Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 2

Managing Poor Performance, Think OakIn part 1 of this two-part post I covered the potential impacts of poor performance, the causes and your responsibilities as a manager. In part 2, I’ll be guiding you through a seven-step process to help you deal with a poor performer.

Tackling Poor Performance

Many businesses do have policies and procedures around performance management and I’m not suggesting you don’t follow them. However, I’ve found a more informal, coaching approach to improve performance works in the vast majority of cases. Only once this approach is exhausted would I move down a more formal approach and this is normally the exception rather than the rule.

1. Prepare

Before you engage in a meeting with your poor performer, ensure that you have a detailed understanding and examples of poor performance as well as the impact that this under performance has had on the team, your customers, the business, yourself and the individual. Also, think about examples of good performance and behaviour that the person has shown in the past.

By spending some time preparing for the meeting,  you will have had a chance to gather your thoughts, examine the evidence, think about the evolution of the relationship and mentally frame the meeting in broad and flexible terms.

2. Set up a meeting with context

You should set up a meeting with at least a couple of days notice. You should be very clear in explaining exactly why you are arranging the meeting, that you will be discussing their recent performance and that you would like to have a discussion around how you can work on an improvement plan going forward.

To help your employee prepare for the meeting, you could suggest s/he gives some thought to a few questions, for example:

• How successfully do the two of us work together?

• How good are our communications and overall relationship?

• Which aspects of your job do you find easiest?

• Which are you most comfortable with?

• And which do you find most difficult?

• To what extent do I help you perform?

• Are there things I do that make life more difficult for you?

• Overall what can we do to improve your performance, my performance, our joint performance and our relationship?

The Performance Meeting

3. Agreement with your employee on the symptoms of the problem

It’s really important that you and your employee agree that there is a performance problem and agree the specific examples of when performance has been poor, the impacts that this has had and the importance of getting back on track. Try not to get into the why’s and wherefores at this stage. We’ll come to that. Just get agreement that behaviours or deliverables were not at the desired standard required for your team and business.

4. Understanding the causes of underperformance

Together, you and your colleague need to arrive at a common understanding of what might be causing the weak performance. This step assumes the person will be willing to participate in a genuine discussion of his/her strengths and weaknesses. Very few people will see themselves as perfect and in no need of any improvement. However, some people do overestimate the quality of their work performance and are unaware of their weaknesses. A major reason for this is likely to be that their previous managers have been reluctant to confront the employee’s shortcomings. In the absence of past negative feedback an employee could be genuinely shocked by your feedback and tempted to reject it as biased and personal.

It might be useful at this stage to review the answers to the preparation questions you gave them in step 2 to tease out some possible explanations. Ensure that you also point areas of performance or behaviours that are good, or have been in the past and spend some time on these also.

This stage of the process can be emotive. Keep calm and spend time working through the detail if necessary. Don’t forget that you already have agreement that there was poor performance. If you can’t agree on the why at this stage, you may need to move on to offering some suggestions on a way forward.

5. Creating and agreeing an Improvement Plan

Find out what motivates the individual: People are motivated by very different things.  Find out what’s important to the individual and shape and ‘sell’ the development plan accordingly.

Fit development action plans to learning style: Different people learn in different ways and this should be considered when planning development.  Understand which is the best learning strategy for that individual and shape the plan accordingly.

Focus on development priorities: Don’t overload people with too many things to focus on.

Use a range of development techniques: Development doesn’t solely result from attending training courses.  The success of development efforts will depend upon picking the right blend of development activity for the individual.  Good development plans draw on a combination of learning, practice and reinforcement.

Ensure that the plan has SMART Goals and by SMART, I mean:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Ensure that the individual owns their plan: Getting them to come up with ideas and to actually write the development plan themselves will ensure that they buy-in to the plan and feel that it is their own.

Make sure the plan is documented – either fully during the meeting or an agreed skeleton is produced during the meeting and an agreement that plan will be delivered back the following day.

6. Create Confidence and Commitment

A good manager wants their people to succeed. This stage is all about building confidence in the person and inspiring them to improve, to develop themselves and to take the initiative.  People with high levels of self-belief set themselves more demanding goals, show greater effort and persistence in trying to achieve, and cope better with stress and difficulties.

Put a lot of energy into encouraging the individual to develop themselves and improve. Spend some time making the individual believe they can turn their performance around. Offer structured support as part of the improvement plan, but tell them it’s their responsibility to deliver against it.

7. Follow up

You must follow up on the agreements made. You and individual will have agreed to make certain changes, perform certain actions and/or reach certain performance targets by a given date. The onus is on both of you to ensure maximum high quality communication occurs during the period of the agreement. Don’t wait until the end of the process to discuss progress. Ideally the agreed objectives will be specific enough and the communication process during the contract period effective enough that both parties will agree on the assessment of the outcomes.

By implementing timely follow-ups and encouragement throughout the process, you should start to see demonstrable improvement.

