Developing the ability to address performance issues with employees is a vital skill for managers to master. The purpose of management is to facilitate higher levels of execution among workers. When an employee is not performing to a goal, the manager is responsible for taking steps to help the employee improve. For managers to be effective, they must be able to identify performance opportunities, confidently communicate performance issues to employees, discover why employees are missing their targets, and take action to improve performance. Great managers address performance issues by being direct, demonstrating that they care, being inquisitive, soliciting commitment, and being persistent.
Great managers are direct in their communication. They share expectations with their employees and check for understanding. Before speaking, they take the time to consider their audience and how best to relay information to them. They anticipate their employee's questions and proactively provide the information needed to execute their tasks successfully. After communicating information to their employees, they check for understanding and allow time for employees to ask clarifying questions. When they notice that an employee is not meeting expectations, they revisit the original ask and verify that the employee understands the expectation. They communicate what they are observing and ask the employee to help them to know why there are gaps between the desired end state and current performance.
These managers also create a culture where employees understand why tasks are critical to the organization's success. Employees are more likely to be motivated to complete the tasks when they are provided a reason to care. In reward-based cultures, the reason is typically linked to what the employee will gain from accomplishing the task. In penalty-based cultures, the reason is rooted in how performing the task will help the employee avoid the negative consequences of not achieving the task. In aspiration-based cultures, the reason is linked to helping the company live up to shared organizational values. The best managers use a mixture of the above approaches to help employees understand why completing the task at a high level is important.
The second thing that great managers do is care. Their caring shows up in two primary ways. First, their caring shows up in how they interact with their employees. Great managers take the time to understand the needs and goals of their employees. With this information, they help employees to know how the work that they are doing will help them accomplish their personal goals. People work best when they are intrinsically motivated. When managers know their employees, they can better connect the dots of how the work they are currently being asked to do can help the employee reach their personal goals.
The second way managers demonstrate care is by paying attention to results and providing employees with the right level of support (situational leadership). Employees need a different levels of support based on their abilities. Great managers are willing to allow employees to learn through trial and error but step in when needed. They understand that some of the best lessons are learned through failure but protect against losses that would be too large for the employee or company to recover from. They balance delivering short-term results and developing their employees' capabilities.
Great managers invest time in asking great questions. They learn their people's strengths and weaknesses by spending time with their employees, discussing their work, and inquiring about how they operate. With this information, they ensure that the right people are assigned the right task. When employees struggle, they have a general idea of why and can provide necessary guidance and support. They direct struggling employees to peers and other resources that can help them to build new skills and gain new knowledge. When the manager is unaware of why an employee is struggling, they seek to understand the obstacles getting in the way of the employee delivering results and assist the employee in developing solutions.
To help employees reach their full potential, great managers master the art of asking open-ended questions. Even when they know the answers, they are slow to provide them to employees. They help employees think for themselves by challenging them to discover solutions independently. Their dedication to Socratic questioning helps the employees develop tools to identify solutions on their own. Over time this will lead to the employee having more confidence in their ability to solve problems independently.
One of the critical tasks that a manager completes is gaining commitment from an employee to complete a task. Without a commitment to action, a performance conversation is just a chat. Talking with employees about poor results but not gaining a commitment to action leaves too much room for uncertainty. After a manager has a performance conversation with an employee, there should be a level of certainty that the employee understands the problem and what is required to address the issue. The best way to gain this level of clarity is through gaining a commitment.
The commitment that employees make to their manager should involve SMART goals. It should be clear what specific actions the employee will take and how the manager and employee will measure succession. In addition, the commitment should be realistic and time-bound. By establishing SMART goals, the manager can be sure that they are putting the employee into a situation where they can be successful.
Great leaders understand the importance of follow-up. As an employee commits to an action, managers must hold employees accountable for doing what they stated they would
do. When managers follow up with employees, it helps employees understand the importance of honoring their commitments. Many initiatives come and go within an organization with little focus or attention. It can be easy for an employee to believe that the most recent conversation with their manager is just another topic of the week, soon to be replaced by a new priority. When an initiative is essential, the manager must reinforce the project's importance through a cadence of follow-up. In doing so, managers help employees understand the importance of the task.
If, after a performance conversation, employees continue to underperform, a manager
must determine if the issue is the employee or the task. If the mission is unrealistic, it is the manager's role to adjust expectations or provide additional resources. If the employee lacks the skill necessary, the manager must decide whether to deploy a different person to complete the task. Or the manager can invest more effort in developing the employee's skill set. In some situations, the manager will determine that the employee's desire and effort to complete the job is the issue. In that case, the manager
must take appropriate action. One employee's failure to do their job can harm an entire team and, ultimately, a whole organization. Continuous performance issues have to be addressed. In most cases, when a manager provides clear direction and support, employees will rise to the occasion and complete the required task.
Managers that can master the skills of being direct, showing care, being inquisitive, gaining commitment, and being persistent can motivate and inspire employees to perform to the best of their abilities. Being a manager is a vital role within an organization. Managers convert ambiguous and complex visions into actionable tasks that employees can execute to support the company in living its mission. The better managers address performance gaps, the more value they can generate for their employees and the company. Great managers help employees to find and do work that aligns with their strengths and capabilities. In doing so, they help individuals and organizations to thrive.
Dorian Cunion is an Executive Business Coach with Your Path Coaching and Consulting. He specializes in coaching services for managers, executives, and small business owners.
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