10 Ways to Manage Fish Who Can’t Climb Trees

By: Jan Bolick

10 by 10 on TuesdaysThis week’s Quick List* is a companion to our Quote of the Week: Everyone is a genius.

Okay…so if everyone is a genius, why do so many people feel stupid instead?

And what do we, as leaders, do to contribute to that?

Here are 10 ways to manage fish who can’t climb trees.

1. Label them as lazy or incompetent but do nothing about it…hoping things will change soon.

2. Write them up.

3. Send them to an intensive tree climbing training session.

4. Withhold fish food (raises, bonuses, attention, etc).

5.  Make your performance expectations very clear. Ask the person what he/she needs- training, support, counseling – to meet those expectations. Then make a plan of what is needed and by when.

6.  Send them to a fish farm. (forced or encouraged retirement) or flush them down the toilet (fire them).

7.  Consider the possibility that you made a mistake by hiring a fish to climb trees.  Look for projects or places in your organization where you need swimmers instead of climbers.

8.  Have a conversation with the fish, apologize for keeping her out of the water and away from swimming and ask if she sees projects that she would just love to dive in to.  For a stellar example of this, see Loser to Winner Over Lunch.

 9.  Make arrangements for the change as soon as possible.  Then meet with the person every week to review progress, provide support and/or re-direction at least until the person is swimming strong…maybe even  jumping out of the water from time to time.  A flip or two would be nice too.

10.  If there are no signs of water in your organization, therefore no need for swimmers,  work with the fish to find another place to swim, jump and flip.  And then make sure to evaluate and revise your hiring process to that you are less likely to hire fish to climb trees.

That’s 10 of many possibilities.

From my observations:

  • #1 is done most often. It’s terrible for the morale and productivity of the entire organization.
  • #2 -5 may be appropriate sometimes but in this case,  no matter what we do, fish will not be able to climb trees.
  • #6 takes time and energy and usually zaps the morale and productivity of those that remain.  And then – there’s the time and energy needed to hire and train a replacement, which is hopefully preceded by time and energy spent figuring out how a fish was hired to climb trees in the first place.   One good thing about #6 – hopefully it wouldn’t be long before the fish was no longer a fish out of water.
  • #1-6 can be done by anyone.
  • #7-10 show signs of a strong leader at work, one who finds the genius in people, engaging them in their work and the organization’s cause.  Sounds like the work of a genius.

* This weekly feature is for managers who don’t have time or don’t want to make time to read lengthy articles or even short paragraphs. We call it a Quick List. AKA – 10 by 10 on Tuesday. 10 ( ideas or tips or questions or steps or ways to Get 2 Goal or Be a Better Manager, etc) by 10 (AM – EST) on Tuesdays. Click here if you’d like to see all Quick Lists created to date.



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