dietrich  18:45

segues. Yeah, yes,

Chip Griffin  18:48

yes, yes. But so if you’ve done that, then you can start to figure out, Okay, here are the things that I could farm out. And you can be realistic about how much time it is because that you’d be saving, because one of the problems that a lot of us have when we’re trying to delegate tasks is we overestimate the benefit of delegating certain tasks. And a lot of times we find, it actually doesn’t save that much time to delegate it. And you actually end up spending as much time to manage it as it does to delegate. And so ideally, you want to find ones that are not that way, right? So if you’re looking at your tasks, and you can offload those things that are the biggest time benefit that are the easiest to offload, you will be much better at becoming a good delegator than if you try to bite off the ones that that you’re going to sit there and say, Oh my God, this takes me just as long. Yeah. And I have tried, I’ve tried to outsource the writing the summary of this episode I have last year my summer intern. It frankly took me more time to edit it than it took me to actually you know, write a couple of paragraphs. That’s not a knock on him. He doesn’t know what he’s writing about. Right. He also didn’t have the conversation. I’d like to think I can sort of kinda remember what you and I talked about, when I’m writing it just a couple of weeks after the fact. Right? It’d be even better if I wrote it sooner. But hey, that’s a whole nother story. And so, you know, if you start to look at those things, you’re going to improve not just your team, which is where we started this conversation, but yourself, because that is where the biggest benefit comes from. And that’s fundamentally how you solve all of the performance issues in your agency, as you look inward, to figure out what it is that needs to be adjusted. And ultimately, if you do get to that performance conversation, because the processes haven’t worked, you also have to be comfortable with what is it, Ginni, firing people? Yeah. That’s why I have you. I love firing people, when it’s performance related.

Gini Dietrich  20:46

I don’t like doing it ever. So you, that’s why I have is

Chip Griffin  20:50

if I’ve tried everything, and I believe, honestly, that I’ve done everything I can to set someone up for success, and they still weren’t successful, that means they’re not a good fit. And if they’re not a good fit, I actually view it as doing them a favor, they’re not gonna see it that way. Most of the time, in the moment. Most of the time, when you fire people for performance, they don’t say, Oh, thank you, I’ll I’ve had a fair number who have so that’s, that’s kind of weird. I know, we bought it. In the long term, you’re doing them a service. Because if they continue to struggle, if they continue to not perform well, they’re not going to advance within your organization, they’re not going to be happy, you’re not going to be happy. So it’s better to part company. And so you really have to get to that point, where if you’re, if you’re willing to hire someone, you have to be willing to fire them. And that’s ultimately how you deal with performance issues that you can’t rectify through processes, training, coaching, mentoring, all the other things that you need to try first.

Gini Dietrich  21:48

And for all you listeners out there, I have already told chip that the next time I need to fire somebody, he’s doing it for me.

Chip Griffin  21:57

And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with that. As I’ve told you before, people pay me to travel places to fire people.

Gini Dietrich  22:04

And I will do that because

Chip Griffin  22:07

I just with you I would I want a good meal and it up for it to do 100% All right, well, before people fire us and unsubscribe. I think it’s time to bring this episode to a close. Jenny, are you okay with that process?

Gini Dietrich  22:23

I’m great with that process.

Chip Griffin  22:25

Excellent. Well, hopefully I get a positive performance review from you over the course of this episode. Maybe a positive performance review from the listeners to who knows. If you did like our performance, you’d love it if you’d leave a positive review on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And with that, we’re gonna sign off. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin 

and it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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