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No need to be clouded by tension, finger pointing, or anger

Performance management makes up a significant part of every manager's job description, and this means managers are required to deal with poor performance. If you believe that you have to put yourself and your employee through an awkward and stressful event to effectively confront poor performance, you should tear down that perception of the process and reimagine it. Hillman Ross will introduce you a simple guideline for managing poor performance with your staff which can be summarized in following three basic steps.

Identify why the employee is under-performing

At the first sign of behavior deviation, a manager must determine if there is some form of task interference or consequence imbalance occurring.

Task interference refers to anything that prevents the employee from performing their job to an expected standard. This can be something as basic as a new procedure or system that has caused the employee to be less productive or it can be something that the employee doesn't have, like proper resources, tools, skills or training.

Employees experience consequence imbalance when there's a mismatch between their actions and the consequences of those actions, such as a manager failing to follow up when they said they would. Oftentimes managers may see that a team is performing well, but if they haven't made time to personally observe who are and aren't the real drivers of team performance, they praise everyone. To the poor performers, this reinforces their ineffective behavior and for the top performers it can cause them to question why they should work harder and produce more, only to have their deserved recognition given to others.

Confront Poor Management

  1. Never confront in anger: do not let this become an emotional situation.
  2. Do it immediately: Failure to confront immediately is what causes so much angst around the idea of confronting poor performance. When you let inappropriate actions continue unaddressed for too long before confronting them, the situation can get out of control.
  3. Do it in private: Confronting poor performance can be done quite casually, for example, at the water cooler or while getting a coffee or even walking down the corridor. Many times, taking the employee into your office and closing the door can create a tense atmosphere.
  4. Be specific: use evidence and factual information to state your case and focus on behaviour. When you bring hearsay or impressions into the conversation, you can find yourself squabbling over details, no matter how big or small.
  5. Use data: Just as you should be specific with factual information, support your assertions with data whenever possible. In the process of confronting, tell them what they have done, how you feel about their actions and why you feel that way.
  6. Be clear: Do not confuse people by watering down the fact that this is a reprimand. Because they feel uncomfortable, managers will often end a confrontation with something like, "But overall, you've been doing a really great job." The problem is people choose to hear what they want to hear, so employees latch onto such comments and leave the meeting thinking they just got praised. So don't confront and praise in the same interaction.

Redirect behaviour to improve performance

Firstly, get their opinion of your assessment of the behavior issue. What perspective do they have of their performance/behavior? Then ask them to propose a solution; what would they suggest be done to address the problem? Don't simply mandate a solution for them, get them to take ownership of it. This is to ensure that not only have they bought into the fact that they've been performing poorly, but also because they so often will know themselves, better than anyone else, what an appropriate solution will be perhaps better than what you might have in mind!

Once you've agreed on the solution and the interaction is over, observe the employee's behavior over a period of time. As you observe the employee making changes and improvements to their behavior, positively reinforce their actions.