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How to fly with turkeys: five easy steps

Free Picture: Soar ID: 271600 © Jason Gehrman | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Employees are not your most important asset.‘ It is a common headline that people-management writers use to grab attention. And the point they make is that it is not people but the right people who are critical to success.

But the reality is that we don’t always have the ‘right’ people. We inherit a team, a department or an organisation whose people are already in place. We recruit here and there, but we seldom get to create a brand-new team.

So, here you are in your dream job, ready with your great ideas and perfect plans but, instead of the right people in the right positions, ready to pick up and run with your ideas into the dazzling future you have envisioned, you have Sue and Sifiso, and Justice, Sam and Marvin. They were all employed by your predecessor and are well settled into routines that require no vision, drive or energy.

Then you remember the old poster: ‘How can I fly with the eagles if I’m surrounded by turkeys?’ You might want the right employees, but what are you going to do with the ‘turkeys’ you’ve got?

Let me suggest five steps:

1.  Change your attitude
Turkeys are never going to fly. As long as you see people around you as turkeys you will do nothing to help them and nothing to encourage them. Your belief will be a self-fulfilling prophecy that will trap them in their bound-to-earth state. It will be a perpetual barrier between you that will also stop you achieving what you might have achieved through them or with them. Take an interest in what they can do, and start with that.

2.  Sell your vision
So, you want to fly with the eagles? What makes you think that you are the only one? The people around you also want to fly. It’s just that no one has ever believed in them enough to show them how, and they’ve stopped believing themselves. Share your vision; encourage them to dream; help them to believe in the possibilities.

3.  Plan the way
Set measurable and achievable goals with them. What can you do first that will be achievable and will give everyone a boost along the way. Michelangelo didn’t create his David with one swing of his chisel. He chipped away bit by bit, always seeing the man inside the marble and working slowly to release him.

4.  Celebrate small wins
Plan to celebrate small wins: your first client, the first percentage increase in sales or reduction in error rate. Celebration doesn’t require wild and extravagant parties. It can be as quiet and simple as coffee out, lunch in, a congratulatory card or a name on the noticeboard. Recognition is key: recognition of the person (or people) and recognition of the achievement; recognition of something done right rather than the all-too-common condemnation for things gone wrong.

5.  Expect success but deal with failure
Interact with people around you as if you expect them to fly. But don’t be shocked when things go wrong. Keep talking and ask questions. What is missing? What is needed? In the early stages, certainly, you are going to do a lot of encouraging, coaching and mentoring. People need help to change their negative mindset; they need encouragement to believe in themselves and in a different future. But if an employee is unable or unwilling to journey with you, then it is time to use the formal procedures of counselling or discipline and, if necessary, end the relationship. However unpleasant, it is far better than having a team trying to fly (or even learn to walk) with a dead weight tied around their necks.

How have you journeyed with your team? Share in the comments below.

(Picture: Soar © Jason Gehrman | Dreamstime Stock Photos ID: 271600)

Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people, people-management consulting and writing and editing.

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