Should performance not improve during the process then you must then set the expectation of the consequences which would be a more formal process. Although this process was not part of your company’s formal process, the documentation produced and meeting notes would be able to used as evidence as part of most formal procedures.

You won’t always succeed in turning around poor performance, but by following these steps you will have given your poor performer every opportunity to turn performance around.

I hope you found this post useful. As always, I’ love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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Stop the Rot – Managing Poor Performance ~ Part 1

Managing Poor PerformanceEarlier this year the Roffey Park Institute published their excellent annual report – The Management Agenda. A staggering 46% of UK managers reported that poor performance is not tackled at all well in their organisation, rising to 60% in Public Sector managers.

So what do I mean by Poor Performance? Simply put, poor performance is the failure of an individual to do his or her job, or to do it at an acceptable level. As a manager, you have a responsibility to manage the performance of your people. If you have witnessed poor performance (including inappropriate behaviour), or you are in receipt of a complaint or grievance, you must address this with the people concerned.

Impacts of Poor Performance

In my experience, the impacts of under-performing individuals run much wider than the results of their own performance, or lack of them. Poor performance observed by a supervisor or manager is normally only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the issue and is only observed after a period of under performance already being noticed and talked about by members of the wider team.

If these behaviours or lack of performance  goes unchecked then the minimal implication for the manager who allows this to continue, is a loss of respect from the team he or she manages. Under-performance in key roles in your department could have a serious impact on you meeting your own department or business objectives, which may have wider personal or business consequences. If you are committed to performing at a high level, and if you expect high performance from everyone, then you as the manager must address poor performers and quickly.

By failing to address poor performance, you are sending a clear message to other team members that they need not meet their performance expectations and they should not expect any consequence for their unacceptable behaviour. Poor performance normally gets worse over time – rarely does it correct itself without action on the part of the manager or supervisor. Taking action against one individual does not lower morale amongst other team members. In fact, the opposite is often true. Often taking action leads to a more productive work environment.

Causes of Poor Performance

I firmly believe that no-one comes to work with a desire to fail. Although at times it may appear that an employee tries to perform poorly, most people actually want to do a good, or at the very least, an adequate, job. So why is it that people sometimes do fail at work? Poor performance can normally be attributed to one or more of the following:

  • Lack of clarity of the Why, the What and the How of their role
  • Lack of feedback and action from their previous or current management
  • Lack of skill, knowledge, or motivation
  • Inability to manage perception or pressure
  • Failure to prioritise
  • Conflict of personalities or styles
  • Over-promotion, where the person is actually out of his or her depth
  • Lack of resources, support, training or cooperation from others
  • Personal issues manifesting themselves at work

Given the cost of recruiting and training new people, helping under-achievers move  from poor to acceptable or better performance is almost always worthwhile.

Your Responsibilities as a Manager

Before moving into tackling the poor performance of your poor performer, you need to ask yourself some key personal questions:

1. Have I set out my performance expectations clearly? – If the person concerned doesn’t understand what is expected, it will be very hard, if not impossible, for them to meet those expectations. Providing clear expectations doesn’t necessarily require you to lay out precisely written, detailed instructions on every performance component. Generally, the question you should ask yourself is: “Would a reasonable person understand what was expected?”

2. Have I been having regular reviews with the poor performer and been giving them feedback? – Such feedback, both positive and negative, whether given in regularly scheduled meetings or in unscheduled discussions, is crucial to ensuring that expectations are understood. Frequent feedback lessens the likelihood that an employee will be surprised if it becomes necessary to take formal steps to resolve poor performance.

3. Have you provided the individual with the tools and training to do their job effectively? – What support have I / could I be giving to help raise performance going forward?

4. Is poor performance a new issue? – If the person in question has always performed adequately in the past, what has changed for them for their performance to dip? Is it a one-off mistake or has there started to become a pattern of events?

If you have answered these questions honestly and you answered ‘No’ to any of them, I would suggest that the poor performance starts with you. It’s never too late to start however!

In part 2, I’ll take you through a 7-step process to guide you through improving people’s performance.

As always, if you have any comments or feedback, I’d love to hear from you.

The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation ~ Part 2

AlignmentIn part 1 of this four part series of blogs I covered the importance of PACE to improve organisational effectiveness and speed and specifically Planning:

PACE = Planning + Alignment + Communication + Execution

The second part of The Need for Speed ~ Driving Pace in Your Organisation will focus on Alignment of your organisational structure, your people and your rewards and performance management capability.

Alignment

a) Organise your teams around your One Magnificent Goal! – Your OMG!

The benefits of a well aligned team are no surprise to anyone. A great deal has been written about how to create better alignment within teams, through team building, incentives, and other management techniques. However, the first step in any effort to improve the alignment amongst a group must start with an honest evaluation of the current state, and a desire to improve and a clear view as to where you’re going.

Convene a group of key managers within your organisation to help you look at the impacts, both positive and negative, of your current organisation structure and how it might look when aligned to your OMG. When realigning, you want to ensure that you don’t lose any core competencies. You also want to ensure that any proposed changes will support the goals you have set as well as continue the things your business already does well. A group of managers who understand the detailed workings of your organisation will help you greatly.

