By Dave Salter

It’s easy to point fingers because you want to blame somebody or something for a struggling department. Most of your units are functioning at maximum capacity, but you’ve got one group that just isn’t meeting its monthly quota or making regular contributions to the enterprise.

Worse yet, you’re not quite certain why the situation exists. Did you simply have the misfortune of hiring a bunch of bad apples for the same department? Is there a technology problem? Is the challenge knowledge-based, are there mismatched personalities, or is there just a lack of understanding of what the expectations are and how to achieve those results?

When you have a struggling department, most experts agree that you have two primary challenges: a communications quandary and a people puzzle. The communications breakdown can lead to a variety of negative developments. How do you fix it? First you have to uncover how the communications pipeline was broken to begin with, then provide the appropriate repair.

Doug Mack, CEO of One Kings Lane, an online home décor retailer, found a communications problem in his technology team. Members of that department told Mack they had no idea what their colleagues were working on and what the company’s primary objectives were. So Mack created what he calls the MACK-l, a fast but effective 15- to 30-minute meeting that he holds two or three times a week. He has a live microphone, and anyone and everyone who has any kind of news to share with their colleagues has the opportunity to get up in front of the microphone and tell their news.

Mack says that MACK-l has not only improved communications but also convinced his employees that the strength of the team comes from the collection and coordination of many talents, not from one individual.

The people puzzle might not be as easily fixed, but addressing it might be more critical than any task you’ll perform. For a variety of reasons, employees can become complacent, lazy, bored, confused or overcome with ego. Chances are, the talent you recognized when hiring these individuals is still there, but it needs to be refurbished.

Jeff Haden writes about business and technology for Inc. magazine after a career in the manufacturing industry. He has a great mantra — essentially that managers shouldn’t be concerned that every employee bring specific attributes to their organization, but should be more interested that those employees can be successful collectively.

Meet with your underachievers and ask them some pointed questions about how they think they are doing and what obstacles are limiting their success. Work with them to develop a specific improvement plan, and empower them to implement that plan. It will produce better results both for the employees and for your credit union.

Dave Salter is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Federal Credit Union magazine.