Sunday, April 6, 2008

Koliso Perspective: Manage Them Up, or Manage Them On

Every employee with a development need should have feedback and planning to help them gain insight and improve. Performance that falls short of a reasonable standard, or behavior that needs improving, need to be addressed. How does a manager provide appropriate feedback in a way that gets the message across, maintains the employee’s morale and motivates them to develop?

Communicating the message

Every discussion should take place in an environment of good performance management, candid feedback, and positive efforts to maintain and enhance employee engagement. This is not just about what happens when you have the performance discussion. Being reasonable, and treating the employee with dignity and respect, are paramount at all times.

The five key steps

The five key steps are always the same. Good planning is necessary to adapt them to the commercial, legal and individual requirements of each situation. First, find an appropriately supportive time and place for the discussion, and then…

1. Raise the issue and its impact. Be specific and factual without being judgmental. Explain where the performance of an essential and not incidental requirement of the position falls short of a reasonable, previously communicated standard.

2. Allow the opportunity for the employee to provide a reasonable explanation.

3. Agree on an action plan, new results or acceptable behavior with agreed dates and timings for follow up and review. Involve the employee, confront excuses or resistance and get a commitment to the changes while ending with an expression of support.

4. Clearly communicate the consequences if the unacceptable performance or behavior continues.

5. Set agreed dates for review (30, 60 or 90 days or whatever is appropriate).

Some common traps

Of course, it’s not always that easy. We advise clients never to have the same conversation twice. Be sure before you begin that you understand what consequences you are going to put in place if the performance continues…and stick with it. The five steps have been carefully worded so that they are not only appropriate in a legal sense but also in a practical sense. Many leaders find it hard to be objective about performance: they struggle to describe the performance non-judgmentally. Or they bring up issues that are only incidental to the job. Or they try to hold someone accountable for a standard that isn’t reasonable or has never been adequately communicated. Or the worst trap of all: they let poor performance go uncorrected until one day they apply 50,000 volts to the hapless employee.

The essential element is to be firm with the facts and fair with the people. Sometimes the leader takes on the issue and becomes the problem solver for the employee. Listen and respond with empathy to the employee’s situation while leaving them with the responsibility for the performance and its solution. Firm with the facts, fair with the people.

Finally, the issue of consequences requires the application of the leader’s judgment. What is appropriate? In some cases it is fair to the organization and the employee to communicate that continued performance at an unacceptable level may lead to termination of employment. Sometimes it is proper to discuss a transfer to a position better suited to the employee’s capabilities (without hiding unacceptable performance or rewarding people by reducing their responsibilities). Maintain consistency and candor at all times.

Take a commercial and legal position on a reasonable time that the performance could continue, then make sure the consequences are proportional to the performance gap. And of course, there are always circumstances in which the employee’s behavior is so unacceptable that summary dismissal is appropriate.

What makes the conversation easier? Trust

Most people are aware an issue exists before the discussion starts. Demonstrate that you can be trusted and the conversation will go much easier. Trust is the essential ingredient: trust that you’re capable, trust that you’re reliable, trust that you are open, and trust that you will consider the interests of the employee as well as the business.

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