If you start at the bottom of the J, there are two ways you can go.
The left hand route is the ‘push’ route, where you force or threaten people to work. I’ve heard it said that, “Some people only respond to being shouted at.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but certainly it’s an option, and it’s commonly taken.
And people WILL work if you apply enough pressure on them. But it has a limit. They’ll only do what they are told to do, what is in their job description, and no more. They’ll only work when you’re checking on them—you’ll never get more than that. You’ll never get loyalty, creativity, or quality. Basically they’ll never really CARE.
Does this matter? I think yes. Even the most mundane repetitive tasks need to be done well, and can be improved. And even the person who is doing these mundane repetitive tasks has value to add—they see things you don’t see. You can’t see everything and know all the answers on your own, you need the help of every brain in your organisation—if you don’t do this then your competitors will. So it’s a waste of management time trying to push people further up the left hand side, it’s a road to nowhere.
The right hand route is the ‘pull’ route where you get people to WANT to work. You persuade them, you train them, you explain to them, you involve them, you motivate them. You get them to CARE. It takes more work, but it doesn’t have a limit. People can be as creative as they like, they can go the extra mile for the customer, they can take ownership of the job—make sure it’s done 100%—and ownership of the systems, and make them more and more efficient.
What if someone has already been started up the left hand side, before you arrived? They have been damaged by bad management in the past. Are they lost? Possibly, but you owe it to them to give it a try. You may get a temporary decrease in performance as they have to come down the J and back up the other side. If you’re not shouting at them, not forcing them, but their attitude is to do the minimum, then they probably will—until you’ve won them over.
Clearly if you can’t win them over then they have to go, but give it a try, give it several tries. Explain to them that you don’t want to have a working relationship when they don’t want to work and you have to waste time forcing them to work. Do they want to be one of the team or not? About half of them will blossom and end up being some of the best people you’ve ever had. They have a great brain but they were bored, and the problems had grown from there.
The right hand route is the only one worth using, and your job is to get everyone on it.