Develop several alignment models from which to choose. Consider movements with your existing people, additions, subtractions and combinations of these things when devising different structures that might support your goals. Use organisational charts to help you express these models so they are clear and tangible.

Solicit input from other business leaders you know, respect and trust. Examine the financial, strategic and organisational culture impacts your various alignment ideas might create in order to help you to arrive at your decision. You also need to understand any Human Resources / Employment Law ramifications of your decisions before you begin to implement.

b) Align performance goals and rewards around your OMG

To ensure achievement of your OMG you must align all your teams’ performance goals and rewards to it. In so many organisations, individual departments have separate performance metrics that do not align to their OMG. More importantly people are often rewarded against Key Performance Indicators that are misaligned. Some common examples of this might be; Sales are paid on revenue and the OMG is to increase margin; Customer Services are rewarded against hitting call statistics when the OMG is around improving customer satisfaction. Neither is complete misalignment, but both can cause a big enough gap in behaviours for the OMG not to be achieved.

When metrics and rewards systems are not realigned with changes in structure and business processes, the impacts are predictable:

• Individual performance targets compete with the OMG.

• Roles and accountabilities are confused or continue to be aligned around the old organisation design.

• Decisions are made to optimise performance in one unit contrary to the needs of the larger organisation.

• The organisation is slow to act and burdened with internal conflicts.

• Leaders resist change (because it is rational to do so when incentives encourage old behaviours).

• Individuals begin to question the impact of the organisation design changes on their personal economic well-being, distracting them from winning in the new formation.

Again, sound out your leadership team to ensure that cross-organisation goals and rewards are not in conflict with each other before you implement. Talk to leaders and managers in other companies to get some broader context of what works and doesn’t work elsewhere.

It’s really important that the reward structures align from top to bottom within your organisation and there is an OMG specific payment when you achieve it – A Long Term Incentive. That encourages everyone from Executive to Admin Assistant to shoot for the OMG. Obviously the levels of reward might be different, but everyone wins when you achieve your goal!

c) Push decision-making authority as far down the organisation as possible

In the era of organisational flattening, there are less and less layers of management. We are happy about getting rid of hierarchies, but we are less good at understanding the associated challenges. If a layer of management disappears, decision-making should go to the lower level and not to the higher one. A reorganisation where layers go down from 6 to 3, but where senior management absorbs most of the decision rights that became available tends not to work effectively.

A consequence of decision-making being pushed down is that there are many new ‘decision homes’ where empowered people could make a decision on the spot. One of the big problems associated with decision rights flowing upstream, to a higher level, is that these decision rights tend to go or be deferred to the management bodies that only meet from time to time.

So, pushing the decision rights down to a lower level also means that many decisions could be taken ‘in real time’. Provided that people are empowered to do so, there is no reason why they should delay the decision-making process. Pushing decisions downstream and making decisions ‘in real time’ as much as you can are two simple disruptive rules. They won’t cost much but they have the power to transform your company on a big scale.

Some principles you should consider:

  • Implement decision-making at lower levels across the business, not just in one or two departments
  • If something can be decided at a lower level, it should. And you should make it lower and lower all the time.
  • If nothing can be decided at a lower level, you are the problem.
  • Your management goal is to decide less and less every day.

‘Closure’ and decisions made in meetings and committees may be efficient, but not necessarily effective if it could have been done at a lower level.

The amount of ‘deferred decisions’ (as opposed to real-time ones) in your organisation is a good indicator of your agility and empowerment. How many organisation even measure this I wonder?

d) Clearly defined roles & responsibilities

In order to effectively manage your people, it is important to provide them with a clear definition and understanding of their role, function, and responsibilities in the workplace. This will provide them with a good understanding of the job and tasks they are to perform as an individual and within any teams they are a part of. It also provides information on where they fit within the organisation and who they report to, helping to avoid disputes and misunderstandings over authority.

Failing to define workplace roles and responsibilities can create tension, miscommunication and inefficiency within your business. People may be unsure as to what jobs are their own and who they are required to report to. Mistakes and omissions can also occur where people are unsure of what is required of them, therefore creating inefficiencies which cost time and money.

e) Stopping projects / activities that don’t support the plan

Tighter goal alignment and goal visibility allows for quicker execution of organisation strategy by enabling your management team to more effectively allocate resources across various projects. By exposing business initiatives not aligned with your OMG, it also increases overall efficiency by ensuring employees are not duplicating the efforts of others. Plus, goal alignment strengthens the leadership at your company by allowing managers to:

  • Understand more clearly all responsibilities associated with specific goals
  • Eliminate redundancies across job titles
  • Focus their staffs on your company’s most pertinent goals

So, you’ve now got the right people, organisational structure and performance culture to deliver your plan. In Part 3 of The Need for Speed – Driving Pace in Your Organisation,  I will be look at the third element of PACE, Communication.

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