The Independent's expert panel answers the important questions about running your own company

I am a director of a medium-sized firm and manage a mixed-level team of 20. Although as a division we perform reasonably well, I cannot seem to draw the best results from three of the senior managers. My leadership style is not intimidating or hostile. What can I do to reduce tension and motivate these managers?
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Zoe Gruhn: While it sounds as if your style has been successful on the whole, you need to recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. You may naturally be authoritative when actually what these three managers might respond to better is a more democratic approach. The most effective leaders possess and regularly use a repertoire of styles to suit the situation. Our research shows that organisational climate can account for up to 30 per cent variance in business performance. The fact that up to 70 per cent of the variance in climate is caused by leadership style makes a clear case for developing leadership skills.

Another solution might be to introduce team coaching. Getting the whole group involved in a series of sessions to compare and tackle behavioural patterns would stop it being seen as a remedial solution targeted at any one individual.

Simon Barnes: The solution to performance issues is three-fold. Ensure your managers are competent, set clear measurable goals, and link remuneration to those goals.

There's an old adage in HR circles that people are promoted to the highest level of incompetence. I'd like to know the route your three senior managers took to the top. Were they promoted for performing well in technical or functional positions? If, as I suspect, this is the case they may be struggling to stay afloat in their managerial roles. Sit down with each of them and be direct! Get to the bottom of their problems. Are they struggling to cope? Are they happy in their roles? Is the work no longer challenging? Do they have issues at home? If you can pinpoint the issues then you can do something about it and provide training and support.

You say that you have already set clear goals but how do you measure achievement and have you created the link to remuneration? This link is vital - without it objectives become guidelines, and guidelines fall along the wayside in day-to-day work.

Finally, provide a time frame within which you expect to see a marked improvement in performance. If they fail to deliver you have to think of taking steps to exit them from the business - perhaps into a different role. Your management style is not hostile and it does not have to be, but you must put your front foot forward and take a swing at this problem.

Lars-Christian Brask: Open and individual discussions where you lay your views on the table and listen to their views and feedback is a starting point. You should then have a clearer picture of why the managers (in your opinion) are not going the extra mile or showing the right attitude.

It might be to do with you; a behaviour or something that you are not aware of. Something that you can accept and change on feedback. Most issues can be solved by talking openly and thereafter implementing solutions. In a worst case scenario, you could replace the individuals that don't perform, or reduce their bonus. If there is no bonus system in place maybe you should incentivise by promising a bonus, providing certain milestones are reached in terms of attitude, team work and sales and profits. Sometimes change is needed to move forward, so don't fear the option of replacing people in the senior management group.


Zoe Gruhn is director of coaching at Hay Group, a people management consultancy which is a member of the Management Consultancies Association

Simon Barnes is a lecturer in entrepreneurship at The Business School, Imperial College, London

Danish-born Lars-Christian Brask is head of the UK operation of Kaupthing Ltd, which specialises in advising growth companies

If you have any questions or problems regarding setting up and running a business, our team of experts wants to hear from you. Write to Business Monthly, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email