I have spent many years assisting leaders with managing performance, however when I progressed into a management role, I got to experience what many leaders feel when embarking on their “own” performance management journey. Daunting? Yes! Frustrating? Yes! Doable? Absolutely!
Managing poor performance and/or conduct is never a pleasant experience, let’s just get that out there. Despite my experience in this arena, I never enjoy embarking on the formal process. Not even when I embarked on my first management role.
As leaders, we want to be “liked”, “trusted” and “respected”. I am sure there are many other words that could be used to describe what you would like to be seen as by your team. However, when it comes to managing poor performance and/or conduct, we seem to allow these “wants” to get in the way to sound process.
My first experience
As a new graduate into the realm of HR, I recall my first ever experience in assisting a leader manage a staff member’s performance. I knew the process, legislation, implications, etc, however I didn’t want to be seen as being “too harsh”. So I found myself guiding the leader to allow the poor performing staff member to “lengthen the string”. This resulted in the staff member’s performance not improving and the process becoming agonisingly long winded. The leader started to lose confidence in the process, and the staff member was “gloating” about “winning”.
Morale in the area was declining as staff started to see that both the leader and the HR officer were not taking control of the situation, the poor performing employee was in control.
After a rocky start, both the leader and I managed to get the situation back under control, putting in place tight timeframes and accountabilities. The staff member’s performance started improving, however it took some time before morale and trust from other staff members was restored.
It got easier
After such a “rocky” start, I got stronger and more confident. I started to depersonalise the process. This did not mean that I depersonalised the person, it meant that I dealt with these matters in a professional manner with open and honest communication.
I started to take the approach that everyone can succeed, if provided the opportunity to do so. Then I looked at the process from a legislative perspective, what was required to ensure a fair and reasonable process.
With this in place, I started to look at the impacts of poor performance on the bottom line for the business, and for staff morale.
As you can see, when you place such a lens over the subject, it becomes easier to embark on managing poor performance and/or conduct.
From that point on, I took a coaching perspective and guided leaders through the process.
Every HR practitioner, legal representative and leader will have their own style in dealing with a performance management and/or conduct matter.
For me, I like to keep things simple.
Set the person up for success
Everyone comes to work to do their best. I have yet to see a person come to work thinking about how they can perform badly! So when their performance has started to decline, take a moment to connect with the staff member and learn more from them. Questions you might want to consider include:
Does the staff member understand their role and/or responsibilities?
Are they aware of their poor performance and/or conduct?
Does the staff member have the knowledge, skills and resources to perform their role?
Are there any obstructions and/or personal issues impacting on their performance and/or behaviour?
Is the workload too much for the staff member?
Does the staff member feel undervalued?
In an informal setting, you may wish to explore the above questions further. You might be surprised to hear that the staff member was not aware of their poor performance and/or conduct.
With the information you have gathered, it is recommended that you take appropriate action, including documenting all meetings and outcomes. Key tip to remember is to ensure that the staff member is aware of expectations, including the timeframe for the change to occur.
When embarking on such conversations, I always encourage the leader to offer the staff member access to counselling services such as an Employee Assistance Program. Why? As I indicated above, not all staff come to work wanting to do a “bad” job or behave badly, so if the conversation you have with them may come as a shock and you have a duty of care as a leader to ensure that your staff member has access to support services.
It is tempting to have just one meeting with the staff member and expect that they understood the message, however, I would recommend that you set a follow up meeting – no more than 2 weeks after your last catch up. You may wish to consider two follow up meetings – this will depend upon the conversation and/or the nature of the concerns.
This will ensure that the staff member feels supported and is aware of the expectations.
One trap many leaders fall in is that they need to wait until the scheduled meetings to address any concerns in meeting the expectations set. It is critical that if you witness or become aware of the performance and/or behaviour declining, the leader should address it immediately – not wait. If you wait, it can be seen as that it was not that important, or an issue at all!
Importance of Documentation
One of the common comments I receive from leaders is “Why do I have to document my actions”. My response is always “As evidence of procedural fairness”. It demonstrates what action you took, what was agreed, timeframes, and expectations. It becomes critical in the event that you will need to progress the formal process.
I have been involved in many cases, where the documentation is not available. This does make things problematic when things get very serious. You need to be able to demonstrate the actions you took and why.
Many leaders say, I will document things when it becomes formal. Again, I would say document all meetings right from the start. Make your life easier as trying to recall dates, times and content can be challenging 1 week after the event, let alone 4-6 weeks later!
Another question I often get is “How detailed should my documentation be?” My recommendation has been that leaders should document key points in dot point form. This can be in the form of diary notes, file notes, or a memo – the choice is up to the individual.
Address the poor performance and/or conduct as soon as you become aware of it. Put yourself in the staff member’s “shoes” and start with having a conversation with them – connect and understand.
This process is not all about being “nice” and wanting to be “liked”. It is about ensuring business success through staff delivering.
No one comes to work wanting to do a poor job, so set them up for success based on their responses and follow up to ensure that they are on track.
Do not wait until the “wheels” fall off, or the next meeting, to address any decline or lack of progress with the agreed expectations – get in there promptly.
Most importantly, if you feel that matters are not improving within a reasonable timeframe, then take action through following your formal processes.
Performance management is not easy, however, it is a critical process that needs to be followed to ensure both the business and staff are successful.
I have found that while it does become easier each time you tackle a performance management matter, one always hopes that it would be the last!
[Evelyn Pollard is a human resource, organisational development and industrial relations specialist with extensive experience both at a strategic and operational level. Evelyn is passionate about building organisational capability through facilitating, leading, coaching, mentoring and developing people and successful teams. Further information can be viewed at www.epollardconsulting.com.au ]